I have a persistent fear of being judged. I fear people judging me for big things like what I choose to do for a living and who I spend my time with, but also for things like what I choose to eat and how I raise my cat. We all know people who claim they don’t care at all what people think of them, but I think everyone cares to some degree. I used to care far too much, and I probably still care too much, but I’m working on that.
I tend to look younger than my actual age, which is a positive in most ways (who doesn’t want to look young? I sure hope it continues) but it can also be an awkward thing, at least for someone as sensitive as I am. Usually when someone finds out my real age (32) they have to tell me how shocked they are, and how they assumed I was in my early to mid 20s. A sensible person would be able to take this and think, “Cool! I look young!” but I kick into over-analysis mode. I tell myself that the reason people think I’m so young likely has nothing to do with how I look. People think I’m young because of where I am in my life and my career. This has long been a major theme for me and I can’t tell you how many people (therapists and friends alike) have tried to make me feel better by telling me things like “There’s no timeline of life, everybody’s different!” or “you’re right where you should be!” I appreciate this, but let’s face it, had my eating disorder not been such a major force for so long, I would be in a very different place. I had goals that sadly were never achieved.
That said, I am generally satisfied with my life right now, so maybe I shouldn’t complain? I used to really hate phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “you’re so much stronger for having gone through ______.” I felt like it invalidated my struggle– sure, everyone goes through difficult stuff and can learn from those experiences. However, with certain very traumatic events or extremely dark times in mental illness, I found it almost offensive to suggest that anything positive could be taken from those experiences. I got more than a little upset when an overly cheerful therapist said to me, “Well, you’ve been through a lot, but I bet you wouldn’t change a thing if you had to do it all over again. Those experiences made you who you are today!” Ugh, just… no.
These days I can see more of the gray area. There are absolutely things I would choose not to experience as well as choices I would make differently if I had the chance to “do it all over again.” That said, thinking about those things is kind of futile. I can’t go back and dwelling on past experiences or mistakes only brings me down.
Honestly, one of my reasons for wanting to open up about my past was to let people know that there were legitimate reasons to “explain” why I am where I am today. I didn’t want people to think I was just lazy or unmotivated and that’s why it took me eight years to graduate from college, or why I spent most of my 20s working at places like Bath & Body Works instead of having a “real job.”
I also used to constantly worry about people judging me for my life choices, and I even confused myself into thinking I wanted certain things because that’s what I was “supposed to” want. I’m not one of those people who worries about finding a husband or having kids before I’m too old. I actually don’t think about those things at all. Is this weird? Maybe, but I’m learning to be okay with it. Back when I was really deep in my eating disorder I assumed I just didn’t think about or want those things because I was so consumed by my disorder. However, after years of being in a better place I find that I still don’t really care about those things. I’m not completely opposed to the idea of one day being in a relationship or adopting a child, but this certainly is not a topic on my list of everyday worries (and thank god, because that list is long enough). I’m lucky that in reality I don’t have too many nosy people asking me why I’m not dating or why I’m not worried about my “biological clock,” but I know some people get a lot of this. I wish people would stop. Not everyone wants to date or get married. Not everyone wants to have kids. Some people can’t have kids.
When I would bring these things up in therapy my therapist would ask, “Who is judging you for these things? What are they saying?” and I could never give her a quick answer. The truth is, very rarely does anyone ever explicitly question me about these things. I’ve always just been worried that people were silently judging me for all of it.
Sure, if it wasn’t for my eating disorder and other things, I could have finished college in the standard four years and gone straight to grad school. I could have had my PhD by the time I was 26 or 27. I could still be living back East, working a completely different job, making a lot more money. Would I be happy? Maybe but maybe not; there are no guarantees in life. These days I try to appreciate where I am. Some people who have been through what I’ve been through never make it nearly this far. Some spend the rest of their lives on disability, unable to function well enough to fulfill any of their dreams. Some also die. I eventually did graduate from college and even went on to get my master’s degree. I’m working for an amazing agency alongside people I love. I hope to continue to grow here and see where it leads me.