It seems like only yesterday I was facing all that life had in store. I had, finally, arrived! Yes! I had hit that age, that magic number I thought would automatically turn me into a, ahem, grown up. I thought wrong.
I can still hear myself telling mom “when I grow up I am going to …” or “when I grow up I will never …”. Now I am beginning to think the look on her face was one of sheer amusement.
I guess part of the problem, for me, was that I thought of growing up as a sort of destination – a state of being that miraculously transformed my silly, naive kid brain into a full blown adult brain. Woo-hoo. I couldn’t wait to grow up. I mean, one day I’m a baby- knowing- zip about life and caught with a potty stuck to my bum and then, in a blink, I’m an adult not sure what I know about life and, well, no, I have not been stuck to a potty in a l-o-n-g time, however, there have been many moments in life that left me feeling as vulnerable as that little girl.
In general, I did just fine in my grown up world. However, any time something popped up, issues or circumstances that revealed a subordinate tendency I had with family and friends, it was easier to just do, say or be whatever it was I felt everyone was expecting of me. Instead of thinking about what my own real feelings may have been I would simply bury them under a busy schedule. It was when things started changing with my health – because I couldn’t be as active physically I found myself left with those long ago buried thoughts and feelings. I began to see the need to, gasp, grow up and face myself … to think about my life, the way illness was impacting it and, especially how it affected the people in my life.
Since then I’ve given growing up a lot of thought. What it is and what it is not. That it is a difficult ever changing, constantly evolving, life phase that never ends. It most certainly is not easy nor is it relative to one’s (physical) age and … once again … it never ends.
Yes, I think growing up is definitely hard to do – the largest growth spurt in my life has been these past several years. Initially I would have said illness was the impetus towards this growing phase. However, what has proven to bear the greatest weight, and influence, has been how family and friends have reacted to my illness.
It was bad enough having my life upended after the diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s. When I saw what it was doing to my relationships – what it was doing to my sense of self – well, I knew I had to do something.
I needed to grow up.
The problem, as I’ve already pointed out, is how oh-so-hard it is to grow up. And among the reasons why, as I see it, has to do with the variances in defining what, exactly, it is that qualifies us as being real life, true blue grown ups.
So, what is it about growing up that makes it so difficult? Simply put, I think it’s tied to how “real” we can be with ourselves, our families, friends, colleagues, well, you get the point.
How real are we in life, period.
It’s one thing to feel comfortable enough with others and, therefore, relaxing any boundaries we may have around our feelings. However, it is entirely another thing to feel comfortable enough with our own self to where we allow others to see us as we really are, emotional warts and all.
Now, that doesn’t mean losing all sense of dignity and just letting it all hang out, as the saying goes. It doesn’t mean we must reveal every single thought or feeling we have ever had nor does it mean airing any and all personal or dirty laundry to anyone with ears.
For me it comes down to being comfortable in my own skin. I don’t look at everything as a reflection of who I am as a person, as a gauge of my worth as a human being. I am no longer quick to toss my own feelings, thoughts, ideas aside in order to live up to or meet every one else’s requirements when it comes to what they have decided is important to a friendship.
I realize there are variances when it comes to what growing up means to different people – after all, like most things in life, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to personalities. That said, I do think the ability to stay tapped into our true self when interacting with others transcends those variances. And when we learn to balance being real with how we express our own individuality in our relationships, with our family and friends, well, it contributes to healthier relationships while enhancing our personal sense of self.
Growing up is hard to do – it is an ongoing endeavor – and its definitely worth the effort. I only wish I would have realized some of these things before my life changed because of illness. In some ways it’s just too late for me, however, that is why I share my experiences with anyone who wants to read them … if it can be helpful to someone else. So I guess it all boils down to my simply saying “get real!”
Huh. All the times I have said that in my mind …