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differentI was always a shy child, eager to please and never one for getting into trouble. I was a good girl, and I behaved myself because I never wanted to disappoint my parents. I did well in school. I was too shy to do otherwise. The worst thing I ever did was talk too much. Once I got to know someone, I usually couldn’t be shut up.

I particularly remember the first time I got in trouble for talking and my first grade teacher made me stand out in the hall for talking to a classmate while she was teaching. I was mortified and fearful that the Principal would suddenly walk by and see me there. I also remember being scolded in High School, again for talking to a close friend while a Math teacher was teaching. I also remember a High School business teacher telling another close friend that she knew the back of her head better than the front since she was always turned around in her seat talking to me. The teacher told us that she could never catch my lips moving, though.

I was good in small social situations, but I never really liked being the center of attention. High School was rough. I went to a tough school, and I spent most of my days trying to hide and not be noticed. I stood out because I was tall so I tried hard to minimize most everything else about me. If I inadvertently attracted a bully’s attention, I went out of my way to avoid it happening again. I would walk a longer, more circuitous route to avoid the place where the bullying had occurred. I even went so far as to change classes to escape that sort of interaction. I got real good at being invisible.

Once I graduated and I got out into the working world, I was told I was too shy. My first long-term job was life changing. I recall a boss telling me she enjoyed watching me come out of my shell. I certainly was never the life of the party, and some social situations remained difficult for me. It was the 1980’s, and I remember acting out with hair dye, nail polish, big earrings, shoes to go with each outfit, metal music and fast sports cars. I dyed my normal brown hair Nice ‘N’ Easy blue-black. I listened to heavy metal music (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue). I drove Pontiac Firebirds – all brand new. I had a 1980 copper-colored Firebird, a 1982 black Firebird and a 1986 red Firebird. I was young, and I was having fun.

Then things changed. When I was 26, my cohort and partner-in-crime, my cousin moved to Texas to be closer to her branch of the family (her mother, my mother’s sister, had moved there to be near her grandchildren). I no longer had anyone to do things with. I went to a few concerts with my brother (Ozzy Osbourne) and even my mother (Phil Collins), but it wasn’t the same. Then my father died when I was 28. My world changed overnight.

As I struggled with the grief and sadness, I found myself having to suppress much of what I was feeling because my mother withdrew into herself. She didn’t want me crying in front of her so I would cry at night when I went to bed. I watched helplessly as my mother stripped every sign and piece of my father out of the house. His clothes, his pictures, and his things – they all got packed away or given away. She didn’t want any reminders. I guess it was just too hard for her. I couldn’t understand it then, and I still don’t today (29 years later). She would eventually get a few pictures back out, but it was hard on me to see him suddenly disappear from everything and everywhere.

My father’s death was the impetus that got me out of the house. I looked around and realized I was 28 and still single. I had no life. I worked, and I went home to my mother to a house that was full of love but still empty in so many ways. She actually pushed me to answer a newspaper ad, and I met my Hubby.

My husband is like me in many ways, but he’s also very different. He’s an ex-radio disc jockey so there is an outgoing side to his personality that I don’t share. He can talk to strangers. I have a harder time with that. He’d also been hurt in love many more times than I had. I had one serious relationship before him. He liked music, and he will tell you that he’ll listen to everything. He doesn’t like the hard stuff like I do, though. When we got together, I may have toned down some of the crazy in me. Who doesn’t want to put their best foot forward?

When we got serious about each other and realized that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together, I really thought I wanted what my mother had always had. I wanted to be a housewife. That was all I’d ever aspired to. I wanted to be home baking cookies. I look back now, and I wonder what the hell I was thinking. Why did I think I ever wanted to be my mother? I got pregnant fairly quickly, and I had two wonderful sons. I continued working, and I spent my days trying to fit it all in like so many working mothers. I also suppressed parts of myself, trying to fit in and trying to be the perfect wife and mother.

As a mother, I would have my struggles. I was gifted with two outstanding young men, but they would both have their problems getting through school. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Autism, and Diabetes – all would become words that I would know very well. Having to steer two young men through the school system and life is hard enough when they don’t have disabilities. Having to do it when they do have issues and need more help and advocating is damned hard. I learned so much over their school years. I also learned that I had to play nice, play by the rules of the various committees, administrators and departments. I often wanted to unleash strings of profanity, but I was forced to behave and do what was required of me. I grew in many ways having to advocate for my sons. No one else was going to speak up for them and be solidly in their corner. I had to do it.

Along the way I would also lose my mother. She died when I was 46 and that would be a hard blow. I always thought of my mother as a best friend and not just a mother. I can look back now and realize that she wasn’t perfect. None of us are. Two years after I lost her, I lost one of the best friends I ever had in this life, my cat, Raymond. Losing the two of them had me reeling. There was such a major disconnect in my life. I continued to work and did my best to put my efforts into the screwed-up start-up firm where I worked. I didn’t want anyone to know how badly messed up I was. I continued to get my boys through school. I had to. The part I came dangerously close to destroying was my relationship with my husband.

We had always been close and all of a sudden, he didn’t have me. I withdrew. I was probably suffering from clinical depression of some sort at the time, and I might have benefited from talking to someone, but I wouldn’t admit for the longest time that there was a problem. Thank God my Hubby hung in there and kept trying. He finally got through, and when I reached 50 I had an epiphany of sorts. I’d lost track of who I really wanted to be.

Losses in life, new relationships, changes in status, and dealing with disabilities and illness had forced me to grow up, get quieter, and strive to be something I’m not – a normal, mousey housewife. Working in conservative environments certainly didn’t allow the creative side of me to shine through. They squashed the fun on a daily basis.

youselfTurning 50, I suddenly looked around and realized the years of walking into a room or a social situation and trying to hide were over. I was so sure that everyone was staring at me and judging me. I was acting the way my socially anxious mother always had (hiding), and that’s not really me. I had grown so far past that. I began to realize it didn’t matter what others thought. I had to be comfortable with myself, and I wasn’t.

So I changed. It took me a long time to reach this point. I am ecstatic that I did. I am finally happy and comfortable enough to be different and let my rough edges show and not just go along and fit in where I think people want me to fit in.

Being different is what makes us all unique and valuable. I see that now.

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