It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to realize the crazy dreams I’ve been having lately have something to do with my 20-year high school reunion. In one, I got in trouble with the principle (which never happened in real life, by the way), in another I was wandering around with my baby, confused in a large warehouse of people judging me, and in another, people I haven’t thought about for 20 years showed up as extras with minor speaking parts in a bizarre Seinfeld episode I made up in my dream-brain.The amount of sleep I’ve lost over this reunion is ridiculous. I didn’t think I even cared that much about it, actually, until recently. I was feeling pretty fine about my life earlier this summer, and now (after joining the reunion’s Facebook page) I find that I’m constantly judging myself on how my life has panned out so far.
I guess it’s the age-old problem of high school reunions since their inception. No matter how you slice it, a high school reunion is all about comparisons. It’s about who still looks amazing, who lost weight, who gained weight, who is “successful,” who isn’t.
Did you ever see that Little House on the Prairie episode where Charles and Caroline go to her high school reunion, and Charles feels lame because he’s just a farmer and this other guy who liked Caroline had acquired acres and acres of land?
Same problem. Different century.
The problem with comparing ourselves is that it inevitably includes some form of criticism. And criticism doesn’t lift people up. It makes people feel bad about who they are. With the recent influx of high school memories flooding into my Facebook news feed, I started feeling like the same insecure teenager again who was always hearing criticism from everyone around me (and being critical myself. I know I’m not exempt here).
Engaging on the Facebook page, for various reasons, brought back many feelings of being judged and wondered about. I’m speaking more generally than specifically, of course. I know there are people who aren’t judging and just want to catch up. So especially for them (and especially since I decided not to attend the reunion), here’s a recap of what the last 20 years have been like for me:
- Went to college and had a great time studying English and Communication.
- Lived in the Tetons for a summer. Cleaned cabins, which was disgusting, and had a great time with old and new friends, which was amazing.
- Started having mild anxiety attacks just before college graduation.
- Got a job selling used computers which I hated and only added to my anxiety and stress. Started significantly affecting my health, so I quit.
- Sunk into minor depression. Friends, time, and medication helped me out of it.
- Realized I really wanted to write for a living, so I bravely said so at an interview for a tech support job when they asked me why I wanted to work in tech support. It turned out they also really needed another tech writer, so they hired me for tech support and after a few weeks they promoted me to tech writer. It was the first time I felt like a real adult, able to take care of myself and my needs, and even some wants.
- Went to Hawaii a couple of times. Once for work. Once with friends.
- Dot-com bubble crashed and my company went out of business and laid me off from the tech writing job 2 days before my nearly 6-week trip to Europe. Went to Europe anyway.
- Had an AMAZING time in Europe. Went paragliding in the Swiss Alps. Kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland. Avoided the Red Light District in Amsterdam, but saw much worse things out in the open in the park. Cried at Pompeii. Got the worst hair cut in the world in Paris. Fell in love with the Mother Country in London.
- Considered staying in Europe and finding a nanny job somewhere, but glad I didn’t. The 9/11 attacks happened 2 weeks after I got home.
- Unemployed, country in turmoil, roommate moved to France. At 26, I reluctantly moved back in with my parents.
- No job. No romantic interests. No money. Embarrassed about my situation. Avoided 10-year high school reunion.
- Freelanced as tech writer. Paid off debts. Got good job where I used my writing skills and met my husband (for the second time, but that’s another story).
- Bought a condo and moved out of my parents’ house. Fell in love. Married my husband the next year.
- Quit my job to have my first baby 2 years after we were married. Major, difficult transition from career to stay-at-home mom. Husband’s hours cut at work. Struggles.
- Unexpectedly moved from condo to house. Major blessing but major stress surrounding it. Husband’s hours still cut. We make it, but … struggles.
- Have baby #2. Struggles are unrelenting. Sink into major depression.
- Anxieties plus depression equal … struggles. 🙂
- Husband mostly unemployed for a year. Slow process coming out of depression. Have baby #3. He is a joy.
- Husband gets good job. We enter our Perestroika Period — rebuilding after several years of everything falling apart. Restock the pantry. Check. New roof. Check. Bunk beds for the boys. Check. New car… maybe next year?
Here’s the thing. I feel like a totally different person than who I was (or pretended to be) in high school. I’ve moved on. Muhammad Ali once said, “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”
I know everyone else probably moved on too. And it’s not that I don’t want to see some of my old classmates. It would be really fun to see some of them.
But the more I see everyone on Facebook who seems to be having a great time remembering the glory days with friends, the more I’m realizing that my glory days were not in high school. In high school, I felt like a Kimmy Gibbler — awkward and a little dorky, but still cool enough to be friends with a DJ Tanner. But still a Kimmy Gibbler. And even though I am not this insecure in my regular life now, I feel like if I went to the reunion, most people there would not really remember who I was unless I was still there as the sidekick to my nominated-for-homecoming-queen high school BFF. The thought of going to the reunion feels like regression to me. I have come so far in my quest to become my own person, not the sidekick anymore.
My “glory days” were times in my life when I was being true to myself. Times when I’ve answered a call to adventure — that summer in the Tetons, those 5 ½ weeks in Europe, even just dancing in my living room to James Brown’s “Hot Pants” as a 9-months-pregnant mama in elastic panel pants.
One of my current favorite Joseph Campbell quotes is, “Live from your own center.” I like it because it immediately shuts out the noise of outside influences and turns my attention toward that place inside me that wants to dance or throw caution to the wind and explore Europe as an unemployed twenty-something. Or wear an eye patch. The sad truth is that I was so preoccupied with “fitting in” in high school that I completely ignored that center.
I truly hope that everyone who went to the reunion had a great time with each other. I am sad that I missed out on seeing some of my old friends, but thankfully I am in touch with many of them on Facebook. And for the people whom I remember with fondness but am not in touch with anymore, I am sure that if our paths are meant to cross again, they will.
For now, I will close the chapter on my 20-year high school reunion in my mind and be done with it. It’s been an interesting experience processing all of these thoughts that have unexpectedly come up in its wake. As I move on with my summer and get the kids registered for school, I hope that I will have the courage to live every single day from my own center. To do anything otherwise would be inauthentic. And that, my friends, is not the way Kimmy Gibbler rolls.
— The Conscious Mom