Scarlett Vanderwoodsen, Columnist // Illustration By Cynthia Tran Vo
It was three years ago when I had the epiphany of my lifetime. I was just about to fail every course I was in, attending class maybe once a week and madly in love with my best friend. My day-to-day life revolved around shedding endless tears while curled up on my bathroom floor, putting all I had in me into a relationship where I had nothing left to offer. The seemingly infinite downward spiral I embarked on at a young age made me feel loveless and incapable of success. It wasn’t until I was hooked up to an IV that I realized something needed to change.
What’s kept me going for these last few years, and has helped me push through extremely trying times has been a list. A small piece of paper, I’ve somehow managed to lose in my closet’s abyss (though I had managed to memorize most of it), listing the things I must force myself to experience before I can even begin to think of myself as invaluable – one of the points being performing in a burlesque show.
I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping secrets. I could say I’m not proud of it, but – fuck it, it’s great. I get away with so much. Keeping burlesque a secret is much like keeping any other secret. It feels kinda good, kinda bad, kinda sneaky, kinda sad. But as much as I love having my own little world, at times it breaks my heart that I can’t share some of the experiences and the excitement with my friends and family.
When you outwardly share so much of yourself, it becomes difficult to share who you really are. Last February, I had been rehearsing for my company’s Valentines Day show. It was my favourite one. I got the chance to channel my inner Old Hollywood showgirl, dressed in a glamorous red silk corset and a mesmerizing floor length gown for a solo number. It was during my first performance of “La Vie En Rose” when I realized just how disconnected I was from the song. At the time, I had been struggling with lying to everyone close to me and it became very difficult to feel like I was living La Vie En Rose when I was really living La Vie En Lies.
My outwards appearance presented me as a confident glitter bomb while my insides couldn’t feel worse. I was coming undone at the seams and I couldn’t have looked any better. And of course, what came with it was everything I just didn’t want to hear and couldn’t handle. At the time I was dating a guy who fed me all the compliments I needed to feel great. The only thing was they were based solely on my appearance. I had no one to share my feelings with, and despite the mounds of attention I got from performing, I couldn’t have felt further from everyone in my life.
Learning to differentiate between what should and shouldn’t be out in the open is something that takes a lot of time to get right. Over the years I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut upon assessing potential repercussions and share what I’m feeling when the time feels right to do so. But when it comes to mental health, I’m still absolutely ignorant.
We all have our secrets. Some bigger than others. Some we are dying to share, others we are dying to keep buried. Weirdly enough, despite wanting to relieve myself of my mental health woes, I still, to this day, have trouble voicing what I’m going through deep down with even the people I’m most close to in life – almost as if carrying the biggest secret inside me. Some days I don’t notice it and some days it’s the weight of the world.
I don’t think erasing your history completely and forgetting how far you’ve come is the way to go. It’s not a pretty task but I often find myself needing to reflect on my past in order to recognize just how strong of a person I am. Even if you’re not quite ready to share your story with those close to you, or have it printed in a paper bi-weekly, there are ways to get past the roughest of times. There are so many other ways to find your purpose in life and externalize your feelings, that don’t have to come with all the anxiety surrounding vulnerability when sharing intimate details of your mind.
Sharing our “true” identities, whether it be our seemingly darkest secrets or our real names (no, Scarlett Vanderwoodsen is not my real name), takes a lot. But finding it within to view yourself as worthy of overflowing success is something that shouldn’t be second-guessed. Find what you love. You do you, boo.
And as for my true identity? I’ll never tell.