Coming out was difficult.
Ok. Obvious. I know. (And don’t worry, this is not a coming out story.) But the tough part about coming out wasn’t reconciling in my mind who I was. Rather, it was trying to figure out who I wanted to be. With most Millennials coming out around the age of 17, I was a late bloomer at 24. In fact, I had dated two women for a total of six years, had been engaged, and had even started planning a wedding prior to my coming out(If you’re reading this, I’m sorry about the down payment fiasco. You know who you are.). So, spending roughly ten years of my life knowing that I wasn’t living as who I really wanted to be, I created a persona that allowed me to feel confident in other areas of my life so that my personal life didn’t seem like such a sh*t show. By the time I came out in the summer of 2014, I was such a mess emotionally, that I had to spend more time rebuilding the very basics of emotional functioning before I could even begin to try and totally express my identity.
Let me explain. For those of us who struggle with an identity crisis, whether it’s sexual orientation or not, there’s this internal battle between who you know you are at your core and who you want others to see you as. And the struggle to keep your true self hidden, can easily lead to a kind of emotional exhaustion. I remember a year after I came out , I began to struggle with severe anxiety, panic attacks, and even a bout of agoraphobia. And as I worked through these issues, and continue to do so with my therapist, I found that the things I thought were causing these struggles of anxiety and fear, weren’t the real causes. There was nothing inherently dangerous or overwhelming about my life. I lead a pretty tame lifestyle. Once I started this journey of self-discovery and healing, I recognized that being gay wasn’t my problem. Being a gay Christian wasn’t my problem. Being a “business man” wasn’t my problem. My problem wasn’t even the fake identity I had taken on for all those years as I tried to hide my sexuality. No. The root of my problem came from what I thought each of those things should look like and why.
As I began to really dig deep into my psyche, I would start sentence after sentence with “I have to do (fill in the blank) because they (person, group, community) expect me to.” I put an incredible amount of thought into what I believed others were thinking about me and/or would think about me if I acted a certain way. I wanted to be accepted by everyone at all times. And by playing so heavily to the conjured up perceptions I thought others had, I was not only judging them far more harshly than they were judging me, but I was crushing and burying my real identity.
When we pretend to be someone we are not, just to grab and keep the attention of another person or group of people, a little piece of our true identity gets chipped away. The longer we hide who we are, the less we recognize ourselves in the mirror. And the less we see ourselves for who we really are, the more we forget what we can be.
But fear not. For just as it took work and pain and struggle to hide ourselves, true joy, peace, and happiness can be found, along with a few tears, on the journey back to our true selves. Not simply finding our true identity, but authentically creating who we want to be—who we want to be for ourselves.
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom
Adam Tidrow is the Founder of Hoosierpreneur, an Indiana-based consultancy focused on guiding entrepreneurs through the start-up and business development process. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org