My biggest mistake in life- and one I occasionally repeat to this day- was believing other people knew how I felt better than I did.
When I say that, I can hardly believe it- it didn’t feel like that was what I was doing. The first time I know of was when I was 13. At that point in time, I was only just starting to deal with chronic pain- and I wasn’t as prepared as I am now. When I was running for P.E., my knees would slip out of place and my bones would grind together. Naturally, I complained about how painful it was to run. My peers (and, if I recall correctly, my teacher) insisted that exercise is supposed to be painful, and you have to work through the pain. I insisted this didn’t feel right, but they said to man up, and that the pain couldn’t be that bad. After awhile, I began to believe them- the pain couldn’t possibly be that bad. I believed them so much that I started to think the pain was just in my head, and was actually a sign that there was something wrong with me. In fact, I believed my peers knew how much pain I was in better than I did.*
Years later, it was becoming apparent that I didn’t experience sexual attraction. But my peers (some of the same peers, some new ones) insisted that I was either straight or gay. And if I didn’t want to have sex with men, I must want to have sex with women. For awhile, I started to believe them. I was convinced I must really want to have sex with women, and the fact I didn’t know or feel that way must be a sign of how broken and disconnected from myself I must be. I believed, due to some trick of Freudian psychology, that my peers knew my sexual orientation better than I did- to the point where I would try and act like I was straight, in an effort to convince myself as much as them.
I have no doubt these weren’t the only times that this has happened; they are simply some of the few memories or stories I still have**. I also have no doubt I still make this mistake. To this day I still catch myself wondering if my body really is in pain- even as I lay down and assess every joint. When a friend asked how my joint pain was doing, I finally gave him a truly honest answer- I have no idea. I spent so many years doubting myself, and constructing fake identities to match what other people thought I should feel, that it’s become difficult for me to conceptualize the pain in my body as being “mine”.***
This creates an interesting dynamic. The fact I spent so much time believing that other people knew how I felt better than I did had the effect of disconnecting me from myself. In a way, it was self fulfilling- by falling for that trick, I ended up not knowing the “real” me. And as long as I believed there was a “real” me that I needed to find, I would believe other people who told me what the “real” me would or should feel.
The solution to this hasn’t been to dig through history or memories to try and figure out who I was or would have been- that’s a hopeless cause, as much as it fascinates me. Instead, it’s been to abandon the past and try to create something new- to accept there is no “real” me out there, somewhere, waiting to be found, and that instead a self is something I have to choose and construct.
*It may be worth noting that my parents and doctors believed me.
**I’m torn as to whether or not it would be proper to say I “remember” these events. I remember the stories, I don’t remember the events (my memory doesn’t go back that far).
***In a weird way, I feel like my asexuality thankfully doesn’t have this problem, since it’s defined by an absence of something instead of a presence. On the other hand, it does sometimes seem weird to call myself asexual when I know I could sort of “convince” myself I’m anything else if I wanted, and play out those roles.