There’s a part of me that really really wants to be cool; wants to be liked not just by the nice people, or the empathetic people, but by the mean ones, the materialistic ones, the narcissistic ones who couldn’t care less about me or anyone else.
This part of me doesn’t much like the rest of me: the chubby, exhausted, sympathetic, empathetic, creative, turtle slow, endlessly curious majority of who I am. She wants me to stop eating, completely, and to stop writing a blog that brings in no money, and to stop thinking about what I want or what feels satisfying and do what will make me rich and famous.
I was not especially successful in my attempts to be cool as a kid or a teenager (or ever); first and foremost because I couldn’t figure out what “cool” might mean in any given situation. At first I thought it had to do with my clothes, or the music I listened to, or my clunky glasses, but over time I realized that it had a lot more to do with how cool, or cold, a person could be – seemingly indifferent to the opinions of other people while still being able to meet or surpass all expectations.
I am not good at being indifferent. If I cause someone pain, even accidentally, I feel the guilt for years, not just hours. I don’t “play it cool” very well, or hide my emotions successfully. My eyebrows jump up and my cheeks turn red and I cry easily. I am no one’s idea of impervious.
But I still have this part of me that believes I SHOULD be cool, and believes that I am all wrong the way I am, and believes that if I were cool and indifferent and mean then I’d be successful. And this part of me has always been there in the background yelling at me for being such a loser.
I know where she learned this: at school, at home, at camp, at my best friend’s house, pretty much everywhere there were loud voices telling me that my problem was that I was too nice and too much of an emotional sponge and if I could just stop reacting to everything then people would stop picking on me. And if I would just do what was expected of me – marry the right man, get the right job, have the right number of children, etc., I’d be fine; if I would just stop being so permeable, and stop trying so hard to be good (which is clearly a waste of time) and learn how to climb the ladder, no matter whose neck is in the way, then everything would be right with the world.
The reality is that the few times I’ve attempted to let that cool part of me take charge I’ve been unsuccessful, both at stomping out my empathy and at ignoring my shame.
At a certain point, I tried to put that cool part of me in a box, on a shelf, out of the way, because she was causing me so much pain and because I was so afraid she would act out and the shame would last forever. But lately I’ve been wondering if, maybe, I overestimated the threat she posed, and underestimated the pain and fear behind her belief in the need to be so cool.
What if what I really need is to open that box and let her out, a little bit at a time, in order to offer her comfort and to hear her stories and to help her figure out what she really needs rather than what she thinks she needs?
But I’m afraid. What if I let her out and she pushes me into self-destructive behavior or behavior I will regret, or what if her pain overwhelms me, drowns me, because it’s so deep. I know that more than just her pain and fear got locked away in that box, that other valuable memories and feelings were locked up too. I’m just not sure I’m strong enough to deal with her yet.
Therapy allows for growth, but it doesn’t make growth inevitable, or easy. It leaves room for the possibilities in all directions. And I still have a lot of calibrating questions to answer, like: when does a healthy amount of self-doubt (as in, I can’t always be right, and sometimes my assumptions will be wrong) turn into an unhealthy amount of self-doubt (as in, I can never be right and I have to trust what other people say about me, no matter how destructive); When does a healthy amount of self-care (resting when tired, crying when sad, eating chocolate cake when necessary) become selfishness (I should have my every desire met at every moment, no matter what the cost to others); and when is it safe to trust other people to see you clearly, and offer constructive feedback, and when is it as dangerous as offering a loaded gun to an enemy? And how do you know the difference?
I feel like I’m vaguely moving towards a reckoning with this “cool” part of me, but I’m still tiptoeing around her, worried she’ll explode into a million pieces or take me down into the deep with her, instead of coming up to meet me in the daylight. I want to be able to trust myself, my whole self, but I’m not there yet.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?