Being a highly functioning individual with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, I can tell you that much of life is performative. Even folks without mental health concerns often feel the need to put on airs or keep up appearances. But is that living? I mean, with so much of what I catch myself doing as performing my life, in those actual moments, am I living my life at all, and who for? There are times when it is a matter of survival. Any marginalized group knows this, when a certain set of behaviors allow you to pass by would-be oppressors without detection or harassment. How we act around our family or grandparents versus our close friends. Perhaps we don’t even realize we’re doing it because it’s just been the way things are for so long that it requires no conscious thought.
I have worked long and hard to strip away these notions, my mask, if you will. I believe in being my truest self always. I surround myself with people who love and support me and I them. This becomes becomes abundantly clear when I’m alone in a busy city around lots of people. My posture changes, I catch myself smiling at strangers and instantly dropping my eyes to the ground to avoid eye contact or instigation. That’s not something I do in my daily life, not since I stopped working in San Francisco and had to fight through the hordes to get to my office each day. Or the usual support staff smiles and niceties I would have to provide as part of my job as an administrative professional.
Social media adds another layer to this whole thing, too. I have often seen a quote online about not comparing someone else’s highlight reel to your blooper reel, in regards to their Facebook posts versus actual life. There was a time when what happened online wasn’t necessarily “real life” and yet now that line is entirely blurred or erased in many ways. Do you post about your hardships as well as your victories? I certainly do. It has been a great resource for me in feeling connected and even in asking for support. It is still performative, though. While I write how I speak in an everyday sort of way, I wouldn’t consider emailing individuals the same messages that I post on my FB.
There are people in this world that I have interacted with directly that feel, to me, as though they are not real. I don’t mean not human. I mean that deep down even they don’t know who they are or what their own true desires are. They live in a manner that is for show in a world that rewards that behavior. They self aggrandize on the daily. They live their life through pure egotism and it works for them, until it doesn’t. These folks do not know how to handle hardships, like at all. Minor inconveniences can be absolutely life halting to them. Actual life things that are tough? Forget about it! These are not the friends you call at 3 am to take you to the ER! They are there to cheer you on when it makes them look good. That is all. I feel a small grain of pity for them, but no more than that.
As a means of survival, whether in the world or for a job, presenting your “best” self is necessity! I put quotes there because I do not believe for a second that those moments are our true selves, but are definitely – usually – the best time to be that version of ourselves. I am not my work self when I’m with friends or at home. And my work self is fucking awesome! (No, seriously, ask around!) It is a version of myself that I have developed, rehearsed, and mastered over time. Little bits of my true self seep in from time to time, often through sarcasm or sass, this is just one facet of me. If you only ever interacted with me at my place of work, you’d still like me, maybe even a lot, but you wouldn’t know me at all.
For me that is where the performative part fails. We cannot truly connect with others in a deeper or more authentic way if we’re all just using a single facet of our personalities. At least that is not the kind of connections I want in my life. I hope I’m not alone in that want. We all have friends we have just clicked with and it didn’t come from being fake or putting on a show. Often it is in moments of vulnerability, strife, or accidental mishaps that we connect with someone new and bond because of it. Yet we spend so much energy and thought on how to never appear vulnerable to anyone ever. It is such a waste!
I hope that wherever you are, whatever situation you find yourself in, that you can be okay with that vulnerability. Why? Because there is so much beauty and power in vulnerability. Being able to be open to the awkwardness that those moments create is honestly fucking magical! If you can just be present in those moments and really let them seep into you, I promise it can be a moment of inspiration and clarity. In my most vulnerable moments I have connected with my deeper self, connected with fellow humans, and have grown over all as a person because of it. (I highly recommend the Ted Talk on Vulnerability by Brene Brown, and her book Daring Greatly.) I think when you see and feel for yourself without trying to cover or hide the vulnerable moments of life, you’ll actually become a more compassionate and open human being.
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