Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up, Part 1

I have a magnet on my fridge that says, "You're never too old to be what you might have been." I see it every day when I'm getting stuff out to pack The Geej's lunch or getting a cold glass of water out of the Brita filter or retrieving some ingredients to prepare dinner. To me, the saying on that magnet is equal parts inspiration and frustration. It taps into that constant struggle in my head between the "Practical and Responsible" Karla May and the "Carefree and Creative" Karla May.

This is not a new struggle, mind you. It germinated in my youth, when I walked that tightrope between what I really wanted to do and be, and what I thought was expected of me. Almost every friend's note written in my yearbooks from elementary school on said something along the lines of: "To the CRAZIEST, WILDEST and FUNNIEST girl I know." But what nobody knew was that this "crazy/wild/funny" gal that people clearly saw and identified with on the outside was also overwhelmingly concerned with being accepted and liked, making good grades, and being successful in every endeavor she undertook.

When I hit my teenage years, this struggle tore me apart. On the outside, I was a stellar student, highly social, and fairly popular with a wide array of friends from a bunch of different "cliques." But inside, when I was alone, I was profoundly unhappy, confused, and (I realize now) horribly depressed. I used to sit on my bathroom floor, bawling for hours because I hated myself so much, holding my wrists until my veins bulged, then making sharp, repeated slices with a razor blade until dark blood would pour out. The few times anyone noticed the strange looking results, I blamed it on my very psychotic cat (and those who had met her, believed me).
Now "cutting"--hurting your flesh to somehow manifest and make visible the pain/turmoil inside you--is a commonly known thing that troubled teenagers do. Back then, there wasn't even a name for it. And besides: Why would anyone think for a moment that perhaps crazy/wild/funny Karla May might be hurting herself? It never crossed anyone's mind. But I got through it without therapy or prescriptions or anything like that. I just rode it out and managed to keep going on...making good grades, and being Miss Wild/Crazy/Fun Girl like everyone expected me to be. But I still have the thin faded scars on my wrists and arms from those lonely, horrible and desperate times, and I can remember those nights like they happened last week.

In my early twenties, I had another dark and lengthy period when depression really knocked me to my knees. It was spurred on by many things, but primarily it was that old inner struggle between who I wanted to be (an actress/writer who was taken seriously, took risks, lived life, and had success and artistic fulfillment) and my fear of failure and of "what people would think" of me if I totally went for it (irresponsible, flaky, stupid, untalented, unattractive). For the first time, I sought professional help and took antidepressants. And you know how in "The Wizard of Oz" things go from black and white (Kansas) to technicolor (Oz)? THAT is what taking antidepressants was for me with that first go-round. They utterly changed me and brought me to a place where I figured "normal" people must be all the time. And since then, for nearly 20 years, I've been on (and off) of different antidepressants. And within the past three years, anti-anxiety meds, a hormone replacement drug, and a high blood pressure medication have also entered the mix.

And guess what: Nothing--NOTHING--has really changed inside my head. That struggle between who I am and what I want to do and be--that message on the fridge magnet that greets me several times a day--punches me in the gut with painful regularity. But now, unlike when I was in my teens or twenties, I've made choices in my life (marriage, mortgage, career, child) that seem to answer to back to that damn magnet, "Oh really? Never too old? FUCK YOU. I'm forty, have serious responsibilities, have no expendable income and have 13 hours in my paid-time-off bank. So when the fuck am I supposed to 'be what I might've been'?!"

I am tempted to throw that fucker in the trash.

[To be continued...]


musingegret said...

Thank you for being this brutally honest. Your post today reminds me of a quote and its variation I keep coming upon recently:

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
— Plato

"Everyone you lock eyes with has something serious going on somewhere in their lives."

Sinda said...

I read a review of Alain de Botton's new book the other day, something about work and how we tend to think today that it defines us, whereas in the past it was what we did to stay alive and keep out of trouble. I can totally relate to not feeling like I'm "living up to my potential" but thankfully am lackadaisical enough to say, fuck it. Most of the time, anyway.

Trash that - you don't need it. You're kick ass.