A self-conscious man is not what I wish to be, but a self-conscious man I undoubtably am!

In the past week a cataclysm of telling events occurred, and this was surely fate at work… but it wasn’t until today that I got some sort of clarity on what this all meant. So I had to put pen to paper and try my best to articulate what it is like for a dad in his thirties to cope with a preoccupied sense of self-consciousness!

I am constantly concerned with what people think of me. Dealing with how I dress, what haircut I get, what my first impression is, whether or not people like me, getting changed in the locker room, what class of person I am… the list is endless. It’s sometimes hard to navigate my own feelings and actually be myself. I have always subconsciously surrounded myself with amazing people, who have that Je Ne Sai Quoi about them. They ooze cool and confidence and I think that I was desperate for some of that in my own life.

I am lucky to share my life with a truly inspiring family and a group of friends that bring joy to my life, but there is no escaping that sometimes I feel like I don’t belong amongst them. I feel like a fraud – not good enough to have them in my life.

What some people misinterpret is that self-consciousness is just about how you look, but in reality you can be self-conscious about your very being.

I caught myself out, the other day. We were preparing for a trip to the hospital with my two and a half year old, and I noticed some porridge had landed on his sleeve. Instantly a fence sprang up and I started to get agitated about “what people would think”. The stress and worry associated with the hospital visit had manifested itself in how we would be perceived as parents. In my head I felt that people would judge us for having a son in the hospital and that we probably deserved it because he had porridge on his sleeve. I knew what my brain was doing, my stress was now contained in one word “Judgement”. It didn’t matter how ludicrous this was, I needed to make it right. So I changed my son’s top.

What I didn’t need was more stress. I needed to focus on my boy and make sure that he was safe. I’m not afraid to say that I was ashamed of myself. But with shame comes more of the mental self-harm.

Next I came face to face with someone who told me, to my face, that I wasn’t good enough. They had taken me by surprise and I met them

when I wasn’t expecting to, in a place that I wasn’t anticipating that I would, either. Life can be a cruel mistress and because of the work situation that I was in I had to be polite, when I wanted to tell them that they had busted me down when I had only just managed to get my head above water. When duty called I said hello, and that they would probably remember me. They knowingly said that they were sorry but they didn’t remember who I was…

After a re-introduction I made polite conversation holding my stomach in and my head high, but when they asked me what I did, that familiar feeling came over me and I was immediately ashamed of myself for something that I am ordinarily so proud of myself for. To this person, I was the shit on the bottom

of their shoe (and I knew it) but I still cared what they thought of me. And the self-guilt began again.

“Looking Silly” is something that I have never been comfortable with. I have always tried to “fit in”. But there are times that I can’t hide how I feel and it doesn’t become apparent very often… but I LOVE to DANCE!

Often inebriated (but not always) I can let go on the dance floor and truly have a marvellous time. I can let go, and the discerning stares of work colleagues and acquaintances don’t matter any more. I can flick my flip-flops off and pirouette, split leap through the sky and roll around on the disco- lit floor.

I had forgotten what this abandonment of consciousness felt like. It has been years, maybe a decade since I had let loose like this. To have a few hours without a thought of what someone thought of me – or how I looked – or what any of this meant, was liberating. The only way I could describe that night was “the most fun”.

I know that this is a small thing. But for me this was the the feeling that reminded me of my best self – the one that not only looked like me, but was me. The “My lips but better” lipstick, the guy that wasn’t consumed by thoughts of himself but instead was in the moment. This brought Joy into my life when these other moments had brought me… UNjoy.

This was just a week in my life. But it was also a much-needed lesson that even if I can’t control what people think of me, as long as I know who I am and that I am not hurting others, I can dance where I like to the beat of my own drum, and who cares what people think?!

Of course this isn’t every day. I wish it was. But more than anything I don’t want my son to be afflicted with the self-loathing that I can sometimes feel. I want him to throw off his shoes and socks and dance like there’s nobody watching ( and even if someone is, to keep doing what he’s doing.)

If parenthood has taught me nothing else, if this little creature can love me for my crooked teeth, big belly and black bagged eyes, then nothing else really matters.

TIB

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