I'm not a naturally balanced gal. Since I was a little girl, I've always been drawn to extremes. I wanted to wear either a glittering, hot pink, in-your-face dress or absolutely nothing at all (that hasn't changed, by the way).
Now, I'm a gimme-sky-high-heels-or-scuffed-dirty-Converse kind of girl. I will either dye my hair so black that it looks blue, or I'll make it a silvery, ice-cold blonde so overloaded with bleach that my hair breaks off. I'm either hopelessly in the throes of l-o-v-e or an independent, unattainable woman who doesn't f*cking need you or your affection, assh*le.
Want to go on a date? Let's either venture to the dirtiest dive in the deepest depths of Brooklyn or the poshest, chicest, shiniest marble-lobbied hotel bar in Upper Manhattan.
Even my sexuality is extreme. When I finally crawled out of the closet and confessed I was a lez, my friends and family pressed me with same question: "Aren't you at least a little bit bisexual? Aren't you sort of on the spectrum of sexuality?"
Nah, babe. There's no fluidity here. I love and lust only after girl creatures only. Give me a lady body or give me celibacy.
I've resisted balance for my entire life. Big feelings are the driving force behind my creativity, so why would I ever want to feel even-keeled? I want to create work that pushes boundaries and raises difficult questions, not work that just makes people feel comfortable and safe. No amount of honey-haired, bronze-skinned, kale-consuming yogis on Instagram can force me to drink the balanced Kool-Aid (kale-aide?).
None of this seemed like a problem until a few years back.
I was sinking into a plush velvet couch, twirling my (black) hair between my fingers during a dull therapy session. And then my shrink laid it all out for me.
"Do you realize why you're in love with Kate*?" she asked me, her baby blue eyes staring at me with a comforting vacancy exclusive to mental health professionals.
"Because I just am." I released a not-so-subtle yawn from my shiny red-lipsticked lips. I could feel myself growing listless and aggravated and on the verge of tears of boredom.
I've really got to stop shelling out $120 per week to this lackluster lady, I thought to myself, staring blankly at the sapphire face of my vintage watch ... only to realize it wasn't functioning and was entirely there for show. Metaphor for my life? Probably.
"Zara, you love Kate because one day she's confessing her love to you and the next day she's telling you that she hates your guts. You're with her because her opinion of YOU matches your opinion of YOURSELF," Ms. Therapist said, her smoker's voice maintaining an irritatingly even tempo.
I blinked my mascara-adorned eyes right at her but didn't utter a single word. I could feel a lightbulb going off in my brain, and I knew talking would blow it right the f*ck out.
"What does that mean?!" I uncrossed my arms and dropped my guard.
"You have a love/hate relationship with yourself, and YOU'RE convinced that if you can get Kate to love you consistently, you will be able to convince yourself that you're worthy of being loved consistently."
F*ck. Sh*t. Damn. BAM. GULP.
My tongue felt foreign in my mouth, and I felt suddenly dehydrated. Actually, I felt like crying. Ms. Therapist might have been cursed with a flat voice and a mundane taste in office decor, but damn, the bitch was right.
It was in that moment, melting into my therapist's expensive velvet couch, that I learned a pivotal life truth: I teeter between hating myself and feeling like the f*cking queen.
My relationship with myself was a direct reflection of my relationship with my girlfriend at the time. Sweeps of love and affection met with low blows of disapproval and criticism. I was attracted to Kate because I was subconsciously sure that if I could make her believe I was a good person, then I could convince myself of the same.
But it doesn't work like that. You can't ever rely on a person to fix your brokenness -- especially when that person is equally as broken.
Regardless, for the next couple of years, I continued to live my life with a playlist of negative self-talk inside my little head. If you don't know what I'm talking about when I say "negative self-talk," I'm happy for you. If you do, don't fret. You're in good company, sweet kitten.
Those of us who indulge in the negative self-talk bash ourselves and speak in ways that we would never, ever speak to a friend. You're fat; you're ugly; you're f*cking worthless; your talent is mediocre and you're an embarrassment to your entire family. You're a fraud. You will never find love because you're so f*cking hideous, I repeated daily, like a dark, twisted mantra. Those abusive words served as my inner dialogue for almost a decade.
I didn't even realize it was self-destructive and severely affecting my self esteem. It was just my routine. Another day, another insult.
All that negative self-talk would cause me to do negative self things. Like starve myself as a punishment for being so FAT. Or isolate myself socially, because I was so mediocre and embarrassing that I deserved to be GROUNDED.
Sounds like a blast, huh? Yeah, a blast in glass.
Joking aside, it was miserable. I mean, we're all stuck in this skin, and when you have such a tempestuous relationship with the girl inside, it's pretty hard to maintain any semblance of happiness or peacefulness. It's like living your life surgically attached at the hip with your worst enemy.
These dark moments of misery would be peppered in with fleeting moments of euphoria. If I got the part I auditioned for, I felt i-n-v-i-n-c-i-b-l-e -- like nothing could touch me or hurt me that day. If I caught the affection of the girl I lusted after, then I was surely a "legit" person. If I tipped the scale at under 110 pounds, I was worthy of being loved and allowed to be happy and forgiven for all the "bad" things I'd done.
There are a gazillion reasons that led me to toward this push-pull relationship with myself: trauma, chemical imbalance, lack of consistency in early relationships, chaotic teen years, too many mind-altering substances in said teen years, a creative brain, hyper-sensitivity -- the works. There are too many roots that sprung me into this habit. It's irrelevant at this point.
But recently, it's been like the clouds have broken open and the light has come through, and I've been hit with all these epiphanies. I don't know if it's because I'm going to be 30 in less than a month (WTF -- WHEN AND HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!) and something has shifted, but the cloudy, sh*tstorm of my twenties is starting to clear. The blurriness is starting to crystallize before my eyes and things are starting to make sense.
And one of the main things I've learned is that I'm SICK of living like this. I'm tired, weary, and uninspired by the inconsistent, unbalanced, self-hating relationship I have with myself. I want to learn to feel OK with just feeling OK.
The main reason I teeter between this extreme self-love and extreme self-hate is because I haven't cultivated real, authentic, deep-rooted foundation of self-esteem within myself yet.
I will hate myself because I've "failed" to get a job. I will "love" myself (superficially) because a girl likes me. But at the end of the day, these things -- while lovely -- they lack substance. People come and go. Even the best job will give you the worst days.
And jobs, people and numbers on a scale aren't really an accurate read on where I'm really at, anyway. In fact, most of those things aren't about me at all. Maybe I didn't book that gig because I reminded the producer of his ex-girlfriend. Maybe I caught the eye of the cool girl because she liked my style and the idea of me, not who I REALLY am.
Rollercoasters are fun and enthralling, but they're also dizzying. I'm ready to hop off this ride and feel my feet planted in the solid ground. So I'm doing it, kittens. I'm taking a ride on the ~stable~ train.
The girl who has resisted balance for 29 years is ready to start a healthy relationship with herself. I want to be able to look in the mirror and maybe not LOVE my body size (it's impossible to love your body every day), but at least not have that be the SOLE piece of evidence for how I feel about myself.
I always ran away from the idea of balance; I thought it was boring. I confused balance with mediocrity. After all, the kind of art I'm drawn to is extreme. Who wants to see a movie about a girl who has it together? Not me. I want to see a movie about a girl either in the middle of a breakdown or flying high in the happy sky.
But I think I got it all wrong. Because maybe once you cultivate a solid foundation within yourself, you're even more free to take risks and live recklessly on the edge.
Having stability gives you a special confidence. It gives you the freedom to travel to all the wild, creative places you want to go, because you will know that you will always have a safe place to land. And that safe place will be yourself.
*Name has been changed.