Fear Itself

This is a diary entry from August. It’s a look straight inside my head and some of my worst insecurities. It’s hard to talk about social anxiety because it has such a stigma attached to it, or at least, it does in your head, if you have it. Which I did.

I finally figured out how to claw my way out of that well about two years ago, but it’s a slippery slope from self-doubt to full-on paranoia, and I spent a panicky couple of days trying to find my confidence again. Here’s the entry:

 

Fear is the enemy of love, and I am fearful right now.

My emotional landscape has been such a clusterfuck these past several years. I just need to keep remembering that life moves in cycles…why is it that despite all evidence I tend to think that each new emotional state is eternal (except happiness)?

I’d been enjoying a state of confidence that relied maybe a little too much on detachment—awesome, everyone here seems to like me great, but I’m probably going to move to L.A. Bye guys. I appreciate you objectively but I am also uninvested.

Now I’m starting to invest. Which is great! I was not enjoying my perpetual detachment. I was starting to feel like I had simply moved past the ability to…well, I wasn’t sure what exactly. Love? I love a lot of things and a lot of people though. Trust?

That word is perfect though: the word h used. “I am invested in you.” That is the best way to describe what it means to start leaning on someone a little, to allow yourself to count on them in certain ways, to give them parts of yourself that they may or may not appreciate.

So. I’m investing in h. Actually by the time I figured out what was happening I was already invested. I was thinking of him as an interloper into the me & c thing for so long, somehow I didn’t notice his reliable presence, his affection and tenderness with me.

It’s sort of blurry whether the insecurity crept in first…I was feeling a bit vulnerable because of c getting full time at work, though she has more experience, knowledge, and investment than I do. Emotions are really very silly things, when it comes down to it. Not very useful. The only truly useful emotion is love.

I’m glad that I’m falling for h. He’s so good for me. I’m tickled by the way this snuck up on me. Somehow it escaped my noticed long enough to grow to the point where I can’t quickly overanalyze it to death. But I seem to be trying!

It’s just that now that I have feelings for him, I have all of the feelings. I really, really like him. I’m experiencing a pretty intense barrage of affection. He’s the Finn to my Fiona. I’ve always wanted someone who still approaches life with childlike wonder. Who can be sincere but not over-serious, playful but reflective. He’s soulful, youthful, wise, kind, gentle and aggressive by turns. He’s vulnerable but strong. He’s perceptive, careful, funny, spontaneous, discerning. He is very passionate and doing what he loves—so attractive. And he’s well-liked and respected in the community. And he loves my dog and she loves him.

He’s inspiring me to be more, to be better. But somewhere along the way I’ve started finding myself feeling fearful, often, that my anxiety will drive him away. We have nothing to fear but fear itself, indeed. Insecurities feel like they’re there to help but they’re not! They’ve been yelling so loudly all the time lately. I can shut them up but it takes some work, and in the meantime it’s just really unpleasant to feel a sustained and persistent fear that you’re annoying and unlovable and you’re going to drive everyone away.

It’s such a crazy fear, and maybe the best definition of self-fulfilling prophecy there is. Because, see, I make a good first impression, and as many people will tell you, first impressions are the most important, right? So all I have to do after that is…maintain the non-illusion that I am a friendly, interested, interesting person who likes fun and people. Why is this hard?

Oh right, because I spent my entire life (excluding the most recent two years and perhaps some of the early ones) taking other peoples’ reactions to me as the bible truth of how they felt about me, and by extension, how innately loveable (or unloveable) I was. And that lizard brain (as my dear friends l and h call it) has resurfaced. If I’m learning anything in my life, it’s that we never defeat a demon to the point where we won’t have to fight it again. Demons never die. But we do gain the capacity to banish them from our mental landscapes.

So, this one’s back, and it’s proving pretty tricky to banish. I need to revisit how I beat it last time.

Here’s what I did: I figured out that not everyone needs to like me. I figured out that some people get off of on not liking people; these kinds of people get off the most on not liking people who need everyone to like them.

The only way to stop being a target of hatred for this kind of person, paradoxically, is to not give a shit about whether or not people like you. But this is easier said than done (fourteen years later!)

I stopped giving a shit about whether other people liked me when I started respecting my own opinion about myself more than anyone else’s. This is the only thing that makes sense to do, because although I am not objective, I’m the only one with access to my motivations, my pain, my emotional state, my circumstances, my fears, what I can endure, what I cannot, what I have already endured, what is difficult for me, what is easy, the things that have power over me.

The way I recognize a paradigm shift in my life is when I figure out a way of seeing the world that makes my life better in every way. When I evaluated my actions based on what I knew about them instead of what other people thought about them, it didn’t just change my perception, it changed the actions themselves: I was focused on actual integrity instead of appearance. Instead of trying to convince someone else that I had definitely tried my hardest, I took a good hard look at whether or not it was true, and usually it wasn’t, which inspired me to try harder the next time so that I would be more satisfied with myself.

The time I used to spend figuring out how to present myself to others in such a way that they would understand my motives and never blame me or think less of me for my flaws or mistakes went to working on bettering myself, improving on those flaws and mistakes.

I was more forgiving of myself. I am who I am right now, and I can’t grow faster than I grow and I can’t learn faster than I learn—instead of focusing on whether I’m good enough right now, I began focusing on learning faster. Being more forgiving of myself made me more forgiving of others as well, less likely to make snap judgments or decide someone’s value based on my perception of them in the current moment.

So yeah, you can see how I have all of the weapons to defeat the specter of self-loathing. Why is it back in force?

I think one reason I’m having trouble fighting it is because I’m using the wrong weapons. When I try to fight it off with things people have said to me that seem confidence-inspiring, like c telling me that the first thing everyone says when they talk about me is how beautiful I am, or h telling me…any number of things…he really likes me! He says so all the time! the demon just laughs. All that could change in a heartbeat, remember? Remember all of the people who started out liking you until you grossed them out with your needy, frightened personality? Remember how in grad school, nobody invited you to things, and you could tell they wished you weren’t there sometimes, and

Except, that’s not really how it happened. What it came down to was, I made myself feel unwelcome. Nobody did that to me—I did that. I assumed my presence was a drag (until it became one.) I read terrible things into every non-invitation. I let tiny things needle me—something I said that no one laughed at, a stern word someone directed at me, someone’s joking insult with a bit of truth to it. I fed the feeling of inadequacy and unwelcomeness. And while my friends’ love didn’t feel very present or available to me much of the time, it was there—they didn’t stop loving me, I just stopped accepting their love.

It’s strange to be so down on yourself that you’re almost entirely self-centered. It’s fucking unpleasant. I don’t like being that way. But I’m back there a bit. It’s ok. I keep having to talk myself through the steps, and I’m wondering how long it’s going to take for me to feel somewhat secure again, but I’ll make it back. I just need to give people at once more credit (the demon says everyone is simply waiting for a misstep to dismiss me from their esteem…) and less credit (they are just people like me, with their own insecurities and deficiencies and areas where they could do better…I remember what a revelation it was to figure out that f’s attacks on me, such as they were, manifested her own insecurities…why be mean to someone if you’re happy with yourself, right?)

Shut up, demon. No one is out to get me, nor is anyone poised to hate me. And if they do, well, it’s their problem, not mine. I’m perfectly loveable. I can do what I feel like and people will still like me. I can be considerate without being ingratiating. People will love me even if I do things wrong. People will hate me even if I do things perfectly. Trying to please everyone will not hold them close to me, it will push them away. They want me to please myself.

This applies to art, too. How good is something going to be that you tried to make good enough for someone else? Not nearly as good as something that you tried to make the best possible version of itself regardless of what people think.

When I get like this I forget who I really am and become just this big fearball until all I can see of myself is this human whine.

What am I, h? I’m falling out of love with me and you’re falling into it so I’m going to try and see what you see (instead of freaking out that I’m going to ruin it.)

I do have a freaking awesome sense of humor. I enjoy h’s personality so much because I’m like him–I like to make a game of life. I don’t take myself too seriously. I make a conscious effort to enjoy and appreciate beauty. I have a big heart. I care about people, the world abstractly, and I make a really good, considerate, conscientious partner. Yes, I can be needy and dorky, yes I try a little too hard sometimes, yes, I’m occasionally lazy and I’m not in perfect shape right now, but none of that is enough to make anyone stop loving me. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I am always changing and bettering myself.

I may not be fully established yet in my career but that doesn’t mean I’m not good at it. I just need to work harder and stay focused.

This exercise was so good for me. It’s definitely helping me to regain my confidence. It’s also helping me feel more motivated to become what I want to become. So is h. I’m so glad he showed up. I’m so glad he stuck around long enough and patiently enough to let me know I had nothing to fear.

 

So. That was about six months ago. Hard to talk about, but those steps helped me and maybe they’ll help you.

 

Silence

My lovely c told me about a week in middle school when she decided not to speak under any circumstances. I had already been thinking about doing something like this, knowing that few people in my life would try and claim I don’t speak up enough, and also observing that I’ve been quite successful at surrounding myself with people who are superior to me in various ways, a blessing I’m squandering if I’m always getting up on my little soapbox instead of listening to them.

She said, it was interesting to see how the people around me responded. Some of them used me as a blank slate to project their own stuff onto. Some took the communication barrier as a fun challenge, some as a threat, some an annoyance. I’m very much enjoying seeing the reactions around me–it’s humbling to see how calmly and positively my friends and lovers have been adapting to this. So much acceptance and kindness. It’s been much like an extended game of charades + pictionary–many of my attempts at communication have dissolved into entertaining games of telephone, which it has been surprisingly easy to give way to. Ultimately, the things I have to say aren’t as important as building a strong community together and enjoying one another’s company.

I read an article recently on the same topic-http://www.highexistence.com/my-vow-of-silence-and-why-you-should-try-a-silent-vacation/-which included this insight:

“I simply was.  I was stripped of my story, of a context or a narrative, because my story is something that can only be created, sustained and defended (mostly defended) through words. Take the words away and I’m just a human being.  No big drama or intricate back story.  No explanations required. In many ways, losing the narrative was a relief.”

I think I often use words as a hedge to protect myself from embarrassment, to protect others; but at this point in my life it’s a reflex. I don’t hedge, and still I don’t feel embarrassed, and they don’t. Everything is okay. We’re all human beings together.

Words are important, though. C and I keep discovering the country of our love for one another. It is full of stunning cliffs and gentle hollows. We visited Russian River and a lovely couchsurfing family, or more appropriately John and his many dogs, John who took us to Costco, whose wife Sandy caught us making out when she brought us an extra blanket against the cold. This was all the weekend before Christmas. I admitted to struggling a bit in framing what we have as an, I don’t know, proper relationship, even though I love c, we’re dear friends, I’m terribly attracted to her and want to give her everything good in the world, we’re passionate lovers. I guess 19 years of nuclear-family-normativity leaves a mark. Even so, the truth will out. The truth is what we have is consistently exceeding all of my expectations for understanding and insight in a partner.

H and I continue clashing. I can’t imagine this break from words will be anything but a boon for us. We’re more adept at other forms of communication. Our explanations tend to complicate simple exchanges: I didn’t feel loved because x, will you do x next time, sure, but will you try and understand that x? Sure. Okay. I love you. So maybe we focus more on the I love you? Because we do love one another, We’re so different, but we both see each other’s value, and find one another interesting and admirable, and enjoy one another’s company.

Still feel like a lucky duck every day. Still writing about my young heroes and brainstorming ways to achieve a better world. More to come. Sorry for the hibernation break.