I have a confession: I am a people pleaser and I know it.
This is hardly newsworthy. In fact, I’d say if I were a totally happy, well-adjusted and famous writer —THAT would be newsworthy. So, it was with shock that I found myself seeing a notification from WordPress about the 100th post I had made that I laughed this morning until I burst into tears. I don’t mean a little tear — I mean a full-on mid life crisis breakdown. And it was the greatest moment I’ve had in a while. Let me explain.
It all started around the time I was 12ish. I very concretely remember being a 12-year-old girl who believed that she was the man of the house. I moulded myself into being strong, self-motivated, independent, role-model figure kinds. At least that is what I was aiming for. I sat up at night literally coaching myself through this entire episode of how I am going to conquer and achieve everything the said man of the house couldn’t, rather wouldn’t provide. I decided I will take up a work, where I will earn the money I will need to cry comfortably. Yes, I stopped lying to myself as a young child where I knew my life isn’t like what other normal families have. It was different. But, different is good.
I distinctly remember sitting up at night crying to myself with my night light on, afraid someone would hear me/afraid no one would. It was a nighttime ritual that went on for quite a while; I’d tip-toe to the bathroom or lie down on the sofa in the hall. I didn’t do anything. I just sat there. Maybe I was too afraid of not being able to get the attention I wanted; Or maybe I wasn’t messed up enough to hurt myself to get that attention. This is a painful memory to have and to write about years later. It’s painful because I cry for that little girl who had no idea of how to process all that pain inside of her.
I tried in various ways to get attention, to express to people that I needed help. Help to understand puberty, understand the changes my mind and body went through. Or maybe I didn’t have the words to express the guilt I felt about why we weren’t a happy family. There was something wrong with me for feeling that way. Then, I found a shortcut.
I started doing things, nice things for people and they noticed. I got the attention from them. I was a helpful child. The girl who always smiles, helps you when in need and will be there whenever you need any help. I began liking the feeling. I please people in order to please myself.
A couple years later, my now recognised depression manifested in to an eating disorder or as a friend once put it, “I eat so that I can feel happy.” This disorder lasted on and off for about ten years with varying degrees of severity. Not blind to my issues, I was certainly not invested in getting better. One of my favorite “games” to play was to manipulate the art of people pleasing which sadly worked a lot of the time. Then there would be periods when I’d be happy and outgoing, successful and accomplished without the people pleasing.
There were many times I was lucky not to have been hurt as I indulged in some serious stupidity and telling myself to distinctly remember how this feels. Remember just how low, scary, illegal, dirty and rotten this feeling is so you don’t do whatever stupid thing again… that is, until I did it again. During this time, there were two things that saved me. The first was writing. This was my way of cataloging experiences, as if to give them meaning beyond myself, and in return, giving myself hope that in all this self-destruction there was the possibility of creation.
Sometimes, I’d be OK. Things would be OK for a while again. I’d start being productive. I stopped partying. I became more invested in my writing, more invested in being happy. But I don’t think I understood what being happy was. I mean, our culture sells you this version of happiness that’s unattainable and kind of stupid. Not to sound like an anti-national, but, the Indian notion of happiness is completely superficial. A Raymond man, a independent home in the urban lands, a fancy car or two, a branded purse full of cash to spend, calendar children and your image as the loving daughter, sister, friend, wife, daughter in law, mother, grand mother and so now.
Now, isn’t this a haven for the perfect people pleaser? I had it all figured out. In any event, just as things in my life were beginning to settle down, I suffered a “traumatic loss”. Back to back, I suffered losses from different directions. This changed me. This sent me into a depression that lasted about three years. During this time, all of my previous unhealthy habits manifested, but tenfold. But, being an adult, I had to be accountable for myself. I had to work. I had to maintain friendships. I had to continue being happy. I had to write. I had to continue my sick obsession as a people pleaser. If I realised someone din’t like me or wasn’t too fond of me, I will find a way to suck it up and make them like me. Or pretend to like me. I settled for that many times. Pretend.
Slowly, and I mean slowly, things started shifting. I gave up. I din’t want to please people. I wanted to please myself. How am I a people pleaser through all these years, yet I never found myself feel pleased at the end of the day. I pretended that that pleased me, but it dint. So I stopped. Friends started noticing that I seemed different, changed and saw reasons to not see me happier. I started enjoying myself more. I allowed myself momentary feelings of pride. I found myself being proud for finding a higher meaning or clarity in my madness or the reason for my madness over these years. In 32 years, I am independent without the Great Indian Dream Wedding, I am well-travelled, I have developed an understanding of different cultures, developed a lifestyle I intend to lead, know the don’t want, accept failures, feel a sense of pride for achievements personal to me, had very few people I call my own.
So this morning, when I struggled to write that one post I was thinking in my mind – Did I really make something or anything that 12 year old dreamt of? I laughed. Not even close. I mean, it’s something borrowed if you read it. I am often misunderstood for all I write, because it may reflect on how one is treating their emotions, feelings or people around them. Trust me this is purely coincidental and has nothing to do with quoting you unless I mention names or alphabets.
I’ve changed and some things din’t bend to favour me. I stayed single, people came and people left. I stayed away away from all, minds crossed, words spoken that will never be taken back. I realized, whatever the cause of my depression or state of mind as one can aptly put it, it’s not something that’s going to be cured; I’m not going to be fixed. My depression is something I can, at very best, manage. I must accept the fact that sometimes I’ll have a bad day for no particular reason at all. But there’s always tomorrow. And one thing that’s really helped me is taking ownership of that. I won’t let experiences happen to me any more. No. I decided I was going to be in charge, because, guess what? That 12-year-old girl, she’s not running the show anymore. This 30-something woman is.
People pleaser, happy, sad, naughty, caring, helpful, young, old, mature, defensive, offensive, broken, wise. Words don’t define you, it’s what put you together that does. This is what I laughed for, I have nothing to say. After 32 years, I sometimes just have nothing to say that will please the one looking back at me in the mirror.