In Harvard Square, I sat on a ledge, eating a chicken-and-cheddar on whole wheat, and listened to a guitarist, in a berry tee shirt and khaki shorts, strum and sing folk songs. I felt sure the locals knew I’m an outsider, from somewhere else, an ordinary tourist skipping her beat on the streets.
To be a woman traveling alone, post-illness, has been an experience, even though last year I went to Montreal. In April 1987, in my last semester in college, I visited my cousin in San Francisco. The things I did then were without hesitation. I went to the I-Beam to see Skinny Puppy perform live. I danced until 3 a.m. at DV8. The schizophrenia was just five months away.
It isn’t the same. It is never the same. I’ve traveled to Boston, and that alone is a victory. “You do the best you can with what you have,” said Paula, a counselor at the halfway house I lived in. The point isn’t to go back, for you can’t go back. Mourn, and move on. How old are you? Do you maybe have 42 more years here, as I do? Think about what you want to do with them. You have the power to change your life.
In my time traveling in this new city, as I celebrated my birthday, try as I might to look nonchalant, I felt everyone knew I was different. Yet I didn’t ask the question, “Will I ever fit in?” I’ve discovered the secret: to “act as if” you’ve arrived at the place you want to be, to expect others to treat you with dignity. How do you do that? By treating yourself with respect and love, so that you model the behavior you want others to adopt.
I won’t allow others’ criticisms, either real or perceived, influence the way I view myself. This is a lesson learned the hard way. In my early life, the neighborhood girls shunned me, only speaking to me to ridicule me. Could that have caused me to internalize self-hate? Looking back, I doubt that I could’ve been immune from making the leap into feeling inferior.
At 42, I like who I am, and I accept my nature. I’ve always been a creative, sensitive person who sought to make close connections with others. I wanted so much to be liked and understood and accepted. I know what it’s like to be excluded. It’s easy, maybe, for other people not to care if they’ve slighted someone or left them out. I couldn’t ever be that way. In this lifetime, I hope never to hurt another human being for as long as I live.
In Harvard Square, I did feel like I was on display. The young, hip students shopped in trendy boutiques. In my chinos and blue-stripe 1969 shirt from the Gap, I felt out of place. Perhaps because this particular birthday was a milestone, I was more sensitive to my feelings, and the truth that I’ve been in recovery 20 years resonated with me.
The concept of stereotype threat comes into play. Simply defined, it’s “the threat of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype or the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype” (C.M. Steele, 1999).
When I was sick, I wore garish makeup and dressed in weird clothes, and acted strange. Doing so well now, I’ve come to be sensitive about how I look, and don’t want to appear off-kilter. I seek to project an image that is calm, down-to-earth and approachable. I want others to feel good when they’re around me. Dressing better makes me feel confident when I interact with people.
Boston has been the cure for feeling like a misfit. As a tourist, you’re supposed to not quite fit in. The hospitality industry exists to make a buck off of hapless outsiders in polyester leisure suits, carting around maps and cameras everywhere they go. The point of going on vacation is to enjoy yourself. I loved my time here, and look forward to coming back, possibly next year with my friend Zoe, who’s quite an adventurer.
As I write this, I’ve decided to travel at least once a year to revive my spirit and refresh my point of view. I’d like to go to Sedona, Arizona or the Florida Keys, for starters.
In closing, I’d just like to say I hope you’re getting something out of these blog entries. I’m glad you’ve decided to join me in this online community. I hope I inspire you to travel down your own road to wellness.
Published On: May 21, 2007