Both my parents made me feel, as a child, that I wasn’t authentic. They hardly ever believed my tears-my father would say “Cut the dramatics!”, and my mother would just ignore me. So I grew up with a very skewed idea of what “real” was. My feelings were not only not validated, they were ridiculed. I grew up with no sense of self as I was constantly told in words and deeds that I wasn’t me. So for much of my life I felt like a fraud and if anyone paid me a compliment I thought it couldn’t be true-that I had just conned him or her, put one over on them. I doubted my intelligence, my talents and skills, my appearance, my essence(which I didn’t even think I had)-ALL of it. Even if people just liked me and thought I was nice to be around, I thought they were responding to a cardboard cut-out, not to me, that I was really a bad person with no redeeming qualities. And who was “me” anyway?
I had no idea for a great part of my life. I can honestly say that until I entered my fifties, I floundered in a sea of confusion about my identity and the nature of reality, and choosing a profession that judges you on your appearance first and talent second didn’t help. It was almost as though I was feeding into the “I am a fraud” belief. As a result, just psychologically speaking, I had a hard time with reality. I had a very difficult time discerning what was real in my life. People, events, the world around me all came into question. It was a profound impediment for someone with a serious mental illness. One could even argue that it was part of my illness. But whatever it was, it was surely a show of the combination of nature and nurture. However “crazy” my genes were-and they were surely-my early life helped fuck me up big time. My parents taught me I had no real self. When I went into the hospital the second time, after my return from England in 1989, my mother told a roomful of mental health professionals that there was nothing wrong with me-I was just a good actress. And for years I believed that! Thankfully, the doctors knew better.
After years of being told my feelings weren’t real and neither was I, it took me a very long time to find my authenticity and to trust myself. I work at it even now, in my sixties. But I have come to understand that my parents themselves had no authenticity and now I try to surround myself with people who are truly themselves. And I see, reflected in their eyes, my truest self, my essential self. I have immense gratitude for my self-awareness and my continuing journey of self-discovery. And for the people in my life who have stood by me through all the changes, I am so grateful. For it is within their love that I find the “me” I had for so long lost.