Written and performed for Behold Her Podcast. Listen here.
How do you feel when you make a “mistake”?
Are you fine? Brush it off, move on? No big deal?
Maybe only a little embarrassed?
Or does it turn your stomach to acid? Make your heart beat so loud, your head fills with blood?
You lose the ability to breathe. Your vision tunnels. Everything closes in.
Then the voices start: … you’re bad… you’re worthless ... you’re a mistake.
I’m 5. I call my friend without my mom’s permission. A man answers instead. I hang up but the man calls back. I’m scolded for using the phone.
I’m 12. I get called on to read out loud from our science text. I wasn’t prepared. I say orgasm instead of organism. I’m laughed at.
God, I’m worthless.
I’m 22. I’m put on the spot during a convention D&D game with strangers. I’m asked to describe what my spell looks like. Everyone’s waiting. I start to tear up. Afterwards, I throw up.
This was a mistake, why did I do this?
Growing up in my house was like walking through a deathtrap dungeon where every pitfall or ambush dealt psychic damage.
In one corner, I had a father with obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar 2, and general anxiety. In the other corner, I had a mother who was incredibly religious. She always knew better and wasn’t shy about letting you know.
Clean up, Dad’s coming home! Be quiet. Sit up straight. Watch your mouth. That dress is unflattering. Be modest. God’s watching. I’ll give you something to cry about. Have you showered? You’re too loud. You look like a tomato.
This type of feedback was a constant flurry of blows that shaped my brain and trained it to always be thinking about how others perceive me.
Our father was a man who could not control his emotions. He’d fly off the handle at what we thought were superficial issues; especially if it involved any sort of cleanliness. How we dressed and how we kept our belongings were under constant scrutiny. Once I left books scattered everywhere in the house; in a rage he came home and burned them all.
My mother lived to tease. She picked fun at us here and there in what I’m sure she thought was playful, but as a child it came across as mocking. Most notably my speech. I’d get excited and talk way too fast. My slurred words would be said back to me with a laugh.
Church was awful because everyone knew everyone’s business. I *heard* the gossip between the church Moms; the intimate details of people’s lives listed out like symptoms to be diagnosed. I kept to myself as much as possible to prevent my personality, behaviors, and habits from ending up on the operating table.
Throughout my childhood, I did not want to be heard and I most definitely did not want to be seen.
The experiences with my father and my mother combined with not being allowed to have friends outside of our religion, pushed me into a space where I was mostly left alone with my imagination.
Reading was my #1 escape.
I’d make secret hideaways behind couches, nested in blankets, snuggled with a stuffed animal or two, and learn about Laura’s travels west with her family, mentally designing my own calico Sunday dress, and wishing I could live in a Little House on the Prairie.
I’d make elaborate inventory lists of what I would need in order to live in the woods like Sam in My Side of the Mountain. I’d even draw maps of forests and the best places to set up camp, hunt, or fish.
I’d take walks along the creek by our house, jumping from one side to the other pretending I was entering new worlds. I’d wish I had a friend like Leslie from Bridge to Terabithia and wondered how I would feel if I lost her.
Spending so much time in those worlds, with those characters, I think it was only natural I would in turn spend a lot of my time trying to craft my own worlds and characters.
I was an incredibly creative kid and I’m thankful to have had a sibling close in age who was as well.
My brother and I spent the majority of our free time creating stories together.
We’d record ourselves on my mother’s old tape player doing variety shows and skits; reading our stories; making each other laugh as we brought our stuffed animals and action figures to life with our dramatic storylines and silly voices.
We were once gifted a Talk Boy, you know the hand held tape recorder from Home Alone, and it blew our tiny child minds. We could record anywhere AND change the speed and pitch of our voices!
Eventually we both developed artistic skills and we’d sit together watching cartoons, clipboards on our laps, drawing our own characters and making comics together.
Crafting these stories with my brother was sacred and special. We trusted each other and it became our own little respite in our often difficult childhood.
Being creative had always been a private and intimate process for me and I rarely shared what I would make.
The fear of ridicule loomed over me always and I kept my ideas close and guarded.
And yet, I loved the feeling of sharing and creating with my brother. Making each other laugh, the spark of excitement when we would surprise each other with cool ideas, being inspired by each other to keep making awesome new things; it was pure fun.
Moving away from home and my brother and going our separate ways as adults was more difficult than I would have admitted at the time. I would miss the comfort of being creative with someone I was close with.
Making friends was difficult and it wasn’t until I was in college did I begin to open up.
One day I’m asked by a new friend, “Do you want to play Dungeons & Dragons?”
“Uh… no. I’ll never play D&D. It’s silly.”
“Oh but I think you’d really like it! It’s just making up stories but with dice!”
It took a little prodding and convincing, but I finally sat down at the table with people who I knew and felt comfortable with.
After the first session, I drew my character; an elf Druid named Anfa, taking pains in crafting her outfit accurately from how I imagined it.
I became the map maker and note taker during the second session. Keeping track of every turn, obstacle, and landmark.
At the end of the third session, I had to leave behind my wolf companion in order to cross terrain he couldn’t pass through. I apologized to him and said I would return but I didn’t make it back.
Needless to say, I was hooked. But I had no idea how much of an impact that first small game had on me.
For me the draw of collaborative storytelling was so strong, I was able to slowly pull myself out of that isolated space my childhood experiences pushed me into.
My journey has taken me from keeping all of my creative ideas between myself and my brother;
to playing in a 7-year long D&D campaign with a close group of friends;
to then GMing and producing my own actual play podcasts for the general public to hear.
Role-playing games and those I’ve played with have been instrumental in developing my creative voice and bit by bit replacing self-doubt with self-worth.
I still get nervous. I still worry I’ll “mess up” and make mistakes. I still hear that voice from time to time telling me how silly I am and trying to convince me I’ll be ridiculed for expressing myself.
But over time it’s become easier to drown it out with the memories of fun and laughter I have while at the table creating with others.
You’re a mistake. That’s a lie.
You’re worthless. Completely false.
You’re bad. No, actually. I’m great.