If someone, 7 years ago, had described to me my life today, I would have laughed in their face. Today, I am a Riding Master II graduate of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Center, a veteran, a freelancer, an avid reader, and the owner of two gorgeous fur babies. My hair is short, I have tattoos and a septum piercing, and I came out of the closet in February.
Pan back to 7 years ago. I had no clue what to do with my life. I spent my free time in my room reading, had no interest in going to college, was painfully introverted, and had a lot of pent-up anger. I looked into the military because my other two choices were either go to college or join a convent, neither of which I wanted to do. Spending all my time reading meant I wasn’t being a productive member of the household or society. The “Which branch should you join” quiz landed on the Marines. That October, I shipped off to bootcamp.
I grew up in a somewhat devout Catholic household. Tattoos, piercings, and short hair were taboo. Homosexuality was considered a sin. I wasn’t allowed to date or wear tank tops and short shorts. I couldn’t even have sleepovers or watch certain TV shows. Under this rock I struggled with so many things. Early on I knew I was attracted to girls. There was just something about them. Their hair, the way they smiled, the softness of their speech, the genuine joy in their laughter. That was shut down when my mom found out about my first girl crush, though I didn’t know that’s what it could be called at the time. I spent the rest of my teen years watching the girls who were interested in boys. I went from painfully awkward and tomboyish to more girly and seductive. That’s what I was supposed to do right? Catch a man, settle down, and eventually produce a family raised in good Christian values.
Tattoos and piercings represented power and self-confidence. I always gravitated toward the look. However, I wanted more than the look. I wanted to feel how they felt. To feel free and untouchable. At the same time, all the attractive girls had long, flowy hair and perfectly done makeup, clothes that fit their figures and bubbly personalities. I attempted to fit in, somewhat unsuccessfully. I ended up having my first sexual experience with a man after I had turned 18 and continued from there. Around the age of 20, I came out as bisexual. Having left the Church as soon as I’d turned 18, I explored things I had been told “no” to. I enjoyed the attention I received. I was finally considered desirable, especially by those in the military. I received my first tattoo in Japan and also met who I thought was the love of my life.
Nothing felt…right. I was still comparing myself to those I saw on Instagram and found I was very observant of the women that drew my partner’s eye. These thoughts consumed my very being and transferred into the next relationship. Subconsciously, I knew I was attracted to these women as well. I could picture myself in a happy marriage with a woman, but could hardly conjure a picture of my ideal husband. Several realizations and discoveries later, I came out as gay in February of this year. The missing pieces came together.
The go-getter, free-spirited personality from my childhood returned.
When I was young, I wanted to do everything. Dig up fossils, be a singer, a dancer, a horse jockey, a gymnast, play professional sports, travel and most importantly write my own book one day. My imagination and drive were endless. I spent hours daydreaming and getting excited about all the things I could do and be and accomplish. Except I was expected to be realistic.
“You can’t make money with art or writing.”
“Do you really think you’d make it on American Idol?”
“Focus on science and math. You’ll be more successful and financially stable.”
“Reading is just a hobby. It can’t be a real job.”
By 12, I no longer dreamed of becoming something great. Along came body dysmorphia with a side of eating disorders. High school introduced the pursuit of perfection, especially in all “practical subjects.” B’s were frowned upon and so was taking more than one creative elective. By 16, I’d tell myself “you’re not good enough” on a daily basis. Not good enough for my family, not good enough to play professional sports, not good enough to even write something worthwhile and captivating. I struggled between wanting to say screw it all and living up to my family’s expectations. I was supposed to be the golden child who got good grades, was athletically talented and fit, and would excel after high school. The only things that made me happy anymore were my books. But I wasn’t that outgoing, imaginative kid anymore. I was the introvert who shut herself up in her room, under her covers with the blinds down and door closed, to literally escape from reality.
By graduation, I had stopped caring about grades. I tried to have somewhat of a friend group but constantly compared myself to them. I didn’t have the “look,” nor a specific thing I had focused on throughout high school such as a sport or belonging to a club. I worked at a gym after school on weekends and went home to rinse and repeat. I hated life at that point. Truly and utterly despised it. I felt like a robot with its power source being fueled by hate and anger.
I was tired of being angry. And just…tired.
Being in the military didn’t help much either. I hardly read a book for those 5 years. I tried writing again with little success. I became self-destructive and found myself bored and unhappy all the time. My creative spark had diminished and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring it back. The people around me were no help. Everyone had that “be realistic” mindset as well. My efforts to share what little creativity I had left were met with, “Oh, that’s cute” and dismissal.
A year before I got out of the Marines in 2019, I found out about Meredith Manor. It was an equine trade school, something I had never known existed or was even possible. A kernel of hope was planted. I had the opportunity to follow one of my childhood dreams. Unsurprisingly, I was met with, “You’re really going to go to a horse school? What can you even do with that?”
I moved to West Virginia at the end of November 2019 to begin what I thought would be 3 years of just horses. Halfway through I took a leave of absence due to my mental health. One of my dreams now felt like what I’d been trying to avoid, the same thing all the time. Unfortunately, the school shut down and I graduated early in June. I was at a standstill. I knew I didn’t want to go back to Nebraska, so where?
I could go anywhere, nothing was holding me back. Once I came to that conclusion, I wasn’t anxious anymore. I had created anxiety by putting myself into an invisible box and telling myself I needed to have a realistic plan.
I am slowly rebuilding despite abusive relationships, countless reminders of “reality,” self-destructive habits, and feeling broken and worthless. I still have days where I feel so numb I can’t even bring tears to my eyes, or I scream and yell from all the trauma I haven’t worked through yet. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I’m also not saying it’s impossible. I am getting through this.
Self-worth and confidence are flowers that only I can water. I might have to do some digging to pull those weeds out, but I’ll never stop digging and never stop growing.