Have you ever been told by someone you know that you’re an inspiration? How did it make you feel? Was it by just one person, or maybe two, or even twelve? Perhaps you’ve been told so many times throughout the course of your life that you’ve lost count. Did you internalize these compliments and believe them as truth, or were you skeptical and suspicious because you didn’t believe them (even if your skepticism was specific to the person making the comment to you, i.e. you felt they had an agenda behind the compliment)?
The first time I heard that I inspired someone I knew, my cheeks grew instantly warm and flared red; it embarrassed me! I was highly doubtful of their compliment – not because of who said it to me (because I honestly don’t remember), but because of who I once thought I was. And the person I felt I was certainly wasn’t an inspiration, but rather a very lost and damaged soul. I figured to be an inspiration to others you had to have accomplished great things.
I thought of inspirational people like beloved author/podcaster Rachel Hollis, who has written books in the self-help and fiction categories and inspires women daily through her uplifting messages to chase your dreams and to have goals to help you accomplish those dreams. Or like Nick Vujicic, a man with a rare condition, Phocomelia, which meant that he was born without limbs (not even one)! He is now a motivational speaker and participates in things most of us consider “normal,” like playing golf and swimming, because he didn’t let his lack of arms and legs stop him from enjoying the same activities as the rest of the world. Or Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, who achieved his title only four years after being released from prison, where he had originally been given a life sentence! There are many, many more inspirational humans on this planet that I could name, but my point is simply this: I never felt that I had accomplished much of anything in my life, let alone anything that might inspire others!
I haven’t run a marathon or won an Olympic medal. I haven’t won a Nobel Peace Prize nor have I earned a Pulitzer. I haven’t climbed Mount Everest. I haven’t solved world hunger nor saved a life. There are countless high achievements I hadn’t accomplished and likely never will. But I spent so much time beating myself up mentally over things I haven’t accomplished that I forgot about all the things that I had!
In second grade, my teacher nominated me for the Young Author’s Conference by submitting my original story I had done for a class assignment (complete with my very own illustrations, mind you). I can only recall the smallest fragments of that experience, but I know that Mrs. D was a huge part of sparking that desire to write early on.
By middle school, I belonged to our school district’s gifted program for students, referred to as L.A.M.P. – Learning for the Able and Motivated of P-City. Ok, so the P in L.A.M.P. actually stood for the name of the city in which I grew up, but I’m not about to make my city famous and wind up with a serial killer for a stalker. No, thank you! The few of us who were in the program were pulled from our regular classes to attend accelerated learning activities every month or so. Among those activities, I learned the basics of what could have been a very lucrative future in robotics through a school partnership with Lego, but I digress…
Later in my youth, I was sent to a prestigious honor choir (comprised of several hundred highschoolers from multiple states) which took place at Luther College in Iowa – not once, but twice! The event was only open to high school juniors and seniors, so I was humbled to be among the elite. (Side note: I can still picture the beautiful moment in Decorah, when I found myself fortunate to be an inadvertent recipient of a beautiful, sporadic serenade from several dozen baritones and tenors; it occurred between rehearsal sessions when we often intermingled.)
The point is, I was blessed with many gifts, yet I no longer saw them (or at least would admit to them)!
It has taken me many years of therapy, a plethora of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and too many failed relationships to even want to count them anymore before I discovered from where my problems stem: I cared more about being liked than I cared to be unapologetically ME!
Somewhere along the way, I started to downplay my achievements to others because I felt that many people began acting differently around me. I know that it was somewhat true, but I am also certain that I made a mole hill into a mountain by overgeneralizing. Sure, I’m positive that there were students who treated me differently because I didn’t fit in with much of the rest of my cohort, but I don’t know if it was because they were jealous of my gifts (instead of recognizing their own unique talents), or if I somehow gave them the impression I felt superior (I did not feel superior, btw), or if they simply just didn’t like me for a myriad reasons.
As I aged, I learned how to conceal my gifts more and more around my classmates and took on the role of ‘supporting cast member’ in the ensemble high school drama that was my life. I still participated, but other than my stint as the unofficial “official national anthem soloist” and among my best friends and my choir friends, I tried not to stand out much, for fear it would garner unnecessary teasing (in the form of humiliation) from the “cool” kids. And over time, all that “quieting down” I did had seeped its way into my subconscious mind and my self-esteem suffered. It suffered because I believed all the nasty things those schoolmates would say to me eventually, and those words became the mantras of my mentally ill brain.
When your inner voice becomes your worst enemy, mental illness only grows darker and starts to consume you wholly. I didn’t want to think so lowly of myself, but there I was in my mid-20s, weighing 100 pounds more than I should and feeling hopeless about life. It wouldn’t be until much later when I found the desire to improve my health, but I was at my lowest at that point (or so I thought – that would come that fateful day in December 2017, as you may recall).
Of course, back in my primary school days, I cared about finding the reasons why some of my classmates didn’t like me or include me within their circle of friends, but now that I’ve been out of the public school district for over twenty years, I look back on that time and wonder why I even cared about making friends with everyone around me. These days I honestly don’t care if people choose to walk out of my life. Sure, it can hurt at first, but I also have a 100% success rate in surviving every loss that I thought I wouldn’t recover from, whether it is in a friendship or a relationship.
Years back, when I had lost the first big chunk of weight and was working toward liking myself more, I realized that people really do fall into one of three categories: a reason, a season, or a lifetime. If you’re unfamiliar, let me recap for you. The customer who gave me his mother’s Mother Teresa quote plaque and other random strangers who have helped me when I was in a jam would all fall under the “reason” category, because I likely have never seen them since and perhaps never will see them again. People I had considered friends who later walked out of my life (or in other cases, when I walked out of theirs) and the long list of boyfriends/friends with benefits I have had throughout my adult life all fall under the “season” category. But the ones that stayed: my good girlfriends I’ve had since grade school, my family, and other good friends I made along the way (even those few who I thought had walked out of my life for good, but in the end returned) – they’re in the “lifetime” category. I may not talk with them all very often, but when we do reconnect, we pick up right where we left off and I could not be happier with my circle!
What I later realized about those different categories of people was that I had allowed them all in to my life, whether out of necessity (for either party) or not. When put in this context, it makes me seem a little masochistic, like I welcome pain! Well, perhaps I did at one time. *shrug* Fortunately, I can let all of that go, because I am a completely different person today and working every day to become an even better version of myself, so I no longer have the time or energy to invest in looking back; I must stay focused on what lies ahead of me if I am to attain the goals I have now set for myself.
It will likely take plenty more years ahead to train my inner voice to speak only niceties, but the important thing is that I ignore the insults and lies my subconscious tells me and encourage more compliments and positive thoughts. That in and of itself is no small feat for a mind ripe with mental health issues, but then it makes me understand that perhaps this – as well as never giving in to Bertha when she’s being cruel to my body – is what all the people who have called me an inspiration at various times have meant, because now?
Now I can see that it is quite inspirational to talk yourself out of a depression, to continually work through pain, numbness, and imbalance; and it is definitely inspirational to others when they see me struggle but never quit. I understand that now – and it makes it hard to disagree with those who have referred to me in this way. I am beyond humbled for their kind words, and now I encourage all of you to do some introspection into the lies and insults you tell yourselves and flip the script! After all, we’re all stuck with ourselves for the rest of our lives – wouldn’t you like to enjoy your time by yourself, not dread being alone for any length of time? I know that I have never loved my alone time more than I have throughout these last few years; if I can “flip the script,” so can YOU!!