The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I’m shy, but I’m an extrovert. I have anxiety and depression. Sometimes just depression. Sometimes just anxiety. I grew up on the East Coast, but I fit in better here. I actually prefer structure and a step by step guide to follow, even though I frequently disagree vocally with what I am told to do. A blank page (or brand new, empty blog post) and all its infinite, unknown possibilities are terrifying. I love to travel, but doing new things is scary because I might not do it correctly. My greatest fear in life is embarrassment. This fear is so significant for me that I suffer from Secondhand Embarrassment that totally ruins movies that most people find hilarious. (Side-note: I can’t quite describe the relief that I felt when Mike’s cousin shared with me the name of that particular quirk of mine. It’s a thing other people feel! I’m not completely bonkers!)

Each of those things is a part of me but it’s not all of me. You can’t have the extrovert without the shy (sadly). The anxiety seems to trigger the depression, but the anxiety is also such a part of my life that I can’t imagine who I would be if I hadn’t lived with some level of it all my life. It’s what made me the kid who followed the rules, read all the assigned reading (except for Tale of Two Cities, OMG, who could read that whole thing?!), completed all the homework, and really, really, really wanted to do the right thing in every situation. I took the chance when it was offered and spent two summers in China, but my fear of embarrassment kept me from learning to speak Chinese because I couldn’t get the words out until they were perfect. I couldn’t let them witness my learning (another side note: the Chinese people I knew had absolutely no social or cultural barriers to laughing in my face when I tried to practice speaking Chinese. Not out of meanness, just a cultural difference, but even knowing that was true, I couldn’t get past my own fears).

How do we fit all these stories into our everyday lives? When do I claim my East Coast upbringing (generally in meetings when I’m being loud and direct or when I want the last brownie at the potluck)? Or when do I think of myself as a Midwesterner (anytime I think of moving).

Which of the stories I tell myself makes me stronger? weaker? more stuck? Isn’t this the problem with life — knowing how to talk to ourselves about why or why not, should or shouldn’t, could or couldn’t? How do we put our stories together to make ourselves who we are?

Recently these wonderings have turned into a fun new anxiety — What do the stories do to kids? The stories I tell about them are no different than the ones I tell about me. Evan isn’t always trouble — his kindergarten teacher says his strengths are that he is a quiet worker and good rule follower. Nathan isn’t always the outgoing one — he HATES to sing at church, never mind that he’s been whistling along with songs (on pitch) for WAY too long and has a lovely little singing voice. Evan is our dog person, but Nathan has a serious soft spot for our rescue bloodhound, Earl. How do I tell them that these stories are just pieces of who they are and those pieces aren’t set in stone? Nathan is old enough now that I know he is internalizing some of the things that we say about ourselves and others. I hope it doesn’t take him until he’s nearly 40 to figure out that just because he’s my worrier right now, that doesn’t mean he can’t also be fearless sometimes.

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