Do I Care What You Think?

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Content warning: This essay discusses suicide, death depression and anxiety. 

I first became aware of caring too much about what others thought last year. I turned 27 and had been a fun-loving, carefree individual throughout my teens. It changed when I turned roughly 19 and I started college. I was thrust into a male-dominated environment and whilst, at the time, I didn’t think that bothered me, when I look back, I know it was the beginning.

I became more insular as I started to doubt my abilities, there were comments about me being the only female in class and I was asked if I was sure I could “handle the pace”. I laughed it off and considered it banter, but now I reflect with a degree of bitterness. I managed to prove my worth and worked through and progressed to university. The heavy male environment continued, but my confidence had been dented somewhat by the consistent sexual innuendos, those laughing at my academic ability as a woman in “their field” and other digs.

There was a gradual progression and my doubt about my own abilities and strength as a person was not only applied to how males thought of me, but I started to wonder if I was capable of being successful amongst everyone.

I managed to graduate and whilst I was somewhat happy, I was more relieved than anything. My mother had passed away when I was 9 from cancer and I had no strong feminine presence in my life to reassure me that things were going to be ok, or that I was strong enough to stand on my own as a young woman. I craved that defiance more than anything.

I started to play the sympathy card and would bring my mother’s death up when things became hard so that people felt sorry for me. When I would fall out with friends, I would blame it on not dealing with her death as a child and I felt guilty, but I just wanted to be accepted. I started to lie about things in order to gain popularity.

On the flipside, everything I was asked to do I would say yes to. I wanted to be liked, I didn’t want to let people down and I didn’t want to seem weak. I was also too scared to say what I believed in, I felt that if my opinions were too strong, even if I thought something was wrong, I would just keep quiet or agree with the majority.

Things took a turn for the worse when I was about 24, I had started working and made a group of friends, but I started to imagine that people didn’t like me. If people didn’t respond to messages or calls within a certain timeframe, if people cancelled on me, if people looked at me funny or if people just say they couldn’t do something then I would automatically think it was because of me. I would sit for hours even days thinking “what the hell have I done?” I would trawl through conversations and my own actions to try and think what I had done. I started to hate myself.

I started cutting people out of my life. The sickness and anxiety I felt from having certain people around me made my life miserable. I would snap at people for no reason, I would say hateful things in a bid to remove those from my circle and life.

I wanted to be authentic, I wanted to be liked. I just wanted a life.

At 25, I attempted suicide. I felt that there was no point to me being alive, no one liked me, and I couldn’t maintain any relationships successfully in my life. I had no support around me (or so I believed) and I didn’t feel any desire to make an effort. It was a cry for help. I did it in my dad’s house and feel like a coward for doing so. He found me, and I still remember the pain in his voice as he cried my name. I will always be sorry for that.

I took time out to recover, moved back with my dad and started therapy.

There was a lightbulb moment last year. Following extensive therapy, I realised that a lot of this came down to my worry about what others thought about me. It had been staring me in the face all along, the realisation was when I started to think about what was truly important to me.

My strength now is immeasurable. I don’t let people’s criticism from their own insecurities come between me and my own personal fulfilment. I have realised that is their issue. I have realised the differences between my right and wrongdoings and I deal with those individually. I also now deal with the fact that some people are not going to like me, and I am not going to like some people. What’s the worst that can happen?  

I say no now. That seems to be the most important self-lesson. I am not scared of saying it and I think people respect me more for it. 

I have found my inspirations in life and I have surrounded myself with things and people that care. The time I spent alone and in therapy has made me realise what I want and need from those around me. I have realised that others don’t care as much as I think they do and have their own lives to map and live. The stark truth is that people may not even spend much time thinking about me at all and that is something that I now find contentment in.

We as people are controlled by an idealised standard of what people want to see. I have now started to feel freer than ever before. I gave up trying to pander to peoples’ thoughts and opinions. I gave up changing myself for others.

Whilst I have those around me now, I am comfortable being alone. I don’t feel that I have to surround myself with people and enjoy my own company. I now do things for me. I like travelling alone, if people can’t do things with me then I will do them myself, I eat lone in restaurants and cafes with no issues. I go to events by myself. My life is mine again.

[Emily MacPherson]

Halina Rifai