I was talking with my therapist several weeks ago, about how sharing deeply personal subjects with my family and loved ones hadn’t gotten the response that I hoped for. They were either uninterested in the topic or uncomfortable talking about it and they would change the subject. I was angry and disappointed that the subject matter wasn’t as important to them as it was to me. At the very least, I felt that since they loved me they should try to be interested in what matters so much to me. It hurt me and I took it personally. I felt like I wasn’t important enough to them.
“I am trying to share something personal, that shows them who I really am inside” I said. “Don’t they want to know me completely?” I asked. My therapist responded by asking me “Do you know anyone that knows another person to the depths of their soul?” She further made her point by asking, “Do you know anyone to the depths of their soul?” I had to admit that I didn’t know anyone that well. I didn’t know anyone else that knew another person that well either. “But isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?” I pleaded with her. “No” she said simply. She explained to me that it was ok for people who are close to one another to not share the same interests. It is in fact perfectly normal for family and loved ones to have different interests and not want to discuss the same subjects. Logically I heard her and understood that she was right. However, it still didn’t sit right within me.
Over the next few weeks as I processed the session internally, I thought about my life. Why did I need to feel understood? Why was it so important to me to create such an all-consuming bond with someone else; to be known to the depths of my soul? As I carefully considered the issue, I came to the conclusion that I have often felt misunderstood. I never felt like I belonged anywhere and honestly couldn’t remember a time in my life where I hadn’t felt different. I had a deeply empty place inside me that I longed to fill. As a young girl trying to fill that place in myself, I discovered a love of reading fairy tales and fantasy novels. I could escape inside the pages of those stories for a while.
Something about them felt real and true to me; they made sense. I began to believe I didn’t belong in the real world. I was certain that I belonged inside the pages of one of those books instead. All I had to do was find the magic trick or maybe a special door to open and make my escape back to the reality where I belonged. My efforts to find such a door or magical solution were in vain. I could not find a way to slip into the pages of those books. Stuck here in the ordinary world where no one understood me, I worried constantly that I would be disliked or worse yet unloved. It was obvious to me, that something was wrong with me. But I had no idea how to fix it. I could not fathom where to look for answers. As my search to fill that dark ugly place inside me continued, understanding where I fit in became an obsession. I felt so out of place, that next I became convinced I could not belong to my wonderful family. Motivated to find answers, I looked for adoption papers in my parent’s bedroom. I didn’t find any adoption papers of course, because I’m not adopted. Once again, I was forced to face reality. I had no idea where I fit in, the empty place inside me was still very empty, and I felt like no one understood.
As I grew into adulthood, I wasted decades of my life trying to fit into other people’s molds. I didn’t like myself very much, so it stood to reason that no one else would like me either. I wore mask after mask showing the world what I believed, was who I was supposed to be. I was so desperate to fit in somewhere that I twisted myself up into knots. My mental illness had stripped away my sense of self. It had stolen my life, destroyed my dreams, and left me hollowed out. My disconnection from reality was so intense that it affected every aspect of my daily life. I was unable to function without the help of others, and I was afraid that I would never be accepted and loved. I felt like a constant burden to my family and friends. To make matters worse, none of my efforts to be what I thought others wanted me to be filled that hole inside me. I continued to worry, fret, and feel like I didn’t belong. I still didn’t feel understood, and finding my way inside the pages of those books was as elusive as ever.
Just last week, as I sat in another therapy session, the topic of being understood and connecting with others came up again. I have spent a great deal of time reflecting and trying to comprehend my feelings of emptiness. Those feelings have been like a plague, consuming my life. It took a great deal of time and trial and error before I learned that trying to be someone other than my true self is not the way to go. That path only led me to even more pain and loss. It is hard, sometimes painful work learning to be true to who I am. It requires me to be honest, dig deep and listen to my other personalities so that I can understand all of us individually and as a whole. Then I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and show the real me to others. It’s a battle I fight daily and it’s scary as hell. I don’t know how people will react to me and if they will understand and accept who I am.
My therapist reminded me that no one can truly understand another person to the depths of their soul. Even if they were to walk in my shoes and live my life, their perspective would not be the same as my own. What one person sees or feels in the moment is not identical to what the person next to them sees or feels. This isn’t a bad thing! Each person’s unique perspective is what allows us to bring so many beautiful viewpoints into the world. We won’t always agree or identify with one another and that’s ok too. It’s not easy letting go of that incessant need to know and be known to the depths of my soul. But I think my unassailable need to feel connected to another person may actually be a reflection of my own internal struggle to connect with my selves. I accept that I will never be able to physically find my way into the pages of one of my favorite books, but I don’t need to! Running away from this world won’t solve my problems or make me feel any more understood. Instead, I need to learn to love my selves and believe that I am enough. It may feel like a lofty, unattainable goal sometimes, but I am a very determined and stubborn woman. So, I say challenge accepted, I will write my own story.