It’s Up To You
There have been times in my life during which people questioned the level of independence I exhibited, the small support system I maintained. Most of these individuals never intended harm in asking the question, but I began to notice a trend: For a society that speaks so highly of reflection and self-improvement, we stray from individuality and independence in practice. Words are an entirely different story, as we all speak of being unique, being independent. We place labels on ourselves and those around us in regard to personality types and whether we’re introverts or extroverts. I’ve always noticed a tone of disdain when people speak of introverts. I vividly remember my family saying that the quiet kids — the introverts — were the ones that would one day snap and bring a gun to school, the ones whose reserved appearance apparently predicted a negative future. This, you see, is just another way that the labels we dole out result in a toxic headspace to all who subscribe.
Oscar Wilde once said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” As we move through life, we participate in the norms and expectations which were established long before us, but we rarely stop to question or challenge those preexisting notions, thoughts, and roles. My experiences as a young, gay man growing up in a toxic, unsupportive environment resulted in a different way of viewing the world than most people. I kept my mind and heart on lockdown at all times, only opening up to a select few people who I felt I could trust with my life. Here’s the thing about being a closeted, gay kid: you learn to play whatever role you must in order to protect yourself and fit the mold that everyone expects of you. At first, I was the reserved, introverted kid with few friends and a nonexistent support system. Over time my family caught on and I realized I needed to change my personality in order to fit in and lessen the risk of outing myself. So, I became an extrovert. I became a strange type of popular where everyone knew who I was but no one necessarily considered me a friend. I became the person I was expected to be without anyone knowing the full truth of my identity. I became what those around me were, I took the opinions of others to be my own, and I mimicked the lives of everyone else.
Eventually, it became difficult to discern between my manufactured identity and my authentic one. Most LGBTQ people will be able to connect with this, as we’ve all put forth the identity that’s expected rather than the one we take as our own because of fear, stigma, and the inability to be openly ourselves at one point or another. For far too long, I’ve allowed the input of others to dictate the way I live my life. Either I’m too independent or too dependent on others, I have a surplus of friends or I hardly have enough, I’m overly ambitious and outgoing or I’m too reserved. These past months have provided me with the opportunity to really dig into the idea of independence and the people I allow to be close enough to know all of me. Most people preach independence while engaging in toxic interdependence and refuse to recognize the hypocrisy of their words. They allow themselves to be hurt time and again because they expose themselves to the masses but criticize others for keeping their support systems close to the vest. The daily mantra that many of us follow — ‘I am enough’ — is null and void unless we put forth the effort to trust ourselves before others, to cease the endless judgement that comes from our own insecurities, and the end to subscription to society’s toxic norms and expectations.
I’ve often felt insecure about my level of independence and the small support system I keep, but there is no standard that applies to everyone. The way I live my life and perceive my experiences will never be the same as someone else, but others will inevitably criticize the way people handle themselves in comparison to their own thoughts and practices. My hyper-analytical nature and independence may have begun as a defense mechanism, but these are just as much a part of my identity as being gay is. People judge and criticize based on a lack of understanding and a severe level of insecurity, but my independence has nothing to do with other people. In other words, I’m independent because my independence makes me healthiest — it strengthens my mind and my mental wellbeing in ways that being interdependent never can. Because of the lack of dependable relationships through adolescence, I latched onto anyone who showed me affection or emotion, and that was just as harmful as the lack of relationships as a whole. Over the years, I’ve put a great emphasis on self-reflection and maintaining an internal dialogue to keep constant tabs on my mental health. I know the difference between being depressed for a day and suffering from clinical depression, I know if I’m anxious for a reason or if my anxiety is becoming debilitating, and I have a pretty accurate read on people in my life so as to know who’s a threat to my mental health and who’s not. Aside from the occasional, powerful conversation with a therapist, these skills were honed over time through my independence and self-reliance — without the input or assistance of others.
I think the real reason everyone is so quick to judge someone on the level of their independence or the size of their support system is because people are incredibly fearful of being alone with themselves and their own thoughts. They use others as their distraction — no matter how toxic that may prove to be. They preach mindfulness and thoughtfulness without truly understanding the concepts or actively engaging in the practices themselves.
I’ve learned that my independence and my support system are incredible strengths for my overall wellbeing, shaping me into a stronger individual, and a more reliable friend. With the independence and identities of LGBTQ people constantly in question, I often think of The Buddha’s wisdom: “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may, we ourselves must walk the path.” It’s up to you, to me, to each one of us individually to determine what works for us and our lives. To survive and thrive as content and ambitious human beings, we must stop catering to the demands and expectations of others and shift our focus within. I mean this in the least cynical way possible, but you should be the most dependable person you will ever meet. Tabling the idea of being dependable for others, focus instead on being dependable for yourself. Determine what makes you happy, what makes you healthy, and what makes you the best version of yourself that you can be. As you discover the answers to all of this, you can then figure out where others fit into the equation.
Delving into the confines of your own mind can be a terrifying endeavor, but it’s a journey you won’t regret taking. LGBTQ people are often used to being reliable for everyone other than themselves. We let people take and take and take until we can’t recognize the identity that we buried under so many layers of trauma and self loathing. You are your greatest strength. Don’t allow anyone to diminish the person you’re destined to be, the person that you owe it to yourself to become. The independent, brilliant, entirely-authentic version of yourself that already lies within.