Katy Matilda Neo
Who am I?
At this very moment, I am a self-absorbed, mentally ill artist making work about my own psychological pain.
I always wanted to be special, surely everyone wants that? All you need is to discover your own specific “brand” of special.
I soon noticed that being special due to talent brings jealousy, and being special due to hard work invites contempt. And so I longed for nothing more than for my specialness to be weak, frail, sensitive, fragile. Because to me, these meant loved and cared for. All I really wanted, I realized, was to be special and loved. And for there to be no expectation that I am anything more than a poor, weak, damaged thing, that needs to be cared for. How selfish is that?
Yet, on the other end of the dialectic, a question emerges. What if fragile, sensitive, etc. really is what I am? Had I been praised and adored for being small, quiet, sensitive, delicate and frail, I would have been able to acknowledge that I was those things. Thus, my identity would have formed in alignment with my natural inclinations. But that is not what happened. Instead, I learned that these needs were not real, valid or worthy. And so, in denying them, I had to strive even harder for the opposite. Because surely the opposite of valid is invalid. And a concept that is invalid cannot be.
In my early environment, any sign of weakness, vulnerability, emotional instability, sickliness, sensitivity, smallness, softness, shyness, was not just viewed with contempt, it was completely denied as being an appropriate response. That gave me a very clear message: the ways I think I feel, I must not feel. They are wrong.
Things are not hard for me.
I am lazy and must work harder.
Working hard to be what one “is” must surely be shameful. Surely everyone else doesn’t have to put in so much effort. But I must put in ten times the effort, while never breaking a sweat. I must insist it all comes easy. Because that must be the truth of existence: if what is natural to me is invalid, then to be valid, I must be everything that I am not.
I must be genius.
I cannot be creative.
I cannot be what comes effortlessly — frail, dreamy, imaginative, loving, nurturing, creative, quiet, observant — because those things are somehow wrong. Instead, I must appear effortlessly intelligent, high-achieving, clever.
And I must not ever show that I struggle, for that would be admitting I am not the only thing my world tells me is acceptable to be. Only, the more I “effortlessly” achieve, the harder I must work. Both to achieve and to erase any evidence of my effort.
And do you know what? I did. I did it wonderfully. I did it so well that I convinced everyone. I convinced myself. And in doing so, I forgot my real self. Forgot that there had ever been anything other than a miniature version of the overachiever I had become.
I had to work so hard to maintain the “genius,” leaving less and less energy for the “artist,” which was dismissed as an unrealistic career pursuit. Thus, exponentially increasing the need to drive more and more energy into a lifestyle that was not sustainable. I couldn’t keep going. Working harder and harder for less and less recognition, and no internal satisfaction.
From all sides.
And from within.
And criticism even, when falling short of my own ludicrously high standards.
And before long, I was so exhausted and everything felt so wrong and not me. I became consumed by the injustice of it all. At myself, for so easily letting the world influence me and push me away from what I loved and toward something that would, inevitably, make me miserable.
And I became angry at the world.
The world that seemed to be always expecting a thousand times more, for half the reward. And dishing out punishment liberally for the constant failures that were the inevitable consequence of stakes set far too high.
And I caught fire.
And I burned so bright that my skin and hair turned red.
Dressed in black, I thrived on speed, cheap thrills and destruction. I had become another opposite. No longer able to maintain my status as “the very best,” I, instead, sought to be recognized as “the very worst.” I pushed and pushed and pushed at the boundaries of the world and discovered there were none.
It was my first burnout.
And it was a lot of fun.
But eventually I would have to pick up the pieces and rebuild a life, and guess what, I still had no clue as to who or what I was supposed to be.
Or how to figure it out.