Sunday, 7 February 2016

On Making Myself Small: A Message

Hey, you, cultivator of my smallness.

I want to tell you a little bit about myself, because I'm feeling pretty good today; that isn't something I feel often enough, so I better come out with it while I can.

Since I was a child, I've had a habit of making myself small so as not to draw attention to myself, and though I put this down in part to my mental illness and in part to school bullying, there are other causes, too.

In one of my favourite pieces of writing by Brianna Wiest - one of my favourite pieces of writing in general, actually - she says:

"I have spent most of my life trying to temper the ways I am too big.

Too emotional, too crazy, too physically wide. Too dramatic, too opinionated, too driven, too whatever-it-is-that-doesn’t-fit-within-the-image-someone-else-needs-me-to-be."

I can identify moments and experiences in my life that triggered a desire in me to conceal and hide and compact myself, but I didn't feel this erosion as it happened. Rather, it happened so slowly that I barely recognised it for what it was, the weight of it, how insidious it was. Without knowing, I have put a lot of time and energy into shrinking.

As a tall child, my dad always told me to stop hunching, to stand tall. But I didn't want to, I didn't want to be tall; tall takes up space, it makes you stand out. I quit the theatre company I'd loved going to and performing with for years, because it's hard to be invisible on stage. These days, I so rarely try something new, or do something "different". Even the clothes in my wardrobe are muted and plain; anything not to be seen. I don't like to dress up smart, either, for the attention it brings me, for how "out there" I feel.

There's a correlation between the shrinking and the rise of my anxiety, too: the smaller I compressed myself, the more room I made for fear and doubt and paranoia and shame to plant their seeds and grow and spread and stifle. The way it happened was so subtle, I'm only now understanding the patterns.

I struggle with eye contact, and I often have to repeat myself because I mumbled the first time. I shush friends who speak too loudly in a public place. I shy away from sports and anything where I need to "perform". I look at the ground when I walk, I still hunch at 24 like I did when I was 11. I flounder under scrutiny and panic in the spotlight. 

The worst thing, I think, is the way I try to make myself small emotionally, try to play down my feelings and my vulnerabilities and my sensitivities for the sake of people who don't want to know; for the sake of "chill", or the illusion of such. But this compression of my emotions is not real. It's not who I am. "Chill" really is nothing more than an illusion, yet I've pursued the illusion regardless. But to what end? The bigger my perceived Chill and the smaller my Emotional, the bigger my vulnerability. The likelier I'll be trampled on.

And here's where you come in, why I wanted you to hear this: because that is exactly what happens with you, over and over again.

So here is a message to you and to myself...

Today I decided not to let you cultivate my smallness anymore.

I am small when I am involved with you. I am small when I play your games, when I expect from you what I should have learned by now not to expect. I am small when I place my worth in your uncaring hands, when I seek validation in your empty words. I am small when I let you reel me back in again and again and again, when I wait patiently while you continually and relentlessly change your mind, and when I make excuses for you. I am small when I settle for "you're under my skin". I am small when I nurture some naive faith that this time is different, that this time I'm more than just on standby for you; your backup. I am small when I forget that I should never be second best.

I will not be small for you anymore.

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