Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sense of self

   While I may not know what I'm doing most of the time, or even what I want to do, there's one great thing that comes along with being midlife: knowing who I am.
   I'll admit though, I've been blessed with a humble (I hope) confidence throughout most of my life. I guess in elementary school I was very timid--constantly afraid of teachers and getting in trouble (I think it's a Catholic school thing, even if there weren't nuns there anymore)--but when my family moved from Baltimore City to Harford County just in time for middle school, I felt a huge relief in getting to start over in a new school and really let myself be "me."
  Middle school can be a terrible set of years, because pre-teens to early teens seem to really rip into each other during these years. I've always had an anti-popular streak in me. The popular people seemed so fake and more two-faced, so when I got to my rural middle school, I built a group of friends from scratch. I guess you could say we were the unpopular smart kids. Most of us were in band. Some of us were in girl scouts, including me, and I wasn't ashamed of it. I stuck with girl scouts through graduation, even though I was the lone senior, because I saw myself as an important mentor to the younger girls. But back to middle school me.
   So coming into a new school with no reputation or exectations of me, I got to be myself. I was ridiculously silly, a good writer, I stood up for underdogs, spoke my mind, played clarinet in band and chose the archery option as often as possible in gym class even though it was seen as the dorkiest option--simply because it meant I didn't have to throw, catch, or run from any balls.
   High school was kind of turbulent, with groups of friends shifting as our interests and alliances changed. I definitely grew more as a person during these years, but I never worried about fitting in or trying to please other people. I'll admit I was guilty of quietly standing by to things I'd say weren't my cup of tea, but I remained true to myself.
   College can be another time of immense growth for young adults, but I don't really think I've changed much from senior year of high school, when I had mellowed out, was already focused on my career choice as a journalist and was ready to go to college, get that over with and go on with life. I was ready for The Real World, and I don't mean the MTV show.
   I've long taken my strong sense of self for granted, but being around people 25 and under reminds me of how blessed I am! I don't know what advice to give those that are less blessed with confidence, all I can thing to say is that life will be much easier if you accept who you are and be that person rather than trying to figure out who other people want you to be. Plus I think you'll always be disappointed in yourself if you aren't really BEING yourself.
   Knowing who I am might mean I stick out in certain groups or social situations, and some people might think I'm rude, but the truth is, I'm just not trying to impress you. You'll either get me or you won't, and even if you don't get me, you'll probably be abe to live with me pretty easily.
   I wish other people would stop trying to impress me too. I'm not buying it. Just be your SELF.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The floodgate is broken

   My husband doesn't watch most of the TV shows I watch, or at least not during the season they're on, because he prefers to watch them streaming online through Netflix without any commercials once the whole season is released. But for some reason, he watched the season finale of Top Chef All-Stars with me, even though that's a show he never watches.
   Not only did he keep asking me who the contestants were, who the judges were, the rules of the contest, etc., but he kind of made fun of me for crying when Richard Blais (my favorite contestant) was proclaimed the winner. I dabbed away my tears and smiled, but inside I was thinking "what would he say if he knew I cried at the show every week?"
   Yes, I cry at most episodes of Top Chef, and not just for the person who gets kicked off and has to go home, but for the character who thought they did well and the judges told them they didn't, and maybe most of all for characters who don't think they did well but then won the challenge. That's why I loved Blais so much. He teared up a lot this season, too.
   And it's not just Top Chef, or contest-based reality shows that make me cry. Touching moments on realistic comedies (OK, maybe The Office isn't that realistic overall, but it is filled with many moments that are so true to life) make me cry, and some music makes me cry. And I'm not talking about any pulling-at-your-heart-strings country music or anything like that. A beautiful hymn can make me cry. This is why I don't wear mascara anymore.
   When I was a child and my family used to get together every Saturday night for our weekly movie-watching ritual, I used to love to look over at my mom during the sappy moments and see if she was crying, which she almost always was. The whole family loved to tease her. At least she was in her late 40s/early 50s then! Somehow I've lost my ability to hold in when I experience things that are sad, or maybe even just true. The floodgate, for my tears, is broken.
   I don't think I'm any sadder than I used to be. Depression runs in my family and I dealt with it face-on in my earlyish 20s, and I like to think I know how to keep a funk from getting out of control and turning into a full-blown bout of depression these days. I did have to give up grunge/90s alternative music though, perhaps my favorite genre, because the sadness of it all was overwhelming. Now I stick to classic rock, classic hip-hop, and plain old classic music when I'm in the car (I find it reduces my instinct to speed and see it as a little stress therapy throughout the day) because they're more uplifting.
   So while I wouldn't say that I'm sad, I'll cry at anything that gives me the instinct to cry at, and I blame this on middleage. I think my hormones must be overriding my brain, and it's kind of embarassing! When other people see you crying they assume there's something terribly wrong, or that when you're trying to repress tears, you're really trying to repress a thought or experience that is causing the tears.
   All I can offer as an explanation for my own situation is that with age I have gained an exponential ability to emphathize with others, and watching other people through dramatic highs and lows, or listening to songs expressing their hearts, I can't help but let go. I even have to avoid karaoke nights because some people put so much emotion into the songs and their song choices, the tears start coming out. Talk about embarassing!
  Luckily for me, at times I am capable of holding back an urge to cry. Or rather, I let myself tear up but swallow the rest down. But that tends to build up after a while. I find that the more I hold it back, the bigger of a way I need to release it later. My prefered method is to watch one of several movies that can always get a cry out of me, and when it comes, just really give it all I got. These aren't just chick flicks either. "Punch Drunk Love" comes to mind as one of my reliable releases.
   So I don't know if this breaking down of the emotional and tear floodgates happens to everyone with age and experience, but it's definitely something I've noticed (and disected) in my life. If you suffer from this phenomena too, I can only offer one piece of advice: buy the best tissues, the kind with lotion in them, all the time. The high quality counts when you're a frequent user.