Updated: Feb 9, 2022
Written by: Sam Montalto Published: February 6th, 2022
I will always be thankful for the way I grew up, really close to my family, surrounded by four boys who would do anything for me. I have my mom, but we live in a male dominated family, so I didn’t grow up with a heavy female influence. When it came to clothes, make-up or talking about boys, I thought they were weird topics because they were not normal subjects in my house, therefore I wore jeans, boots, and never mentioned boys I had crushes on. Jake, Connor, Ryan, and Tucker, while they all will defend me to the ends of the earth, tend to tell me I’m “just Sam”, as if my only association was my name. They never meant any real harm and I am certainly in no way blaming them for how I felt, but that phrase got to me. I could ride a dirt bike, change oil, replace tire tubes, hand them the correct tools when they asked on the first try, ski, snowmobile; basically, I could keep up with them. But I couldn’t ride as fast, riding at tracks scared me, anything above 4th gear was a no-go, sometimes I wasn’t strong enough to fix something on my own like they could - I was in their world, but not completely. In school, it was the same feeling. I had my friends, and I could talk about prom dresses, boys, braids, all the girly stuff. It was a complete 180 turn from being at home. I would get my nails done with them and maybe go shopping. Even with my girlfriends, I felt not feminine enough, like I could do all these things with them but maybe I shouldn't because I am so used to the way of life at home, being “just Sam”.
Years later, I still have my best girlfriends and keep up with the boys, but now I’m working in an ICU after working as an EMT, I’m going to college in Boston and work as a wrangler on a farm near home. In the ambulance I was partnered with a middle-aged ex-military man who I could talk to about patients in medical terms but had a hard time relating to him in all other aspects. Not for lack of effort, I was trying to understand Airborne Army Ranger terms so I could talk to my partner Matt fluently on shift. He was good with me but picture it: an awkward 19-year-old girl with no military experience trying to yuck it up with Matt, a 45-year-old retired Army Ranger, married with two daughters… yeah, tough scene. Then at the farm, I lead horses, feed, change waters, muck stalls, make bottles for calves, throw hay, and run the tractor to move material, but the girl I work with (Eryn, she’s the best) is in college for agriculture. I feel like I’m a poser because I’m in school to be a Physician Assistant in Boston and I didn’t grow up on a farm. Again, I felt like “just Sam”, not enough of a tomboy, or of a girly-girl, or of a college city girl, or of a relatable coworker, or of a farm girl. That’s how I thought people saw me too, as “just Sam”, that girl who can’t pick a lane. That is a terrible feeling to have, like you are a part of the lives of people you love but never feeling like you fully belong in any of them.
As you can probably guess, two problems came from this: major anxiety and self-image issues. I fix my clothes constantly, keep my hair down so I can tuck it behind my ears, bite my lip (so much there is now a scar), tapping each of my fingers against my thumb back and forth as fast as I can, yawning when I’m uncomfortable (I know, weird right?), sit on my hands, pull my shirt up over my chin, and much more I’m sure my friends and family could pick out. I’d keep to myself; I’d rather be alone entirely because it’s simply easier. I didn’t have to worry about what version of myself other people would see so isolation was the way to go. I’d keep all my thoughts and feelings to myself, bottle it all up. I was nervous to tell anyone anything out of fear I’d be considered weak or too sensitive. This is where self-imagine issues came in. Being cautious of peoples’ opinions lead to comparing myself to other girls, which had a big effect on how I’d dress and how I felt about myself. At home and the farm, it was boots/jeans, impressive to throw hay or unload dirt bikes from the truck but I was extremely self-conscious if I wore make-up. At school or with friends it was Uggs/leggings, feeling like I was noticeably larger than the girls I was with but felt odd if I wasn’t wearing mascara. Comparison is a killer.
I ended up not dealing with any of my problems. I let them boil over, stay unsolved and continued to keep each section of my life separate from one another. My thought process was “I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember, I’m surviving, it’s fine”. I ended up meeting someone who made everything almost disappear. Anxiety was a minimum, I felt so at home and my self-image was at an all-time high, I loved who I was around them. I was confident, I felt like a girl, I was proud of my job and school, and I could sit in the garage with him to help with whatever he was working on. I could be every part of who I am and not feel like who that is, isn’t enough. I would tell him everything, let him see me cry, be mad, ugly laugh or be the happiest I’ve ever been. That is a scary thing to do. It’s even scarier when you don’t talk to that person anymore. I tried to keep that level of confidence up afterwards, but that’s not how I turned out. I was back to where I started. Deciding it was time to deal with myself, I made a list of goals - wear whatever I want wherever I want, eat if I was hungry, put on mascara because I wanted to, talk about work and school, say/show what I was feeling, do what I enjoyed to do, not be “just Sam”, and be able to do all of that without needing someone for reassurance. You shouldn’t be around people who make you feel bad about who you are, and while this wasn’t the case for me, I depended on him to feel confident which isn’t healthy either. This was the last push for me to change my habits and my mindset. I didn’t want to depend on someone else for happiness and I certainly wasn’t going to let anxiety and self-image issues dictate how I lived anymore.
Although this essentially took me 20 years to compile, this list is simple but effective. It gives me space to ground myself, reel it back in, and organize my thoughts.
- Music – sort through music, new and old. You are not limited to listening to one kind of music just because you’ve been pegged as the country listener in your friend group. One 50-hour country playlist doesn’t mean you can’t have five other playlists of A$AP Rocky and Dominic Fike. Just listen to what you like, it’s your space.
- Driving – alone, roll the windows down even when it’s cold and sing your little heart out. You don’t have to have a destination. For my fellow CMass kids, drive west. Route 2, or 202, maybe all the way to North Adams, find somewhere new
- Notebooks – I write my playlists down out of fear that Apple Music will crash one day, but this is also a good place to write down quotes, words, or poems you like. Journal if you want but it’s your space, do what you want
- Exercise/Self-care – I hate going to the gym, that is hell on earth, but do what fits. If you’re like me, go on walks, stretch, or do yoga. I try to walk outside every day, fresh air is more important than we will ever realize
- Pinterest – it’s a loophole for me when I want to scroll through something, but Instagram might not be the best way to ground myself. It’s also good way to save anything you want to see again. Make boards of quotes, houses, places to travel to, wedding ideas, food to make or small projects to try. It helps me work towards what I want out of life
- Mindset – actively be aware of your mindset. For a long time, I looked at my life like I belong nowhere because I am not a “one lane” person, now I see it as I am a multifaceted person who can work a clutch, talk to a hospital ED through a radio, turn horses in/out and get my nails done all in the same day. You belong anywhere you want to be, change your perspective
- Regulating diet – Diet does not only mean meals. Social media intake, food, people you involve yourself with, what you read, all of it counts. Regulate what you put into your body because not everything deserves your attention. Being mindful of what you absorb also helps with being mindful of what you respond to
- Volunteer work – DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE. It doesn’t matter what it is, find something you might like and just try it, you could end up loving it. And if not, no harm no foul
- Invest in your work- in school, a career, or hobby; if love it, get better at it. College students: you are paying for an education, do your best. Try to work toward career goals through internships, certifications, assistant jobs, shadowing, etc. College is not a requirement for a successful life, anyone who says that is oblivious. Save time for hobbies, this includes traveling. Your mind needs a breather, it’s all about balance
Wear cowboy boots to your archeology class in the city, then wear Uggs changing the oil in your car. Realize that what you expose yourself to has an impact on your health. Sing “100 Grandkids' ' by Mac Miller followed by “One In the Saddle, One On the Ground” by Sturgill Simpson. Get out of your head, there is so much more to life. Working towards confidence fueled from my own doing has lessened the severity of my anxiety and self-image issues. I still deal with bouts of biting my lip or catching myself looking at my outfit for too long because no one is perfect, growth isn’t linear. In any case, you fully belong in the lives of people around you exactly the way you are. You will never be “just your name”, you are so much more than you think.
“Be so rooted in yourself that nobody’s absence or presence can disturb your inner peace”