People are always talking about living as your authentic self—I am not so sure they are really ready for my truth.
I am 42 and frankly, I don’t want to be an adult all the time. I have no interest in being uptight and serious. I would rather giggle at goofy jokes, dance freely on a whim, and just have a good time. Stop all this worry of judgement and disdain.
How nice it would be to be at ease and simply follow my heart; but the voice in my head says I have to be intelligent, mature, and virtually perfect. “Walk gracefully, be quiet, keep that lid screwed down tight!” It is always streaming a condescending, cynical, judgmental, and just plain rotten narrative making it practically impossible simply to be myself.
This often takes the form of strong anxiety, something I am constantly determined to work on. I am trying hard to amend all my negative self-talk. The voice in my head that believes I have something to prove, always worrying about what people might think and whether people like me.
I have a dear friend who suffers from anxiety levels even higher than mine. We are both subject to constant self-defeating inner conversations. We try so hard to keep our sh*t together and pull off this whole adult thing, but it often doesn’t quite work out as planned.
This friend had some dental issues he urgently needed to get checked out. But, like me, he continually put off this thing he was dreading. He had begun having terrible headaches, and seeing his pain I decided that we would face this monster together, so I offered to go to the dentist with him, and even promised to help him negotiate through the recommendations from the dentist.
The blind leading the blind.
Long ago, I had devised a system: to use my clothes to help construct a picture of who I want to be. Proper attire has always helped me to feel more accomplished and worthy. Like a superhero donning her super-suit, I headed into my well-stocked closet to procure the perfect fortification of my resolve. After trying on what seemed like hundreds of possible outfits, I finally looked into the mirror to find that I appeared decidedly “adult” in my uniform.
Off we went!
When we arrived, the waiting room was filled with an assorted lot. Most of these people certainly did not look like they had put much thought into their super-suits, and the man sitting next to me had his teeth in a Ziplock bag on his lap. As I was taking in my further surroundings, I became a little freaked out with doubts about this place. My mind started its critiquing, “Yikes! These people seem to be falling to pieces. I surely do not think teeth in a bag is a very good advertisement. Oh boy, we should have gone to my dentist…”
Just as I was readying myself to grab my friend and bolt for the door, his name was called. We were led by a friendly and professional looking lady into one giant room where dental chairs were lined along the wall. My mind was continuously making notes for the full assessment, “Oh, cattle-feeding style dentistry.”
Chatting away, the friendly assistant was welcoming us, and directed us toward our designated seats. She motioned for my friend to take his place on the scary patient’s chair with the intimidating interrogation light. He looked skeptical and terrified.
The hygienist came around the corner with a rolling stool for me to perch on next to my friend. My mind had little time to critique this rolling apparatus since it was still focused my friend and his clearly horrified fascination with all those sharp, shiny utensils laying menacingly on the stainless steel table next to him.
I could feel his panic amping up, as he turned his fright-widened eyes toward me. I was trying to keep my calm and nod, and give my very best “you can do it” smile. Still preoccupied, I started to back toward what I suddenly realized was a very high rolling stool. I was trying to stay cool while quickly coming up with a strategic plan to gracefully manage some acrobatic feat to hold onto my long skirt while pole-lessly vaulting onto my seat.
I was sure I have this in the bag—I would merely execute a little backward hop.
However, my quick little jump back did not provide sufficient lift; I blame my math. The poorly calculated landing propelled the seat right out from under my backside, and sent it sailing across the dental line. I was abruptly and indignantly sprawled on the floor, my butt in a pool of flowy skirt. Very dignified, indeed.
Despite this seeming very much like a massive failure on my part, it served the situation quite well. Giving that damn stool the stink eye, I tried to recover my decorum while also assessing my tailbone. I happened to catch my friend’s expression. His demeanor had changed dramatically: His eyes were no longer frightened, and his body had relaxed. In fact, he now looked like a delighted and amused kid. We both burst into laughter. (There I went again blowing my damn cover!) Skirt righted, I was finally delicately perched on the now lowered stool.
The examination seemed long and arduous, and my friend was starting to look a bit overwrought again. He was eyed again as the exam wrapped up. As the doctor came over with the paperwork and began to explain the costs and timeline, my friend motioned for me to come over on my handy rolling stool to dutifully support him.
I was willing to even if a little gun-shy. (This stool and I were not on the best terms for obvious reasons.) I meticulously chose my movements, and slowly crept the stool over to sit by my friend. The three of us, the doctor, my friend, and myself, sat huddled over the papers. She was pointing to a long list of medical terms, that we could not decipher, and their corresponding digits.
Numbers are not my forte, so I was making my very best effort to keep the information organized in my head. As I was diligently trying to consider all this information, my friend’s chair began slowly rising. He was holding the papers, and this unnecessary movement was making it tough for me to see, much less continue to concentrate while simultaneously trying to work math in my head.
My ever so helpful mind talk entered, “Geez, I am trying to focus here. Why does he need to be way up there just to look at this paperwork?” Then I noticed that they were both looking directly at me. I was lost for a second, “…what?!” I was pretty sure I was missing something here. Then I realized that my foot was on the device that adjusts the chair. I was raising my friend up in a very different way than I had intended.
Once again, my friend was completely distracted from all the stress as we were overtaken by even more irrepressible bouts of hysterical laughter. We were well past recovering our cool. Every look exchanged set us off over and over, giggling until our cheeks and stomachs hurt. I have truly never had that much fun at a dentist’s office (not that the bar was ever set particularly high).
The remnants of my “adulting” were demolished. Finding humor in every incident and experiencing the world is refreshing. I was able to let the whole thing be a random event rather than some innate character flaw or personal inadequacy. This, a completely hapless and disjointed comedy machine, is who I am.
I do not put this part of myself on or take it off. She is the real deal, lurking under all my super-suits, and popping out to surprise (even to delight, in my friend’s case). Hiding my truth is exhausting and hurts my soul, so no more bending myself into all sorts of uncomfortable pretzel positions to try and fit myself into my critical mind’s idea of what the crowd will accept.
The real me is messy, goofy, uncoordinated, impulsive, and completely genuine. Given how much fun we had, I have to wonder why we do not give ourselves permission to be exactly who we are with no filters, costumes, or scripted speeches? By giving ourselves permission to “fly our freak flags” and let life be what it will, we experience our authenticity to its fullest—and dang, it’s fun!
So listen here, mind: Life is way more fun flying off of stools and literally raising up my friends. This adult crap you keep pushing is stressing me out and killing my love of life. There is joy in freedom and acceptance, and I think you should remember that lesson. If laughter is the best medicine then I was obviously sent here to cure the world. Back off already, I am not adulting today.
Author: Traci Burnam
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Taia Butler