I had the thought this morning that ever since I shifted my attention away from the needs and feelings of others and towards my own, suddenly my whole life started to collapse around me. Noticing little by little that almost nothing I was doing was meeting my needs, that I was only acting habitually to meet the needs of others as they came to me with them. Being a clown, a therapist, a good worker, a warm presence, useful, attractive, kind, friendly, outgoing, giving, whatever was called for. All of it was for others - and to receive their approval and validation in return. I was so cut off from the neck down that I had no awareness of how it was making me feel, what it was doing to me - beyond the fact that it was making me feel...needed? Valued? Worthy? Sometimes none of the above. Just an old script being acted out.

Once I realized it wasn’t ever going to be enough and became more aware of the physical feelings it was producing in me, it all just felt so exhausting. I gradually stopped entertaining, stopped being so emotionally available, stopped forcing myself to smile and laugh on cue, stopped working so hard, became quieter around people I wasn’t interested in connecting with, even cut my hair and simplified my wardrobe. I’ve had a lot of big shifts in the past few years and every year somehow ends up being bigger than the last in terms of the changes that take effect.

I suppose I should be grateful. I suppose that, overall, I am. There’s a part of me that looks back and thinks of the sort of blissful ignorance I was living in, when I was just reacting to the people around me and receiving so much affection in return. But when I really look into it, I wasn’t happy. I was starving. When I look at most old photos of myself I don't feel warmth or nostalgia but a kind of dull sadness. I looked bright and happy but it was just another example of me forcing myself to do things for the people around me. Forcing myself to be happy for them. Forcing myself to stuff my feelings and smile for the camera, like I was trained to. I tossed out and deleted almost all of them. I’ll probably delete more later. I only want to keep the genuine ones.

There is an element of apprehension and fear though - will I look back one day and regret letting it all go?

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