I have a pretty thick skin. I have always told myself that it’s something to be proud of—a good quality to have especially when dealing with the more trying parts of life. But the reality is that I’ve become too comfortable with my emotional and mental stability, using it as a default defense mechanism when things get a little too tough to handle. I rely on the composure and protection it affords me because it prevents me from facing harsh realities, but lately I’ve started to realize that it may be doing more harm than good. Maybe I’ve built this wall too strong and use it more than I should. It’s taken a strong hold over my thoughts and emotions, becoming an entity of its own—a powerful defense that has been holding me back.
My tough exterior stems from having my childhood cut relatively short. Because both of my parents are Colombian immigrants, I had to do a lot of growing up early on because I was essentially their only means for navigating this new, confusing country they were trying to call home. Reading legal documents, filling out tax forms, writing checks, and talking to adult authority figures became routine for me. Taking on these responsibilities as a kid jumpstarted my already independent nature and before I knew it, I was off figuring out the world for myself, never needing help and sure as hell never asking for it either. And this independence has stuck with me until now. Witnessing my relatives’ poverty, listening to their stories of hardship, experiencing sexual harassment, growing up lower-class, being caught in the middle of extremely violent brawls, getting bullied in school, all on top of trying to make my parents lives a little easier and protecting my younger brother definitely added bricks to my emotional wall. I learned not to let things faze me partly because I believed that my problems never measured up to those of my relatives or were bad enough to mull over, and partly because I was afraid of giving myself the opportunity to fully experience or even think about my problems for fear of falling into a dark place. To me, giving in, crying, and getting upset would undermine my family’s hardships (true hardships, in my eyes). But moreover, dwelling on my problems would mean actually having to face them—something I didn’t want to do and am still largely unwilling to do.
I’ve been successful in burying many of these experiences, but in doing so, I’ve also put up a barrier that has kept me from getting close to people. Although I like to think of myself as an open and sociable person, the truth is that I never let things get too personal. I like being around people and forging connections with others but it’s a very one-sided street because I only really feel comfortable if they are the ones confiding in me. When it’s my turn to share a piece of myself, I immediately shut down, put up the usual defenses, and erect the wall. It’s to the point now that I never even give myself the chance to open up to others. The wall is up around the clock. Maybe I do this because I’m afraid of getting hurt, of my strength faltering, of reliving my childhood experiences, or maybe it’s because I don’t want to reveal all of the baggage that I carry. In all honesty, I’m just so scared of what others will find (and what I would find) if I let that wall down. But by stopping others from getting too close, I also stop myself. My tendency to hold back and to suppress all of these parts of myself and of my past has ultimately led me to miss out on wonderful, rewarding experiences. I want to be able to have close friendships, to trust others, to fall in love, and to just be my most complete and honest self.
I’m tired of people complimenting my seeming aura of “perfection”, and constantly telling me how level-headed, rational, and composed I am because nothing could be further from the truth. I rationalize and try to work through everything in my head—anger, frustration, sadness, whatever it may be, and then I condense all of it and try to tame it for the sake of putting on this composed exterior. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster, then I don’t know what does. Occasionally, I let some of my experiences trickle out through my dancing, choreography, or my writing, but these outlets carry a certain safe anonymity so the catharsis never really feels complete. I want to be able to acknowledge and work through my conflicts head-on because I know that doing so will be the first step in feeling comfortable enough to get close to people. I feel humbled and trusted when others confide in me and I envy that—I envy the ability to connect with someone at such an intimate level because I know that for me, to do so would mean risking the integrity and strength of the wall I’ve built. It’s the fear of weakness that holds me back because I know how crippling and helpless it feels to be completely alone with your darkest emotions. I’m trying to let myself get to the point where I can accept the love and help of others because I know in my heart of hearts that those I truly care about will always be there to pick up the pieces if I should ever need them to. I want to be able to trust that they will be there to do damage control because although I know I’m good at helping others, I’m not always so good at helping myself. The wall will come down and even though it might be a slow, brick-by-brick process, I’m determined to eradicate my emotional closure. After all, what’s there to lose?