The year of fixing everything
I’ve always envied people who are completely comfortable in their own skins. I’m also pretty sure they’re liars.
“Everybody hates you,” a girl at my high school told me once, twenty-one years ago. “You’re so weird, and ugly, and fat.” She was far more colorful, going into the exact ways I had failed the human population, but the details have been lost to time; the gist, however, stayed with me. The same was true of the person who told me I was ridiculous. “We would never have been friends,” the cofounder of my first startup loved to tell everyone.
Every single comment by every single person who ever said something like that to me was locked away for future access. Even now, I can see their faces, and remember where I was when they said it. They all registered: everyone was someone I respected (because everyone has something about them that is beautiful and worth respecting), so I took every comment, every micro-criticism, to heart.
It took me a long time to acknowledge my anxiety. For years — decades — I assumed that people were silently judging me. Sometimes, it was not-so-silent, and I simply extrapolated the data to the entire world. There was something intrinsically wrong with me; I was a malformed human.
After every break-up, every business setback, every conversation with someone that ended poorly, I would take the negative energy and turn it inwards on myself. My confirmation bias built up a dossier of data points to hate myself with. Of course that’s the way it went, I’d tell myself. Why would you expect it to go any other way?
I stagnated. When you feel like every aspect of you as a person is worthless, it’s impossible to move. I gained enormous amounts of weight (because what’s the point in caring about yourself if nobody else does?). I became a push-over, acquiescing to requests of me, and began to derive my self-worth from my interactions with other people more than ever before.
I was so stressed out and anxious that I made myself sick. One January, I came down with shingles, exacerbated by anxiety. At a particularly low point, I researched ways to end my life and came up with a plan.
I hit a turning point more recently than I care to admit. It was like I’d just had enough: I sought therapy, and (for a while) took anxiety medication. It was the push I needed, and was like emerging from a fog: I realized that there were people who believed in me, who cared about me, and who loved me, and there always had been. I’d been too busy dealing with the negative energy I was sending myself to really acknowledge what was going on around me.
It was only when I did that I realized I’d stagnated. It’s a disservice to say that everyone is perfect just the way they are; everyone has ways they can grow and things they can work on. I was in my thirties, and there were things I didn’t have put together. I didn’t have the life I wanted. And it was because I’d spent my time looking inward instead of listening and figuring out what I needed to do better.
I called the result the year of fixing everything.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t. But I did pull myself out of debt, mend important relationships, and turn a corner professionally. I started to instill a sense of self-care in myself that continues to blossom: I’ve started going to the gym regularly, and I no longer feel guilty about doing nice things for myself. (I’m typing this on a brand new computer, because, hey, I’ve decided that it’s okay to like technology, and it’s okay to treat yourself to nice things if you can afford it.)
By removing the emotional noise, I can identify real things that I need to work on. I need to be more assertive. I need to be better at making a first impression, and suppress that voice in my head that tells me someone new is probably going to hate me. I need to spend more time thinking about other peoples’ emotional needs. I need to kill my social anxiety and go out to do more stuff. I need to stop a handful of previous bad experiences from poisoning future ones. And I need to stop being afraid of being me.
The biggest push I had was from the people around me: people I worked with at Medium, and now at Matter. (They don’t know this, but it’s true.) I do still feel a bit broken, and perhaps I always will. Maybe that’s even okay. But being around amazing people who support me makes me feel a little less so every time.