I’m 14-years-old, sitting bare-legged on my tiny single sleigh bed, eyes closed as I listen to my favourite album, rocking back and forth, belting out the words when I feel like it.
The music transports me, takes me away from myself, and gives me pause and reason to question my existence and everything about me. As a young teen I’m both coming into myself and losing my footing all at the same time. Music makes me lose my footing even more, and somehow find myself too.
My anthem as a 14-year-old in 2003 was “Dancing Nancies” by Dave Matthews Band. I liked that it came out in 1994, and that none of my friends had heard of it. The song came from an album called “Under the Table and Dreaming”, which pretty much summed up my life as a teenager in the early 2000’s. I was the music and the music was me.
I squeezed my eyes shut and belted out my favourite line:
I am who I am.
Who am I?
Well, who am I?
Requesting some enlightenment.
Could I have been anyone other than me?
“What do you like about yourself?” asks my counsellor.
Now I’m 27-years-old. I’m pregnant with my third child, severely depressed, and don’t have time to sit under the table and dream about anything.
At the end of the counselling session I’ve decided that I don’t know who I am, or what I like about myself.
“Who am I? It’s not funny anymore, I’m really requesting some enlightenment now!” I shout at both God and myself, but also nobody.
I spend a month really thinking about the concept of identity. I’m too frozen in fear to write out a list of things I like about myself, or don’t like about myself. I’m convinced I’m an empty shell of a woman, full of a growing child and two groping needy-children on the outside. My existence is to feed, sweep, nurse, kiss boo-boos, and love my children, all while wondering, “what else?”
I don’t want to be so unnerved. I feel like I’m too young to be dealing with a mid-life crises, if that’s what this is. But somehow I continue to find time to ask myself the gnawing question, “who am I, anyway?”
I could list a million things I love about my children and my husband, character qualities I have memorized and fallen deeply for, but why can’t I do that for myself? What could be so wrong with me, so unloveable about me?
I wonder this for awhile. Secretly.
How do other mothers and women make it look so easy? Every one else seems so self-assured. I continue to walk around, asking myself who I am, and why on earth don’t I know?
One night while I have a quiet moment to myself I decide to listen to some music that I love; music that I haven’t heard in awhile.
I come across “Dancing Nancies,” and I remember the words that meant so much to me. I’m transported to my single sleigh bed and my crossed bare legs. I’m under the table and dreaming again.
I belt out the words to the song, just like I did at 14, and I feel my body grow warm with the memories of a life well-lived.
It takes some time, but I do learn to love myself again. I realize that I was never an empty shell, but my mental illness tried to convince me otherwise. I accept that some people I really love will never really see me, or even love me like I deserve, and that’s only reason to fall more deeply in love with myself.
I remember that I like to read stories, and tell stories. I accept that art and creativity is what nourishes my soul. I love that about myself, and I feel unique and special with the gifting I have been given.
I’m 27-years-old, and holy crap have I lived a long and hard life. I acknowledge that I’m about to birth my third child well before most are birthing their first, and I give myself a chance to just slow down and take a breath. And to give myself a pat on the back, because I have done some really hard things.
I eat meals alone with my husband, and stare into his eyes, remembering the woman I am and the love I have to offer and receive. We joke and become playful with each other, and I remember the longing and desire that grows stale with exhaustion and needy children. I will myself forward, letting myself lose my inhibition and grow comfortable in my own skin.
And I get down and play with my kids. Showing them a bit of who I am. I watch movies with them from my childhood, reliving the memories through their eyes. I experience a new, more authentic relationship with them. It feels good and right to be honest, to give all of myself to my girls.
I let them know who I am, even the sad parts. I let them into my own childhood a bit. I tell my oldest what it’s like to have a different life, to have a father in jail and to be raised by a single mother. I stop trying to hide my grief and sadness over my own childhood, and as a result I enjoy my own children more.
One of the things I’ve wondered over the last few months, as I have stepped out of denial and into my true self, is how many others are out there like me? I’ve stopped believing that I was the only one walking around, an empty shell, unsure of my own self.
One thing is for sure, as I discover the question to “Who am I?” I can most definitely say I would never want to be someone else, especially not a dancing nancy.