First grade was hard for me. We moved to a new neighborhood, and I started first grade at a new school.
I’d finished Kindergarten at a Jewish nursery school in Baltimore, and I read way above grade level. I also read on the bus, at the bus stop, and under my desk in class. When other kids played outside, I stayed inside to read.
Another girl started teasing me. She called me a bookworm and told other kids to do it too. Bookworm! Bookworm! They yelled. I cried about the whole thing to my mother.
Here’s what she told me:
“Not everyone will like you. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
She said these words simply, with no explanation. She did not tell me that these children were wrong not to like me. She did not tell me I was wrong for wanting to be liked. She simply spoke the truth as she understood it.
Not everyone will like you.
Of all the things my mother ever told me, these words are among the most important. She freed me to be myself. She freed me to not waste time winning over people who were never going to like me. She freed me from good girl conditioning that leads to the toxic trifecta of people pleasing, repression, and resentment.
Still, I didn’t learn the lesson immediately at 6. That day, I sat on her lap, while she ran her fingers through my hair. I breathed her Youth Dew. I sobbed into her dress with the floral collar.
I said, “Mommy, why won’t they like me?”
“They just won’t,” she replied.
I wanted everyone to like me. Sometimes I still do. But I also know that likeability is a trap for women. And I am coming to believe that my health depends on risking not being liked.
This has been a hard week for me. I had lab work done last Friday. My endocrinologist’s office left a vague voicemail message on Tuesday, asking if I could come in as soon as possible. (Don’t you love those messages?)
Short story: my TSH is increasing, even though my endo upped my dose of Levoxyl in December. My TSH has been increasing since I started Levoxyl in September. After six months, my TSH is still too high for me to safely sustain a pregnancy. My body is not responding to one of two medications I can take to treat this condition. My choices are limited because the widely prescribed meds contain ingredients like gluten and sugar that are not safe for me.
I turned 36 on February 16. My window of fertility is closing.
I received this news at work because that’s where I spend most of my time. I closed my office door. I texted some relatives and friends. A few wrote back. A few haven’t. It’s hard to hold other people’s bad news. It’s hard to face the truth that not everything works out in the end. Not every illness can be remedied.
Before class, a colleague asked me how I was doing. We were casually chatting in the bathroom. I told her the truth about the news I’d received. I said, “I know a lot of people say ‘fine’ when asked that question, but I’m not feeling ‘fine’ right now. I’m sad.”
I risked not being liked for being an oversharer. I risked her potentially saying, TMI and dismissing me. I risked her potential silence.
She said: “That’s what I love about you. You say what’s actually on your mind.”
I am so grateful to work with women who have the emotional capacity to be present to one another in times of distress. I am so grateful to work with women who do not hide who they are.
Last week I also spoke up about an ongoing issue at my gym.
Short story: I’ve fallen in love with Spin. (Spin is the best thing ever!), and I love my spin instructors. I am steadily increasing muscle mass while decreasing fat because they push me.
But something is happening to make me feel irritated, annoyed, and bitter in Spin. This something is this:
Class members are engaging in behaviors that gym policy doesn’t allow. They’re getting to class 15 to 20 minutes early, saving bikes with towels or other personal items, then leaving the room, sometimes entering late to mount a “claimed” bike. These behaviors appear entitled, even if that’s not their intention. These behaviors might not bother most people, but they bother me. I perceive them as unfair. I perceive them as degrading shared community space.
I needed to speak up about my feelings because repressing emotion negatively affects me. I’m also afraid it is affecting my thyroid health. This is not magical thinking. Countless studies support that stress adversely affects autoimmune conditions. My thyroid is located in my throat, the seat of my voice. I believe self-silencing damages me.
This morning, a person with the power to enforce gym policy told me that people would complain once the policy was enforced. They wouldn’t be happy. They might not like me. (Because I publically removed gym towels from a bike this morning, I will likely be known as the instigator of the policy’s enforcement.)
I said, I understand. I don’t care if people like me.
And I really meant it. I truly did not care. This doesn’t mean I’m not a compassionate or empathetic person. I care deeply about other people’s thoughts and feelings. But I can hold my own truths alongside those of others, even when our truths contradict. I know disagreement does not necessarily equate with delegitimization.
My mother’s words, spoken so long ago I barely remember them, came back to me, as I left Spin. I thought of how her voice, which I can no longer remember, still instructs me, still shapes and forms me.
Not everyone will like you. There’s nothing you can do about it, I thought, as I walked to my car, buoyed by relief, feeling pressure in my chest dissolve. Feeling free.