“What will others think?”

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And why should I give a fuck?

One thing that I keep noticing with mental health conversations is that people seem to be spending an awful amount of time worrying about what others think. I’ve got to admit I have a really hard time in relating. Mostly because I’ve given up worrying about that a long time ago.

I think it’s because I’ve always been a bit of an oddball. I cut my hair boy-length when I was nine, a definite social faux-pa in my school. Some girls would make fun of me relentlessly. (Well for that and other stuff, I was bullied a lot.)

And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hurtful. Of course it was. But I still saw no point in changing. My hair has remained short ever since. Why should I change for the benefit of people who were mean to me to begin with?

One time we were asked to build a farm out of play-dough. I got bored with it halfway through so I added a little stage made out of ice lolly sticks and some chairs on the field, a complex structure complete with big red curtains.

One of the girls on my class asked what it was.

“So they can hold farming shows,” I replied.

“Why can’t you be normal just for once?”

I remember taking it as a compliment. I realised that I didn’t want to be normal, if it meant being exactly like everyone else.

This may seem as something admirable at such a young age but truth be told, a lot of people give into peer pressure at that age in order to keep at least some form of social standing. I was an outcast from day one so that was never really an option for me.

They were just things that were impossible to change. My legs were really out of proportion with the rest of my body when I was a kid so I walked with a duck-like wobble. Other kids would copy me and film me with their phones. Nowadays my long legs are definitely my most complimented physical feature. C’est la vie.

I also had a stutter. A mild one but noticeable enough for everyone to copy me. I can’t remember how but I must’ve grown out of it. I still do a little nervous laughter when I don’t quite know what to say next and my (ex) boyfriend used to ask could I go and see a speech therapist for it as he absolutely hated it.

Had I changed for the benefit of some young (or slightly older) shitheads, I think an outcast I would’ve remained in any case. Just a miserable one.

What would’ve been the point?

I also had the benefit of having parents who don’t care what others think either. They always encouraged me to do my own thing and be my own person. My dad grew up in the same shithole town I was born in and he’d always been an oddball as well. I think that saved me at the end of the day. To my family I was always good enough as I was.

So I resigned from the post completely. I never really identified with whichever class I was thrown into while I was in school. Of course at times it was lonely but I also had my own thing going on. I made friends with other social misfits. It wasn’t until high school that I became a member of a group of eight girls. Then I became the group clown who would do anything to make others laugh. It was a drug.

I had thought of myself as an introvert all my life but it turned out to be quite the opposite. I had just been waiting for the right audience.

Then came university and I dated a boy who took it upon himself to painstakingly crush my self-image bit by bit.

I think abusive people should be used in some sort of scientific research. Like torture or counter terrorism. They are so clever in mapping you out. Over the course of time this person carefully drew the map of my little quirks, idiosyncrasies and insecurities. He knew exactly what to say and what to tap into. As my partner he had the benefit of seeing me at my weakest.

Nowadays I understand that he was just one of the bullies in school. He was very insecure about himself, terrified of what others thought of him and it killed him that I never cared. Two years into our relationship I was terrified of him but never did he manage to instil that same fear of societal judgement into me.

To this day that’s what I’m most proud of. He never managed to break me completely.

I understand that not everyone has had to go through similar sort of things. Also I can completely understand why it’s not easy to shut your ears from your surroundings. Not everyone has the benefit of still being able to make close friends and having a supportive family. If it’s just you against the world it’s pretty fucking easy of me to start talking about just not giving a shit.

But I am.

If I’ve learnt anything from being a journalist, it’s that people love talking about themselves. Once you get a person talking about themselves, you’ve cracked it. In the most successful interviews I haven’t had to ask more than a handful of questions, and that’s just to clear something up. Otherwise the story flows freely and all I have to do is to make notes.

What I’m trying to say is that don’t be so worried about what others think about you, because they are way too busy worrying about themselves.

It’s true, mental health issues are stigmatised in society. It’s difficult at times to find the courage to speak with your own voice. But at the same time, tough tits. Do it anyway. Nothing ever changes if you don’t call people out on their bullshit.

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of taboos. The thought that something is too horrible or shocking to even talk about it is fundamentally against my world view. That’s because I had to recapture the shadow of the person I was when I met my ex and start all over again. In university I wrote a short story about a man who died after having sex with a horse and got an A for it.

I had a brilliant literature teacher in high school, and he always told us that no topic should be too horrible to write about.

That’s in part why I write this blog.

I’ve been complimented for being brave and open but in all honesty it doesn’t require much skill on my part. You just have to talk about what others might be scared to. Taboos are not a physical challenge, like a wall to climb over. All you need to do is to open your mouth and it’s gone with a click of fingers.

When I see on social media that someone is anxious about going to cinema by themselves or going to the gym because what someone might think, I want to wave my hands at their face.

Nobody else cares about this except you.

If you struggle with this, just taste that sentence on your tongue a little bit. I can assure you it gets sweeter every minute.

Honestly, all you need to remember is that these people you’re so afraid of are just as insecure and fucked up as the rest of us, with their own untraveled maps of insecurities.

What sets us apart from shit people is leaving the trails unspoiled upon discovery.

That’s mercy.

14 comments

  1. I think caring about what others think of oneself is a human social construct I got attuned to because I definitely grew up in an environment where I was told by my parents to be aware of how I acted in front of people and what would people think. Of course I’m no longer that little kid but it’s difficult to undo years of the same repetitive thinking. It’s something I have, on some levels, been able to overcome. I literally used to be dead scared of eating in public because I felt incredibly anxious even attempting to reach up and put food in my mouth.

    You are right, most of the time it’s not really about what people will think, but it is about what the person in question is thinking. Such as, the fear of what people will think becoming inflated in the person’s mind, which is what I went through with the eating in public thing. I was constantly anticipating that people would react a certain way if they saw me eating and envisioning how horrible and embarrassed I would feel in response to that, however, the reality of what happened was not as extreme as what I was so afraid of happening.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a beautiful piece of writing from an obviously gifted writer … I LOVE it, as with your other work, Ida!
    I was slower than you in realising that I didn’t need to care about what others thought! When that is the way you’ve felt all your life, it comes as a shock to suddenly realise that you are UNIQUE!! … They need to accept you, as you need to accept their uniqueness! … Can be life changing!!
    Congratulations again!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You write from your heart and experience Ida which I admire. I’ve learnt a long time ago not to worry about what others think and proudly bring my kids up the same. My youngest especially is a firecracker who doesn’t take shit. Lol only myself to blame when we lock heads. From my experience you are more authentic when you have experience . Great writing 💕xx

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is awesome, thank you for sharing. Your style of writing is so relatable and down to earth, I love it. I can relate to being the oddball growing up, and I often feel that way as an adult. Why else would I tell my friend at her baby shower that babies are born without kneecaps? I’ve learnt not to give a shit what anyone thinks of me and it’s great to read from another mental health blogger who thinks the same way! Katie x

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think the biggest gift we can give ourselves is not to give a flying fuck about what others think of us. That doesn’t mean we can be total assholes, and thoughtless – but hell, if it isn’t hurting anyone – it’s open season. For me, one of the greatest moments of freedom was dying my hair blue and purple. It doesn’t mater that I’m “too old” for such things. It makes me smile when I look in the mirror. Most of the people I know make snarky comments on this choice. They can screw themselves with a barbed wire chainsaw dipped in napalm. I do this for ME, not them.

    Liked by 1 person

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