20 Oct I am Enough from Phoe M. White
I am enough. I can think those words just fine. I can even say them if I do a little mental gymnastics and ignore the little voice in the back of my mind that likes to tell me the exact opposite. We all have those little voices. Some are loud and blustery. Some are silent, deadly killers. Maybe it was picked up from a single incident or maybe, like me, it was drilled into my brain at a young age. I was trained like an Olympic athlete at believing in my own worthlessness.
I have this memory of the time before the training began. When I knew who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish. They were small things, of course, because I was small at the time. I knew I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to travel and experience new things. I wanted to live within my means but I didn’t know that was what it was called when you just have enough.
The life I imagined was a simple one. The life imagined for me, however, was full of big and bold things. I was to be great. I was to excel at sports and high minded sciences. Writing wasn’t real, wasn’t who I had to be. My childhood wasn’t a normal one, it was full of horror and pain and things no child should ever have to experience. And I think everyone involved dealt with it the same way: if I could just be better, it would all go away. My parents thought perfect grades and getting into a good college would solve everything. And so I studied. Peers thought that I could serve them best by giving everything I had and more. I internalized so much anger and grief that I tried to self destruct. I knew I couldn’t be everything to everyone, I knew I couldn’t be perfect. But still I thought that perfection would make it all go away. Every bad thing, every unkind word. If I were just perfect, how could anyone (including myself) tell me I wasn’t enough?
The problem with perfection was that it was the goalpost that never stood still. Years at a 3.98 GPA and the fact that I never hit 4.0 was all I could think about. I danced as a child but the year I broke my arm ended that. I felt like I’d let people down, all the time. And then I discovered the weapon that is food. I tried eating too much, I tried eating too little. Every pound I dropped was better. It was when I was at my thinnest, far too thin to be healthy, that I realized that weight was a game I’d never win. But it took me years and years to realize that it’s a game I never had to play.
It’s like that, perfection. It’s a game that sucks you in and you think it’s the most important thing in the world. The day you’re perfect, you will have the world at your feet. Never mind if you hate who you have become when you get there.
But here’s where my story has a happy (ish) ending. Right before I got into the full contact game that is the Real World but not before I had learned to hate myself, my whole world fell apart. I began to get sick. This was an insidious sickness, something that didn’t go away. I started out too tired, in too much pain. Seven years ago this month I finally got a name for the illness, a reason: Sjögren’s Syndrome. Ok, I thought, fine. I’m sick, I take medicine and get back on the roller coaster. Only it didn’t work that way. Sjögren’s is chronic, incurable and progressive. And every day I am aware that this may be as good as it ever gets. I have to use a cane to get around, sometimes a wheelchair. I can’t function like normal, never mind like perfect.
Being sick has led to some of the worst and best years of my life. I have had to learn, slowly and painfully, that perfection is impossible. That the path that my life was supposed to take was never one I wanted. And that it’s ok to not want that. I still have that little voice in my head, being sick gave it more fuel, if anything. But every day I work on telling myself I am enough. Without the mental gymnastics, without pretending it’s not me I’m talking about. Me: this flawed human being, this body pushed beyond it’s limits. This may be as good as it ever gets. I am enough.
About Phoe M. White
Phoe M. White is a writer and photographer who knits when she isn’t doing the other two. She’s from California originally but now lives in Southern England with her wonderful husband. She write and takes pictures on her blog: a life of photographoe.