Do you ever hear someone describing another person and have this déjà vu moment remembering a time when people used to say those same things about you? Sometimes it brings up memories of a part of your life you’d rather forget, like, “She was a real party girl” or “You could never really depend on him to follow through.” Other times, it brings back memories of a version of yourself that you remember fondly, or that maybe you even miss. Things that remind you of a part of yourself that got lost along way or buried deep under insecurities, obligations, or the ever-present state of “busy” that we all seem to wear on our sleeves like a badge of honor.
“She has a really big personality.” His voice was even, calm, but my date’s eyes betrayed a hint of disgust. He stared out the window as he spoke. “It can be a lot for some people.” He turned, and we locked eyes for a moment. “It’s even annoying to me sometimes.” His gaze flashed away again, this time his discomfort present in both his face and tone.
It was only our fifth date, but I’d grown quickly fond of this gentle, yet fiery soul that sat across from me in one of my favorite cafés in the city. He was more guarded that morning than I’d ever seen him before, thick walls of… something drawn close around him. I felt my own walls itch to rise and protect.
I thought for a moment, then, about the days when people used to comment on my “big personality.” Back when I was in high school, and well into my 20s. I was a lot back then, I’m told, usually with the same small derision I saw in the pained expression that had settled into the handsome, lined face of the man who sat across from me. It was that very derision that had spawned my own walls of protection, that had made me begin to shrink myself in my mid-20s the way I’d done as a kid, hoping that if I was small enough I wouldn’t be a burden to those I loved most.
“I could see that,” I replied, nodding and thinking of my own girl with long brown hair whose voice could—and would—fill a room with laughter or song. It was my turn to stare out the window, remembering.
Being “too much” was how I’d started writing and storytelling. In my stories, I could be as big as I wanted. If I wrote a skit for my family to watch, they’d be delighted by my loud voice and dramatic antics. This was the one place in my life where I was allowed, even invited, to take up as much space as possible. I wrote plays and songs and poetry, always finding ways to perform.
In high school, I joined the Drama Club and Chorus and the Dance Team. While I had to keep within a certain window of “big” when singing and dancing in a group, on stage I was free to let it all out. Especially when I began to take on leading roles in my junior and senior years, I had the space and freedom to take up the entire theater if I needed to. It was glorious. I was finally being praised for the very thing that had gotten me into trouble for most of my formative years. I could be huge, and people loved me for it.
Offstage, though, and out of theatre circles, there just wasn’t space enough for this person. My loud laughter nearly got me kicked out of a couple restaurants. Breaking out into song is generally frowned upon in public areas. And, I’ve been told by more than a few potential romantic partners that they just didn’t feel like they were enough for me. In other words, I was “too much” for them.
In some ways, I was too much. Before therapy, I had zero ability to control my rampant rollercoaster of emotions beyond shutting them down entirely until they burst forth like a runaway train, veering off the tracks and exploding into whoever was closest. That’s too much for anyone to handle, especially me. Learning to understand and work through my emotions has made me a calmer, more even person. It’s given me so much in terms of building strong, healthy, beautiful relationships with myself and friends. And, I am grateful.
But evening out isn’t the same as dampening my spirit—something the past decade has done plenty of, too. Health concerns, physical and emotional pain, the hazing rituals of graduate school, the actual work of earning a PhD. It’s all been a lot. And, it’s taken quite a toll.
In the café, my date quickly changed the topic from his ex to other, happier things. She was a lot, he’d told me, with frustration in his voice, but there was love there, too. He still loved that woman with the big personality who annoyed him sometimes. That was plain enough. When he looked at me, it was through this haze that his love for her—and his sadness for what might have been—created as a wall around him.
I miss my “her” sometimes, too, that version of me with the big personality who lit up a room with laughter when she entered. I miss the way her eyes crinkled when she smiled, showing all her big teeth and gums, the way she didn’t care whether or not it was an appropriate time to sing showtunes. I miss the way she loved everyone around her so fiercely and the way she took so much care to nurture those she loved best. I miss the girl with band-aids and extra hair ties in her purse (just in case). I miss the girl with the best shoulder to cry on, who always looked first for the good in people. I miss the girl whose faith in others and the universe was so strong. She was insecure, and she faltered, and she said the wrong thing at the wrong time on many occasions. But, she loved and was beloved by those who knew her best.
As I melt away the final bricks of ice from the prison I once built around my heart, I am comforted to know that somewhere in this maze of walls and compartments in my psyche, she is there. She is here, patiently waiting for me to find her, waiting for the spring to come, waiting to sing again.
You know that part of you that came to mind as you read this? That part of you that you so desperately miss sometimes? They’re waiting for you, too.