What happened when I finally gave myself permission to be me
It has been about three years since I have felt like myself
I have called this period a “season,” a “phase,” a “cycle.” Anything to convince myself that this, too, shall pass.
For most of my adult life, I have been making choices that I thought were “right.” Making decisions in my career and personal life that reflected what I thought would look responsible/mature/intelligent to the people around me.
I consciously played The Opposite Game with my intuition, taking whatever natural impulse I had and doing the reverse: toning down my style of dress to be more sleek and conservative; beginning an aggressive savings plan instead of going on trips and exciting nights out on the town; favouring “serious” intellectual pursuits over “silly” creative interests and hobbies. Saying no to myself, and to fun in general, felt like saying yes to a version of success that would make others nod their heads in approval.
I don’t think I ever did most of those things correctly; they have always felt like wearing the wrong size of shoes. By forcing these choices, I always felt awkward and out of place.
It feels like scratching at the surface of your life, trying to break into something deeper, more fulfilling, and never feeling able to grab hold of what’s underneath.
For years now, I have had a creative lump in my throat. I consciously repressed my creative self-expression in favour of performing acts of “serious adulthood” for people who I don’t think would have even noticed — or cared.
So, here I was, in a life that looked nothing like me, and wondering how to bring back the girl that I was to the woman I didn’t recognize.
Instead of denying my every true impulse, I thought, why not slowly and carefully start allowing them in?
I have a yearning for something to fill my soul with colour and energy. I feel an ache in my chest that is an intoxicating mix of desire and fear, and when I allow my thoughts to wander in a hopeful direction, my muscle memory reminds me how it feels to be free to explore creatively — to not be stifled by the self-imposed “should.”
As that creative need became more urgent — and the light inside me dimmed further than was comfortable to admit — I took up arms against this character I had constructed. Slowly but confidently, I stripped away the protective armour I had assembled through aversion to risk and denial of joy.
I started slow. Watercolour paints and YouTube tutorials for beginners. I procured a vintage Spirograph kit (those stencils we used to create intricate spiral drawings). I borrowed a keyboard and fumbled my way through learning just enough chords (three) to reproduce a rudimentary version of most Taylor Swift songs.
It was clumsy, messy, and imperfect. It also felt like a four-handed deep tissue massage for my heart, mind, and soul.
The more I tried, the less I was afraid to be seen trying. And the more I tried, the more I was willing to try; one pursuit led to the next, and the next. I had energy, joy, and a rediscovered confidence that spilled over into my professional and personal relationships. I was more focused, less anxious, and had restored a trust in myself that had been scared out of me.
By giving myself permission to be me, I learned that most people aren’t actually watching you that closely. But the people who really matter can see the colour back in your cheeks and the fulfillment in your smile.
As I continue my way through creative exploits, I remind myself, patiently and repeatedly, that one can enjoy the process of creativity without the end result being perfect. I can create for the sake of the practice, not the sake of being perceived. I have sharpened my skills as a public speaker and event host and have started a once-a-month drop-in movement class for women to connect with their bodies and each other through music, dance, and self-expression.
I still grapple with the push-pull of what I ought to do versus what feels true and authentic to me, but now the critical voice is quieter, softer. I am sure now that in this life, the only person you have to impress or make happy is yourself. You might as well dance (and paint, and sing, and scribble) like no one is watching — ‘cause, trust me, they’re not.