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Thank Goodness Time Only Moves Forward, Not Back

March 31, 2009

I came across my journals that I kept in middle and high school the other night, and first of all, may I just say, thank GOODNESS no one will ever read these but me. At times, I was laughing but most of my time was spent cringing. If I die and you come across two green journals from the years 1997 to 2003, please, I plead with you, burn them immediately. (Also, thank goodness I never, ever have to be 13 to 18 again. Rough years.)

I was frankly shocked by the ugliness of my self-esteem at that time; I never realized how outrageously uncomfortable I was in my own skin until I saw it from the perspective that I inhabit now, where I am entirely contented to be myself. I was also horrified to remember what I put up with from the people around me. I’ve always been a person who wants so much to believe in the beauty of people that I make excuses for them until I’m purple in the face and exhausted. Looking back, I can see now that it was most certainly a habit that was cultivated in those years. Nearly every boy I liked and even some friends I had treated me in ways one should never treat another human being; using me to make their egos feel bigger, lying, dating my friends and not telling me, and generally just using my gentle teenage heart as a punching bag. Yet I still wrote words about them like “sweet,” “perfect,” “nice.” I want to reach back through those pages and throttle teenage me. If I ever have a daughter, I sincerely hope that there is some way I can guide her around going through that because in the light of today, it all just seems so incredibly unnecessary (and outlandishly dramatic). Then again, in a way, it is so easy to compartmentalize the stages of my life, where I almost look back on myself then like I was my own child. I suppose if I learned anything from being a teenage girl, it’s that you almost have to go through that in order to come out on the other side. There’s no real bridge or cheat or shortcut to growing up.

(And NOTE: No wonder marriages were arranged when young girls would get married. I wouldn’t trust the teenage version of myself to do anything that required rational choice, let alone choose a man. Urgh.)

I wonder what makes a young girl, who is perhaps a little awkward yet still in general a beautiful person, do this to herself. My self-esteem was black and blue by the time I got to college and it has taken years to repair it. It’s easy enough in retrospect to point the finger of blame at cable TV and the media and Barbie dolls and all of that. But really, when I look back, it wasn’t the people on TV or in movies that made me feel worthless. Most of the time, it was the people around me; boys and girls who were my peers and equals yet treated me like I didn’t matter and who knew I was too nice to put up a fight about it. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? So many people deal with life by going around breaking each other to make themselves feel less broken.

Well, if by some chance, a person who has felt any of these things stumbles across this, please know this: It really doesn’t matter one bit what other people think of you; if you try to constantly pass your self-esteem through the lens of other peoples’ judgment, you will never win. So stop trying. Your own skin is a pretty amazing place to be, so go figure out what that feels like and enjoy it.

DISCUSSION QUESTION:
What was being a teenage boy like? I don’t have any brothers, so I am in the dark about how guys dealt with the experiences of middle/high school, self-esteem and all those other hurdles. Fill me in.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. ratsekad permalink
    March 31, 2009 12:42 pm

    I can comment about my experience as a teenage boy, but from what I gather from others, I am a bit of an alien.

    My life through middle school and high school was quite smooth. It really wasn’t that awkward at all for me, and a majority of it was quite enjoyable. I had a girlfriend for a lot of it, with breakups and all, I did well in school, I had friends in nearly every group, I played 3 sports for half, and then quit all of them and switched to music.

    If I ever had any depression, it was never about myself really. I wore pajamas often to school, or strange Tshirts, I even dresses as a woman one day, wore homemade tshirts with political messages, etc. I admit I did a lot of it for attention, but not the type of attention most people want, it was more of wanting attention to put out the message that I didn’t care what people thought of me, nor should anyone.

    Any depression I did had usually came from my social awkwardness or being in tough situations, which always passed quickly and so never really bothered me. Other than that I’ve always had a feeling of not quite fitting in, even as kid. I can remember sitting on the bus as a child going to elementary school and looking at all the other kids smiling and laughing on their way to school, and all I could think was “why are they happy?” I don’t want to go to school, I want to be outside running, and roam around on my bike, and explore, or be at my house.

    I should have seen my situation I am in now coming from miles, or years, away. I think the social connection with other people is definitely more important to me now, and I greatly cherish it with certain people, but I still have this burning desire to not be placed in a box with a schedule.

    Like I said, I am an alien. I also grew up with 2 older brothers which is an experience in itself.

  2. Caroline permalink*
    March 31, 2009 1:25 pm

    I would have liked to have met you as a teenager. You probably would have been nice to me, and restored some of my hope in teenage boys. 🙂

    There is this old-timey country song now stuck in my head after reading your comment.

    “I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
    And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
    And I can’t look at hovels and I can’t stand fences
    Don’t fence me in.”

  3. March 31, 2009 1:44 pm

    I actually had a really good middle school experience. I had good friends, wore sweat pants to school, played a number of sports, had a few girlfriends, got decent grades, and generally just kind of went with the flow. High school was even better. I would pay a decent amount of money to relive my high school years; they weren’t perfect but they were really enjoyable. There was definitely a bit of awkwardness, but those moments are largely overshadowed by a mostly carefree, enjoyable teenage experience. I miss those days, actually.

  4. Caroline permalink*
    March 31, 2009 1:51 pm

    Well crap…if it was this much easier for guys as teenagers, I feel like I definitely got the short end of the stick!

    We’ll just say that it helped me grow. In all reality, I suppose I wouldn’t change anything about that time, despite the fact that it was hard. High school was also a lot of fun too, outside of the crappy parts. I would say middle school and maybe like the first year or so of high school is what sucked. I can’t play too much the victim and say it all was scarring and horrible. I got over it, which means it can’t have been too bad. 🙂

  5. this0side0of0the0truth permalink
    March 31, 2009 2:14 pm

    I wouldn’t leave it up to anyone else to burn those journals. You know they aren’t going to honor that.

    I burned my journals a few years ago when my parents sold my old house in the woods. It was the end of an era and I watched almost 7 years of journals burn.

    Liberation. er something.

  6. Caroline permalink*
    March 31, 2009 2:48 pm

    There are a few pages I might keep…but perhaps this summer, a bonfire of my teenage insecurities might be called for. 🙂

    Wish you were here, dear heart. San Francisco is just way too far away sometimes.

  7. ratsekad permalink
    March 31, 2009 3:17 pm

    I suppose I was a pretty cool teenager. I am sure we would have been buds.

    And indeed. Please don’t fence me in. =)

    On that note, I am going to try to sneak out of work and go hiking for the rest of the day (that’s how bad it is 😉 I figure I worked all weekend, I need some time off. I am going to die one day. (I love how I rationalize things)

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