“I live my own life and nurse my own wounds. It’s not the best way to live. But it’s the way I am.”
Truth be told, I’ve actually never read Middlesex, the book that Quote is from, or any other Jeffrey Eugenides’ book. This quote probably came to me one night when I scrolled through Tumblr or Goodreads as a teenager in early 2010s, making me go, “Yeah, same.”
I began to embrace the part where I “live my own life” when I figure that people will always come and go, but I will always be me. There is no escaping me. Me is the home my being lives in and the vehicle it drives. Me is the only thing I know for certain and the only control I know I have. That thought process branches out to how I approach relationships: if I’m looking for someone who I can be myself around, it’s me. I spend most of my time with me, my body, my face, my voice; I’m not a half that should look for another half for I am already complete, and I have to learn how to live with that.
As I have grown older, I find this knowledge that you are already a self-fulfilling, whole human being in the first place is incredibly liberating. It seems enlightening to recognize that a person’s value lies in who they already are, and not who they aren’t.
But this liberation didn’t prevent me from misinterpreting this mindset.
One thing that I have noticed is that I tend to believe that being self-fulfilling and self-reliant automatically grants me magical, self-healing abilities. As a whole human being, I should be able to heal my own pain without the help of anyone else. I should be able to “nurse my own wounds”, try to play doctor with myself, even if I don’t know for sure what I’m doing.
That quote didn’t change anything in me; it simply explicated how I’d been living all those years in my late adolescence, reinforcing what I believed to be my ideal way of navigating life: to deal things on my own and shutting everyone out in the process. Maybe it was because I was raised to be accommodating, to put my needs last so that others can feel at ease. Perhaps it was because I was taught that the moment I feel any discomfort, I should simply either dismiss it or work around it rather than through it. Most of my family arguments and friendship conflicts ended up in passive-aggressive sneers and sighs, in which the burden was never released but piled up through the years. In the end, I never really learned how to communicate my feelings verbally when I was younger, so I came to accept keeping a lid on them was the best course of action.
Regardless of the factors, inadvertently making this quote my compass (without considering the context of the quote in the book) has fortified my calculative and over-thoughts decision-making process. If I take this gig, how high would the probability be for me to screw things up and/or make a fool of myself? What is the likelihood of failure in scenarios A, B, and C? It isn’t so much about weighing the pros and cons when making a decision, which I feel like is a normal thing to do, as about focusing solely on things I’m afraid of. This has led me to think and rethink all the worst scenarios just so I can make backup plans and escape routes. Consequently, I would be hesitant to go above and beyond for my endeavors due to my fear of failing and having to recover from that. And when I do make a Mistake, I would have an internal dialogue in which I berate myself for not foreseeing any of it from happening, not exerting control over what can and cannot happen, and/or not learning anything from previous incidents.
The relationship that I have with ideas of trying new things and essentially failing is an unhealthy one, which seems to be based on the formula of ‘the more chances you take’ = ‘the more mistakes you make’ = ‘the more wounds you have to treat’. Accordingly, I would have more wounds to cover up so that the people in my life wouldn’t see me differently. The opposite also applies. Oftentimes, the formula would result in the following: either I would feel less inclined to do things I genuinely want to do, or when something terrible happens because of my actions, I would resort to trying to fix things on my own, even if it means ruining myself in the process.
By all means, there is nothing wrong with living life on your own terms and not depending on other people for your own happiness. What I can no longer afford, however, is preserving the walls I’ve encased myself in for years, along with all my pain, my shame, my faults, what have you.
I have accumulated a number of wounds and skeletons that none of my loved ones know of, and a lot of times, it feels as though they are gnawing away at my insides, looking for an exit. To be fair, now that I look at them, I don’t think they would mind. But as I look back on my life, at where I am today, and finally at the future that looms closer, what I’m more certain of right now is that the way that I’ve been living has inhibited me from realizing my dreams and desires.
This act of accepting that something has to change isn’t entirely because I’m going through a life transition, although it does have a role. Rather, I’m getting tired of thinking that my failures are “the greatest sins of all time”, which makes me undeserving of my desires. I’m tired of viewing mistakes as obstacles to growth when they can be exactly the opposite. Most of all, I’m tired of believing that I shouldn’t let anybody in as I try to nurse my own wounds, building a wall between how they view me and who I really am.
Writing this down has made me realized two things: one, I might have made too big of a deal out of my past mistakes; but also two, at the same time, my feelings might have been valid at that moment. But I no longer feel the need to carry the weight of my past everywhere with me, letting it become my defense mechanism for when things get uncomfortable. I will live my own life and nurse my own wounds; but now, I’ll make room for future errors and downfalls, as well as for the people that I’d like to invite in as I do.
I Want to Live My Own Life, but Not at the Expense of Myself was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.