The Voices In My Head

In this three-part series, former Iowa State football player and co-founder of Bulu, Paul Jarrett, shares personal and unique experiences from his childhood, youth, and adult years. In this final part, Paul specifically talks about a life-changing moment and a significant realization.

Click here to read Part #1

Click here to read Part #2

Life’s going to throw a lot of shit and punches your way, so it’s important how you handle those moments. That’s a big reason why I want my own boys to join wrestling or something like that. I like that in wrestling and contact sports, the individual aspect leaves all the blame to yourself. The mental strain of having to perform individually builds character.

But most importantly, I want my children to know that I love them no matter what.

I always knew that my father loved and supported me. So, I want them to know whether it’s baseball, sewing, or wearing women’s dresses that I’ll support them. Not just to blindly support, but to get involved and even help sow if that’s what they want.

I know that it’s hard not to impose your own opinion sometimes, but I think it’s important that they want whatever it is they want and not because I’m telling them.

Though I’m no trailblazer, there will be a few things I have to impose on. For instance, I’m saying a year of wrestling in middle school is going to be a non-negotiable. Just because I remember my own experience.

There’s nothing better than standing in front of a crowd wearing tights, with your father and mother watching, just getting your ass beat. Because you cry for a little while, then you blame things until you come to the moment where you realize he was better than me.

Then you have two choices, better yourself or move on to something else. In my case, the second option has always been the greater struggle, moving on to something else.

My, Myself, and the Perfectionist

I have this OCD nature where everything just has to be perfect.

In particular, one late Saturday, my wife Stephanie noticed that I’m just cursing underneath my breath while working.

She just comes right out and asks If I’m okay, to which I respond, “yeah fine, why?” “Well, the cursing?” I immediately apologize, because I don’t even notice I’m doing it. And I explain that it comes back to me being a perfectionist and not understanding why x company does x thing.

So, my wife simply asks me “hey do you want to go for a walk?”

At the time I think she internalized it a bit and thought I was upset because of us. But it was because I had unreal expectations. The company was very new, and we were experiencing growth and recognition, but as we became more successful, the pressure for perfection did too.

READ MORE: “I’m a Survivor” by Ashley Lambert | Nebraska Gymnastics

The Voices

So, on our walk, my wife can tell I’m upset. She asks me what I say when I talk to myself? “What?! What do you mean?” She goes again and asks what I say when I speak to myself.

At the time, I was 32 years old and I had no idea what she was talking about. I just never thought about these things.

She simplifies it to the voices inside my head, then gives me this scenario. “Imagine you’re running a race and see the finish line, what are you saying?”

“Oh… Well, hurry the fuck up, you pussy, run faster.”

Stephanie asks me if I carry that over to work. I tell her “yeah, pretty much the same thing”. Her response surprised me. She just says: “Oh, I don’t talk to myself like that and I don’t think it’s healthy.’

I remember asking her what she meant with unhealthy. She responded: “Well, I’m not mean to myself like that.“

I didn’t think I was being mean to myself either. I was just encouraging myself. She tells me that I’ve been negatively reinforcing myself, which I suppose is true, but I’m tough and can handle it. I’m pretty sure I was fine but she switches gears and says “you’re not fine. You’re just getting angrier and angrier towards yourself.”

I ask her what she tells herself to get motivated. She says things like “you’re doing great”, “I’m proud of myself.”

I just get pissed. It never dawned on me that (1) there’s a voice in my head, (2) never thought or listened to it, (3) other people do it, and (4) it’s positive.

It just made me angry to realize this. And frankly, sad. But I shrug it off and told myself it’s alright. I’ve dealt with it and it’s just a part of who I am. But Stephanie wasn’t done yet. She breaks it down even further.

“Think about it like this. Would you talk to your little sister like that?

“No, never. She doesn’t deserve it.”

“Would you ever talk to me in that way?”

“Are you kidding me?! There’s no way! You’d be pissed and wouldn’t talk to me. Period.

“What about your mother?! Would you talk to her in the same way you talk to yourself?

“My mother is a saint and I would probably hurt anyone who spoke to her like that.”

My Verbal Abuse

Stephanie then hits me with what I call the “love touch.”

“So, why is it that the most important person in the world, you’re treating like absolute shit?

It took me a second to process what she just said. But then, it just hit me hard.

I’ve never considered myself a very emotional dude, but what she said dropped me. The only equivalent was how I felt after the death of my best friend. It hit me so hard and fast that I felt a sudden release and began sobbing.

At that moment, everything from my past made sense as I was kneeling with my skin to the pavement. The only word I could say was “sorry”.

I felt ashamed and thought that my wife would leave me.

She knelt down and encouraged me saying that everything is fine and that we can deal with this.

I somewhat came to the realization that for 32 years, I’d been verbally abusing myself.

READ MORE: “You Are Enough” by Savannah Borman | Iowa Gymnastics

Creating a Better Self

That experience lead me to look outwards as well, taking a look at my wife’s family.

They all had been a pretty successful bunch, composed of doctors, athletes, and lawyers with each generation producing positively reinforced members. Whereas my family was just the one, and that I had always relied on natural skill to succeed.

Seeing their success and happiness convinced me that it was possible to live better, but that I would have to work at it each day.

I know I’ll never completely get rid of this darkness hanging over me, just because of the years of self-abuse. But now that I notice what it sounds like, I can control the volume.

Whenever I start having bad weeks or months, I can try working on being more positive to lower the volume. Just asking myself if this is the truth or whether I’m telling myself these negative thoughts.

I will say that getting older has definitely helped, along with having children. The support of my family keeps me in check, but it is a struggle to acceptance.

I know I can never really change who I am deep down, but I can work hard each day to find success and happiness.


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