This is a post about 30 years in the making. And that sounds about better than the reality that my healing is about that much past due.

Skin is the thing that holds me together, contains and constrains me — but it’s also the thing I want to tear away and escape from at any given time. Yet it’s the thing that prevents me from scattering into a million pieces, no matter how paper-thin, easily bruised and fragile it seems to be.

I watch movies and read books and create grand scenarios in my mind about all the amazing things in life I have yet to see and experience. The thing that gets me motivated in the morning is the possibility that maybe THIS is the day that holds some magic — ‘THIS,’ whatever it might be, is going to be the catalyst that interrupts this random series of psychological boo-boos and the routine that I try my darndest to not resent.

It’s not so much the routine that suffocates me, but rather my fear at trying to break out of it. Don’t get me wrong — I am not afraid of shaking up the world. Far from it. But my skin is tired, raw, covered. Nobody is better at hiding within themselves as I am.

I have a very hard time articulating myself sometimes. I know, most of you will find that odd, but it’s true. I can form the thoughts in my head and come out with them if they’re funny or off-the-wall or maybe even heartfelt. But when it comes to asking for something that will assist in my mental well-being, I can’t do it.

That’s when I get testy, abrasive. If you spot something in my tone that betrays me, I guarantee you that something has been building. And building. And it’s ready to blow by the point you think, “Gee, she seems a little terse today.” That’s because I have been simmering and seething and plotting how things SHOULD be, but I’m too much of a damn puss to SAY it.

Instead, I grit my teeth, force a smile and dig my nails straight into my skin. I don’t know if that necessarily qualifies for self-injury, although when I start ripping off my nails in a fit, that’s a pretty good indicator that I’ve hit my damn limits.

Why don’t I fight for myself? Maybe it’s that I’m a girl who was brought up to not take shit from anybody BUT who doesn’t know any constructive coping mechanisms. All I know is that I hate injustice and I will fight against it at all costs, but maybe I need people to fight for/alongside me. Strength in numbers, I guess. Weakness in solitude, then. And maybe that explains a lot, for me anyway.

And that people LET me quietly suffocate myself. I know they see it. I am not going to answer on the first ask, if it even comes at all. You know I don’t trust anybody. But it’s all I can do some days to keep from lighting up the sky like a Zambelli’s fireworks display if my skin is so much as barely grazed. I’m holding in A LOT. It doesn’t take much to get it out, but for the fact that I don’t see anybody trying, I have a way of assuming my wants/needs/thoughts don’t mean anything to anyone but me.

Call me a martyr or whatever you will, but I can’t talk past the burn in my chest and the lump in my throat. Today I burst straight into tears when I was getting my nails done and the phone rang for the THIRD time and I’d gotten CUT for the third time reaching for the phone, and a year’s worth of frustration came out of my mouth in 90 seconds. It’s THAT easy to get me to open up. My blood flows as hot as anyone else’s, and some days it’s more toxic than others. But boy did I feel (a slight bit) better (for the time being). (And yes, I tipped VERY well today! Because, yes, I am grateful for anyone who listens.)

I have often wondered if I were in different skin, would I be different. What if I weren’t always trying to hide it — would I hide myself less? Would I want to be seen as well as heard? Would I finally feel JUSTIFIED in saying, “Hey, SEE me. LISTEN to me. GIVE ME what I need.”

Makes me think about when you have a crush on somebody and you’re terrified to let them know. Even though the worst thing (you think) can happen is that they don’t feel the same way, if you’re young or if you just have bad taste, the person who doesn’t feel the same way tells your peers and the jokes/rumors begin and you feel like the laughingstock of the world. You go from 60 to zero — from feeling like you’re empowered and taking charge of your emotions and your needs … to someone whose heart was liquefied for someone else’s entertainment.

Or, like in a previous job, they bragged about hiring the “best and brightest” but then they trampled our spirits daily. Gee, thanks for telling me my ideas sucked and then IMPLEMENTING them behind my back. The good people left; the mediocre ones continue to stare at the walls. I think it’s a compliment that I was the “problem child” only because I constantly had new plans to further the success of the company and was willing to achieve them — if only they would’ve gotten out of my way and let me.

I’m one of those people who’s channeled all of my passion into my work. And when that gets tough going and/or all-consuming, I have no other place to regenerate the faith that I’ve lost.

I think the submissiveness in general comes with the ending of the official “youth.” You go out into the world, educated and motivated and energized and ready to conquer. Then after a few years of having the spirit beaten out of you, you succumb to one of two things: quiet desperation, in which you just keep your ambitions to yourself and put in your personal time in hopes that you’ll figure out how to make this all worth it in the end, or else you figure out the limbo mark, where you put in “just enough” to stay employed and you can channel your energy into personal pursuits.

I look at my friends who, like me, are in the first category, unquestionably. And then when they go on to have kids, they really don’t mean to but they start to slide a tiny bit into the second category. Not that they’d ever lose their ambition, of course, but when you’ve got other people to think about, you suddenly find your voice to say “no” — as in, “Nope, somebody else comes first now.” Somebody whose needs are equal in importance to your own, but somehow more urgent.

Because for all of us who’ve been told to schedule our doctor’s visits or personal business for a more convenient time (for whom?), a number of us have gotten out of the habit of even scheduling them at all. And then you wake up one day with your blood pressure through the charts and a filling that’s been missing from your tooth for three years and you haven’t had your tension-headache prescription refilled since 2001, and it’s like why even bother starting to take care of yourself now? Why bring attention to yourself and your problems?

I think it goes back to middle-school days — you learned quickly that the surefire way to not be harassed was to fade into the background. Which was so unlike me at the time — I had a weird little sense of style and I liked my hair-metal music and I wrote poetry and had a gay boyfriend. Believe me, I was known! I wasn’t shy and all the teachers knew me and they treated me like an adult because that’s how I addressed them.

I don’t think my spirit got broken all at once, although I can identify times in my life when chunks of it were decimated in one fell swoop or continually corroded until I realized that a part of me had gone missing but I’d been too preoccupied/busy to notice while it might still have been salvageable.

There’s a part of me — irrational, I know — that sometimes wonders if maybe I’m not meant to get ahead. Like, on paper everything should be fine, but in practice? Not so much. I often stop to wonder why I keep trying anyway.

Like, why do I keep buying nice “weekend” outfits and wearing makeup simply to run errrands under the auspices of “what if I bump into the yet-unmet love of my life? I wouldn’t want to look like hell and have him run on by”? Why don’t I just accept that I’m not a pretty girl and maybe I find myself alone more often than not because maybe love and luck and good fortune are meant to be dangled before me yet never truly attained?

I hold my breath a lot. I don’t mean to — I just immerse myself in my stillness. It’s a waking apnea, if you will. Sometimes I think that if I’m still enough, no one will notice me. Or, more accurately, they will not notice everything about me that I try so hard to pretend isn’t so or that I work very hard to disguise.

My mom gets upset that I don’t get out and meet people — I used to be such a party girl. If there were an event, not only would I close down the show, but I’d also bring a handful of friends to liven up the festivities. She thinks people bring out the best in me and that my hermit-like state in which I hide is effectively drowning me.

Now, there’s just no time or money left over at the end of the day to do much of anything, and my weekends have become errand-running, sleep-deprivation-correcting odysseys. And “personal days” end up being more work to prepare for/deal with loose ends during that they hardly seem worth it.

The sad part is that I have become my own worst nightmare in that I am too tired to care. Or maybe, I have moments of being happy that I don’t have to “be seen.”

Don’t get me wrong, I will put together an outfit and do my makeup and go through all my rituals to look presentable. Even though I’m feeling like hell inside and often looking like it on the outside (by society’s standards, anyway), I can’t give up trying to project the way I WANT to be feeling. Instead, I make myself sick with stress and I bottle up things that should never go unsaid or unacknowledged, for fear of bringing any more drama on top of what I’ve already got.

I don’t know. Right now, my bones feel too tired to hold up this skin and all that resides within me. I wish I were able to just “say when” without the all-consuming terror that by me asking for some breathing room, I’ll only end up with someone cutting off my oxygen supply.

My skin has gone through some serious wars and the battle scars run deep, and it shows in all of the heartbreak and neuroses I’ve revealed today. They say you won’t know true heights until you’ve known great depths. And in this, I’m hoping that after great pain can come great joy, health and strength … and I wish for the wherewithal to obtain them, as they don’t seem like they’re ever going to come to me on their own. …

One Lonely Response to Skin

  1. Isabel :


    Great post. You are NOT alone in these feelings!

    If I were your health counselor, I would prescribe more vitamin F (“FUN” !!). What’s one thing you can do in the next 48 hours (even if it’s a small thing) that you would find really juicy and fun and yummy and awesome? Bubble bath? Walk outside in the abnormally warm weather? Sing along to your favorite CD at the top of your lungs? Take 20 minutes to draw silly pictures/doodle? Visit the Nat’l Botanical Garden? People-watch at the airport? Etc.

    Supporting you,