The One-Inch Whale
Written by Laura Aronoff | Edited by Allison Thomas
Today is Laura’s birthday, so I thought it was appropriate to share her first blog contribution for me. One of many, I hope. Laura, you are so special, I am happy that you are sharing part of your story with the world. I love you, and I hope we continue to learn the art of loving- not just the art of loving others, but the deeper art of loving ourselves. Happy birthday, Laura!
Title: The One-Inch Whale.
I have always been a sensitive soul. I tend to feel things very deeply and even the smallest life events sometimes bring me to tears. Some would say I’m a “crier,” especially in the first grade, where my story takes place.
Allow me to explain what I mean when I refer to the term “crier”. Like many other “criers”, I let feelings build up inside of me. I make up stories in my head, turning small issues into ginormous ones, and then boom. Tears.
My outbursts of tears come out the most when I am frustrated, when I don’t understand something, or when I don’t achieve perfection. Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect and to make others happy, that I turn the smallest situation into an internal catastrophe.
I used to be embarrassed about my random outbursts of tears, especially when they would come out at completely unnecessary times, like in the middle of a lunch with friends or student- teacher conference. I would get so angry at myself because I would try so hard to fight those tears, but they would just burst out in the middle of nowhere to spite me.
After a while I just accepted that I was a “crier”. I told myself that I would always have these outbursts, but maybe I could learn to keep them inside and spare the outside world of my crazy, over-analytical thoughts. I worked really hard to bottle up the anxious voices in my head, and as I matured into my young adult years, I managed to build a wall around my eyelids (and heart) so that I could hold in my emotions and embarrassing tears of frustration. I could even hold in the tears for months at a time until they grew to the point of a slight panic attack. And by slight, I mean major.
I am not sharing this vulnerable aspect about myself to sound depressing. I was actually hesitant to share this, because I couldn’t bare the thought of admitting weakness or “burdening” other people with my problems.
But after some major breakdowns, LOTS of tears, then some major breakthroughs, and a little help from my friends, I have FINALLY realized that I am not the only “crier” in this world; and I thought to myself, ‘If I can figure out why these outbursts are getting the best of me, then maybe I could help other people understand them, too.’
This realization came to me when I went on a weekend retreat to a healing sanctuary in Asheville, NC with some of my closest friends. In the middle of a long talk with these friends, and after several outbursts of tears that weekend, I randomly had a flashback to the first grade. Yep, I had a flashback to elementary school. The good ol’ days.
In the first grade, my class started learning our measurements: Inches, miles, centimeters, feet. Seems quite simple at first, but when you stop to think about it, the subject is vital. I mean let’s be honest, if you can’t tell the difference between an inch and a mile, you’re screwed. People will think you’re dumb, and you will probably be rejected by society.
This is roughly the internal dialogue that my first-grade-self had in my head when my teacher handed us our homework assignment about measurements. My tiny seven-year-old-self was convinced that I had to learn these measurements perfectly. My teacher and my friends and my parents expected this of me, and I could not let them down.
I felt fairly confident with this measurement stuff. Until I looked at my homework sheet and suddenly felt knots building up in my stomach. The worksheet had pictures on it of a pencil, a car, a whale, and so on… And the only instructions read, “How big are these objects?”
I stared at the work sheet for a moment. And then, sheer panic. Was I supposed to measure the whale on this small sheet or guess the size of a whale in real life?….??????…!!!!!
I spent about 10 minutes staring at the sheet.
And then I started making up stories in my head. “What if I do this wrong? What if I guess that the whale is 100 feet when the answer is 1 inch? Everyone will laugh at me. My brother will think I am “slow”. My parents will be disappointed in me.” (I’m assuming this was roughly what was going on in my head 15 years ago.)
Rather than asking the teacher for help, or just trying to write down answers, I burst into tears. The whole classroom saw. My teacher was stunned and didn’t understand what was wrong with me.
That night I sat down with my mom to take a second look at the stupid one-inch whale, and I was so angry at myself. I wanted so badly to get these measurements perfect and make everyone proud that I panicked when I couldn’t achieve instant perfection. I couldn’t bare to get the homework wrong, because that meant letting people down and embarrassing myself.
It wasn’t until 15 years later that I had an epiphany for why these panic attacks continued long after the first grade. There was one thing that that I didn’t know then that I understand now.
It was at this retreat in Asheville that I mentioned earlier, that something clicked for me. I was sitting with my friends, Allison, Katherine, and Joya, and I was telling them this whale of a story. Allison responded by telling me that “I was perfect”.
Allison used to be my teacher, I basically lived at her house over the summers while attending her dance camps. She has known me since I was 9 years old. Now she is my friend, but she has valuable insights as to who she saw in me when I was younger. She that I was one of the hardest working kids she had ever encountered. She said that somewhere along the way, maybe around 11 or 12, I started to lose my way, but she said she’s always loved the fire that I had and still have inside of me.
She said: “You’re perfect. It doesn’t matter which path you would have taken. It’s perfect because it’s what you chose.” What she meant by this was that I was going to do my best with that assignment. She said I always gave my all and I was “truly exceptional when it came to focus and skill as a youngster.” She loved me through it all.
And whoever I was trying to be perfect for knew this already, too. Everyone knew this except for the most important person: me. The love was there and was going to be there no matter which way I chose to measure that stupid whale. Which ever way I chose, they would see it as beautiful and perfect because it was a product of me, of my innocent, hardworking self.
I didn’t realize that my parents, my friends and teachers all knew what I was capable of. And since I could not bare the thought of letting them down, I let these feelings build up and blow up inside me, I ended up having a breakdown and couldn’t complete the assignment.
If I had chosen to measure the whale my way. It wouldn’t have mattered if it wasn’t the way that I was “supposed” to do it. Who cares what everyone else thinks is the right answer? If it’s right to me, and if I did my best, it’s perfect.
These words are hard to swallow. When Allison said them to me I immediately wanted to laugh and reject it. We humans are so worried about making everyone proud, but meanwhile we can’t even accept ourselves for what we are. We beat ourselves up because we are not perfect.
But guess what? Your parents think you’re perfect. Your friends think you’re perfect. Your teachers love you and support you.
You are the only one whose expectations you will never meet.
So after years of panic attacks similar to the one in my first grade anecdote, I am challenging myself to do the hardest thing a human can emotionally handle. I am going to accept myself. Because I am perfect. I am a child of this earth just like every other human, and we are all perfect.
Every fall, every mistake, every decision, every action is perfect because it is a product of you, and your path.
To the readers of this (long) post, I thank you for reading. And I challenge you to look in the mirror every morning and tell the person looking at you that “you are perfect.” It’s extremely uncomfortable at first, and makes you feel quite lame. But maybe this will help you learn to love yourself as much as the people that you are trying not to let down. When you love yourself, and trust yourself as the perfect human that your are, only then can you feed your fire and let yourself fly.