On a whim, I happened to read through some of my older non-fiction work, most of which has me very delicately and romantically describing my depression. But I was actually shocked by how good it was — how lovely and melancholic with perfect similes and metaphors that still so perfectly describe the hell I suffer when the sads come to visit.
Lately, I’d been thinking of how whenever someone praises me, I smile and say thank you while personally thinking, “They don’t know jack shit.” I would love to believe that I’m a cool, fascinating, talented, skilled human. I’ve been told I was all those things in just the last month by various people, and yet all I see is a mediocre woman who is doing the bare minimum and hoping she drops dead before she has to do anything more. All I see in me is someone who purposely doesn’t live up to her potential because what’s the point, really, when you’re hoping to be dead before you’re 40? So, when people say I’m anything more than just okay, I’m highly sceptical.
Part of it definitely is a self-esteem thing. I don’t believe I’m capable, despite people telling me and despite my seeing it for myself in my body of work, both professional and personal, and in my history of adventures. I get told often that I always do whatever I want and am admired for it, but I never feel like that. I’ve always felt like I’ve done what I want so long as it doesn’t inconvenience others. And I suspect that’s why a lot of people think I’m admirable, because I am obsessed with not putting them out even if it means putting myself out. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten much better at avoiding this and actually putting myself first when absolutely necessary. The guilt is always still there, but I’ve just started learning to rationalize it and justify my actions to it.
Recently, in therapy, I mentioned how I miss the girl I was in high school. Unlike most people, I look back on my high school days with fondness. I was happy then, and so hopeful. Even when things were shit, I was saved by my hope that the future lay ahead of me, as wide as the world, and that things could always change for the better. I was fairly naive and ignorant of the world around me, but I was happier because of that ignorance. As I’ve gotten older and more learned, I now see my teenage years as a time filled with teasing and bullying and unpopularity — but at the time, I didn’t see any of that. I only saw a world filled with art and my biggest focus was becoming part of that world of art with my own writing. I wrote all the time back then, some weeks I wrote a short story a day. I was not a confident child, but I now realise I had a lot more confidence in my abilities than I do today. Back then, I believed that if I sucked at something, I would improve with time; now if I’m not great at something, I just accept that I suck.
Having taken up analogue photography again after many years’ hiatus, I started learning about myself as an artist again. Mainly that the results of my artistic efforts are always the best when I’ve approached the task with confidence. Any timidity — even a sliver of it — fucks it up. I first noticed it in the photos I was taking. Now that I have some disposable income, I’ve started experimenting with film photography again and I find myself often too shy to take the photo I want to take. This is most apparent when I’m out in the city with the intention of snapping photos, but something happens and I suddenly feel like everyone is watching me. This is an absurd bit of egoism because why the hell does anyone care about what I do and I’m just one in a sea of millennial photographers who roam the streets of Toronto. But that potential for being the objection of attention makes me freeze and I often take a hurried shot that ends up being a waste of an exposure.
With this epiphany always top of mind the last few weeks, I realised that this trend isn’t limited to just my photography. My writing is often the same way. Most of the stories or essays I started but never finished were written in a state when I figured I would not show them to anyone but I was confident in what I wanted to say. The result is what happens when I read back on my older writing and realise that I’m a pretty great writer. I use that line as a sassy joke a lot because writing and editing is my career of choice, but I’ve never believed it about my creative writing. As many of you know, my biggest fan every was my late father, who was also a writer by trade but believed he had lost the ability to write creatively and so encouraged and praised any fiction I wrote. It used to embarrass the hell out of me while secretly making me really proud, but I haven’t had a cheerleader like that since he died. And it was after his death that my mental health started deteriorating and my life (and me, too, in a way) started changing drastically.
It was serendipitous that I landed my current (very sweet) gig because it led me to be able to dip my toes back into an old hobby, which then led me to the epiphany I didn’t know that I needed. The epiphany that, to me, feels like the skeleton key to all my artistic endeavours. I still fail at remembering this simple concept when I’m taking photos (and even when I’m writing sometimes), but at least now I know it and I’m confident that it will eventually become second nature.