It’s a marvelous thing to discover (time and time again) that, really, who you are is fundamentally okay. There are a million, myriad ways in which we feel we’re somehow flawed. The feelings are so endemic we almost never notice that they’re there, and when we do notice that they’re there, the threads of self-condemnation are so fine and closely interwoven that all we can perceive is a general and overwhelming pattern of imperfection.
Some of the things about me that have generated (disapproving) comments time and again from (understandably) frustrated friends and acquaintances are: my hypersensitivity, my melancholy, my moodiness, my morbidity, my solipsism, my frequent and often unpredictable need for withdrawal—all correlated with an unwavering commitment to what I can only describe as highly “unfluffy” writing (in both content and style). These comments have ranged from the lightly teasing (You think too much!) to the exceedingly exasperated (Why does everything have to be difficult with you?).
My friends and acquaintances are not alone in their exasperation. I didn’t choose to be born a Wednesday Addams (a designation actually given to me when I worked in Procter & Gamble). To adapt, I either adjusted my conduct (I actually switched from introversion to extroversion in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test as a result of learned behavior) or defended it (mostly through passive aggression). The fact of the matter is: prevailing culture doesn’t value what Wednesday Addams stands for. Everything has to be bright, cheerful, sunny, resolved. You’re allowed the occasional deviation—reserved for moments of absolute pain and grief such as those occasioned by death, illness, separation, or, well, premenstrual syndrome—but you’re not expected to inhabit the spaces of deviation for the majority of the time.
If you do happen to be deviant, you can resign yourself to a lifetime of subtle putdowns and gross misunderstandings, justified by the pithy Filipino expression Ang bigat mo kasi dalhin! (a sentence that can be clumsily translated as “You’re a drag to have around.”). If you’re lucky, the world doesn’t reject you outright. But it doesn’t welcome you either. If you manage to function well and to even succeed in the world, it’s because your family has fortunately loved you and you’ve compensated by developing culturally-valued traits while suppressing or downplaying the innate and undesirable ones (an unconsciously-induced process I’ll liken to trying to change from being the Wicked Witch Elphaba to being the Good Witch Glinda).
So, these last few months, when events constellated (to use a technical Jungian term) to introduce a range of resources to me on the necessity of the dark side—well, let’s just say that I got thoroughly enamored of the subject matter. It was the first time that it occurred to me that I’ve been living with aspects of myself as if they were conditions—handicaps all the more injurious because they’re not medically recognized while being culturally censured. (A psychologist once told me: You’re not medically bi-polar but, psychically, you have bi-polar characteristics. Gee. That’s great news.)
Seriously, every now and then a book or film or play will come along to celebrate what it’s like to be a brooding, introverted misfit, but in real life, the Wednesday Addamses and Elphaba Thropps end up being sidelined in hundreds of covert and overt ways: derided, ignored, marginalized, mocked and undervalued, or, told to cheer up, grow up, be content, be less intense, be less morose, be less serious, be less of who they are. That’s what happens when you don’t have the endorsement of a culture: it’s no one’s fault, and worse, no one even knows that a fault is being perpetuated.
So yes, I’m finding tremendous solace in discovering that it’s fine to have shadows—and not just fine, but actually normal; and not just normal, but actually meaningful and purposeful (and by that I don’t mean being a useful and necessary foil for the Elle Woods and Glinda Uplands and Stepford Wives of the world). It’s one thing to read or hear or be told that you’re fundamentally and generally okay (whole, perfect, complete, and all that jazz)—and a completely different thing to find out the particular and specific ways in which you’re okay.
So yes, this is me celebrating the discovery of the particular and specific ways in which I’m okay (ways I’ll cover in more detail in subsequent blog posts). It’s not that I’ve suddenly gained the endorsement of the culture (it’ll be a while before people start iconizing Wednesday Addams) but the important thing is being free of the unconscious desire for that endorsement. This isn’t one of those facile, self-parenting revelations that promptly evaporate at the next bout of criticism, but a genuine, soul-healing epiphany.
And it’s about time too.