For many years I’ve struggled to define who I am on my own terms – it has always been far easier for me to judge my worth as a person on what I believe others think of me, with an admittedly unhealthy focus on the negative. Generating or bolstering my feeling of personal self-efficacy hasn’t ever been lasting, leading to long hours trying to please others in the attempt to make myself feel better about my accomplishments.

Two books really spoke to me last year, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Both explore what it means to grow up, and how ultimately grown ups are just children in older bodies – a sentiment to which I greatly relate. Very often I still feel like I did as a child, flailing and trying to solve my problems without a solid grasp of just how to move forward. Recently reflecting on those feelings reminded me of a blog entry I wrote many years ago, discussing my fears related to public image, and how that shapes so many of my interactions.

Just shy of a year ago I lost a large majority of my social circle. I say “lost” but in truth I walked away from them, feeling a deep sense of shame and failure, convinced I couldn’t regain trust or live up to the image I had tried to cultivate. I have railed against the archetypal “bad guy” so often celebrated in today’s media – the sexist, confident egoist who sleazes their way through life, and through others’ lives, leaving a path of emotional ruin in their wake. It had come to my attention that there were some who believed I, no matter my attempts to the contrary, fit squarely into that category. Ashamed, hurt, and feeling that it would be better for everyone to walk away rather than engage in drama, I did so and cut myself off of almost everyone I spent time with, all of whom were part of that group.

In this time I have very rarely spoken about what I felt, what turmoil I went through in making that decision. On occasion I’ll run into someone from that group, and while some offer sympathy or smiles, others cast suspicious, sidelong glances that seem to reaffirm my decision to not just leave but to stay away entirely. If someone, let alone multiple people, could believe that at my core I was that kind of person, obviously I had failed them on multiple levels, both as a friend and as a leader.

It has always been easy for me to be a private person, to wage my battles internally. I’ve often said in the past that my life is an open book, all one has to do is ask. And while that remains true, and I believe all questions deserve an answer, there is some small smug satisfaction in knowing that most won’t ask, that our culture has discouraged poking into others’ feelings. When I left the group I made an overture, saying that I was willing to listen to any complaint or criticism, to answer any question or address any issue. In all this time only two have really sat down to ask me how I was holding up and what my thoughts on the matter were. Reaffirmation for that not-so-little voice of doubt in my head.

I try very hard to not indulge in or incite interpersonal drama, and often that has taken the form of just rolling over or walking away completely. Never before however did it have such an overarching effect on my life. Yet whenever I feel the urge to reach out and build bridges the doubt and the fear remain, the sense of failing to live up to the person I feel I should be, I need to be. Instead I stop, and stew, and beat myself up some more for having let them down in the first place.

This story doesn’t have an ending yet, and perhaps it never will. I struggle every day with the idea of who I am and where I belong in the world, and some times that anxiety is a crushing, choking force on my daily life. Every day I’m trying, some more successfully than others, but it remains a constant struggle, a Sisyphean labor that, for now, doesn’t seem to end.