The Feverfew // The Gift
This is the saddest song on my iPod, and the one I’m most likely to listen to after I’ve fucked up.
I hated myself as a kid. I started life as a normally-proportioned child, but my parents’, uh, “difficultiez” put me in a spot where I lived 3 hours from all of my friends without anything to do but watch TV and eat delicious, fresh baked cookies which were available all day, every day, against the better judgment of every adult around me.
Consequently, I put on weight. I really don’t know how much at first (maybe 40 or 50 pounds - at age 11), but I remember moving back home with tits, something I hadn’t had when I was playing baseball and basketball with my friends all day. When I tried to play sports again, I found it (unsurprisingly) difficult with the extra weight. I was disappointed that whatever athleticism I had when I was young was gone. I quit baseball and basketball to save myself the embarrassment.
One of my brothers found out that my little league coach was also a personal trainer, and suggested I work out with him. I started lifting weights right after my 13th birthday. I hated the work, but showed up diligently for years. I got strong but had little interest in cardio for a while, so I stayed somewhat overweight. I lost the weight in high school and gained it back when I got my first long-term girlfriend in college. I lost it again after that, and have mostly kept in shape for the last four or five years.
The self-hate resurfaced as a teenager. I was smart because I had grown up with much older siblings - 13, 16, and 17 years older than me - and learned quickly that if I wanted to be part of the conversation, I had to be smart AND funny. But I was awkward.
When I was 15, my class was assigned a long research paper meant to mimic the kind we’d see in college, and I chose to write about self-help programs. I downloaded 250++ hours of Norman Vincent Peele, Tony Robbins (I know - it was 10 years ago goddamnit let it go), Napoleon Hill, and other inspirational speakers/snake oil salespersons and listened to every single tape twice. Some more than that. It started as an experiment in outcomes: Could I make myself a person I could stand to be around?
So I started listening to self-help seminars, programs, and audiobooks and reading everything I could get my hands on. My research started in September of one year and wasn’t over until May of the following year. It was the rare assignment that I gave full effort to. I didn’t care about the grade. I really wanted to like myself. I wanted to be like the people around me that I thought so highly of. My brothers. My cousin, Dave. My sister’s boyfriend at the time, Joe. Anyone but myself.
I remember the desperation as I tried to fix all of the problems I saw with myself. I was impatient to change it all immediately.
I didn’t understand that change is not a lightbulb moment. It isn’t some new, mindblowing revelation that re-focuses your perspective on everything. Instead, it’s the small stuff - the busywork of trying to change. It’s being conscious of the decision you’re about to make, and choosing the option that hasn’t led to trouble before, even (/especially) if that’s the decision you’d prefer to make. As the Jesuits reminded us frequently, “We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence, therefore, is not a virtue, but a habit.”
I’m getting better. I’ve stopped trying to change so many things about myself, and become happier with what I have. I need to get better at keeping in touch with people. I need to make more ca$h. I need to take classes again. I need to see more of the city. But I know myself, and I know I’ll get around to all of it. For now, for once, I’m going to try to enjoy a little bit of the work I’ve done already, and be happy that I hear this song less and less for the wrong reason.