To the Man Who Told Me I Was Too Old to Color


Dear Man in Barnes and Noble,

You saw me curled up in a big comfy chair with a large bag of colored pencils and a journal with coloring pages. I had my ear buds in listening to some acoustic songs, trying to center myself and get myself to a more peaceful place. I am sure the reason behind my coloring didn’t even cross your mind, and if it did, you probably could not figure out why a girl my age was sitting there by myself doing an activity that, in your mind, only 5-year-olds should be doing.

“Aren’t you a little old to be coloring?”

I didn’t really answer your question then, mainly because I did not know what to say and was caught off guard, but I am going to answer it now.

No, I am not too old to be coloring. You told me that you used to color when you were a little kid, but that people my age don’t color. First of all, have you looked in Barnes and Noble? The store is filled with coloring books and Mandala books for children, teens and adults. Granted, I know you are quite a bit older than me and so we have very different experiences; you may not be up to date on the latest trends, and I certainly do not hold that against you.

However, you talked to me for 40 minutes in Barnes and Noble, when I do not even know you. I was trying to be polite and listen, but the truth is, I just wanted to return to my coloring book, music and forget about everything for a little while. By the comments you made, I’m sure you thought of me as silly and naïve, you certainly did not take my field that I am in seriously. “Well, have fun picking apart people’s brains,” you said to me about social work as you left.

Here is the thing — you don’t know a thing about me. You made assumptions without knowing the story, the background, the truth. I was in Barnes and Noble trying to kill time, minding my own business, when I was interrupted in a not so nice way. You probably didn’t know that before coloring in Barnes and Noble, I was sitting in the parking lot for half an hour having a meltdown. You probably didn’t know that I was experiencing symptoms of anxiety, fatigue and low blood sugar that all piled up to create one big mess to the point where I was in tears unable to go into the store for a chunk of time.

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You probably didn’t know that before driving to Barnes and Noble, I climbed six flights of stairs on campus with a heavy backpack and a chronic illness, just to be too scared to walk into the student lounge, so I  turned around and descended the same six flight of steps. I felt dizzy and weak, I felt as if my body could collapse.

You also probably didn’t know that prior to that, I was in the store on campus buying some school supplies, and counted my money incorrectly at the cash register due to brain fog and anxiety, and felt so embarrassed and anxious that my body started to shake. You must not realize what it is like to live with a mental illness and a chronic physical illness for that matter.

I know because I know your life story after listening to you talk for a good solid 40 minutes. You certainly had your challenges that you faced, so why did you judge a book by its cover? Did you ever think that maybe I was trying to cope with one of my own challenges? That I was doing something to help myself get to a better place? It probably never occurred to you that I have anxiety disorders, or that I have a rare metabolic disease along with some other chronic health problems. I was just trying to get myself through the rest of my day, doing what I had to do to get by, and I really did not need or appreciate the comments that you, a total stranger, made to me.

So, to go back to your question, no, of course, I am not too old to color. I am not too old to journal. I am not too old to hug my stuffed animals when I feel scared or anxious, or when I am in the midst of a panic attack. I have to do what I have to do to get myself through the fear, and over the mountains that sometimes prevent me from living my life to the fullest. We all have barriers and obstacles we need to learn to overcome. Mine may seem silly to you, but to me, they are very real and frightening, and I am not going to be ashamed of using my coping skills and taking care of myself, no matter where I am.

Next time you see someone doing something that you don’t understand or that you think is silly, I invite you to keep an open mind, and to remember that we all have very different, unique experiences. You never know what kind of battle that person may be fighting, and if you do not know the reason or story behind the action, don’t judge. Take a step back and think before you speak.

However, thank you for reminding me that I need to stand up for myself more. I often am too afraid to speak up out of fear of hurting others feelings, but I should have politely told you that I could not talk at the moment. I am not holding on to the anger and frustration that I felt when you were putting in your two sense. It is not worth it. I am letting it all go because there are other things that I could be worrying about. I just thought you should know the answer to your question.

 

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