"Just be yourself," they say. And I am. When I'm with my friends, my family, I am myself. It's true, I don't tell them everything, I don't answer completely honestly, I hide and divert and avoid. But I still feel like me, like the me I properly am. I feel content and secure. I'm still full of self-doubt and self-criticism, but it doesn't hold me down, because I can't let it. Because if I let myself get dragged down, when I'm with them, they'll notice. And that's the one thing I can never let happen, even when I think I want to. Hiding the fact that anything's wrong has been primary objective from Day 1, so much so that it's not even an objective anymore. It's just automatic. Trying to change it is what feels like the act now. If ever I try to let someone know that something's wrong, it feels false, fake, artificial, attention-seeking, play-acting. As though the public me has become the real me. As though the act has become the reality.
The only trouble is that I've broken my own fourth wall. I no longer believe the act. I can almost believe it for as long as I'm in it, for as long as I'm with my friends and there, in that moment, in the group, where maybe they don't know me all that well but they accept me as I am and they don't ask, they don't question, they don't suspect, they just let me be me... there, all the crap that weighs me down just lightens. It doesn't vanish, but it takes a backseat for a while.
But it only lasts so long. The moment I leave, even for as long as it takes to go to the bathroom, when I'm alone, and I glance in the mirror, or look at myself, and there's no one left around me to drown out the internal monologue of shit, and it takes mere seconds, mere seconds, for me to crumple, to curl in on myself, to cry, to rake my nails across my skin as though they can scratch the disease of doubt right out of me.
Now, so long as I can wipe my face and open the door and smile and go back, it's all okay. I laugh again, and no one notices, and I slip effortlessly back into the act that is so ingrained that it has become reality. There's a method to the madness, you could say. It's wonderful. It's freeing. It's when I actually feel like there's hope for me yet.
But then it ends. And I go home. And shut myself back up in my bedroom. And then I'm alone with myself. The audience is gone and I'm back behind the curtain. There's no script anymore, or any chance for improvisation. All the props are gone. All the costumes. The stage lights, the microphones. All of it, gone. It's just me, only I don't feel like myself anymore. I don't feel as though I fit into my own body. I don't feel connected to myself, to anything that I was only a short time ago, to all the things I know I've done, all the successes I know I've had. It's as though they're not me anymore. As though I'm not me anymore. It's more than loneliness. I don't know what it is. Maybe dependency. Maybe neediness. Maybe selfishness. Maybe it is just loneliness, but in my self-obsession I think it's more than that, worse than that, that such a common word as that isn't enough. I hate it. I hate hating myself for it. But even writing this post is making my skin crawl, because how much of a selfish little fuck do I sound. How much of a whiny ungrateful brat. I know, that's the worst part. I know. I may not have a script here backstage, but I have a monologue, a constant chiseling rant that comes from inside me and all around me at the same time. Selfish, it says. Pathetic. Weak. Its lists go on and on, as though its swallowed a fucking thesaurus.
It only stops, briefly, when I'm with other people. Maybe because it can't risk them overhearing its ranting. Maybe because it fears, if they did, they'd start to believe it all too.