For the second night in a row, it happened. This time, I was standing in my kitchen consulting my Google Home on how long I could safely thaw raw meat at room temperature before bacteria began growing. The moment the shrill, public alert alarm broke through the locked screen of my smartphone as it sat in the living room, I felt my heart sink and my eyes shut involuntarily. Oh, no, I thought, and inched towards the living room as if through wet sand. Oh, no. Oh, no.
Disclaimer: This blog post addresses heavier mental health topics than usual, including discussions of depression and self-harm. I am not a psychiatrist or a mental health specialist. I’m writing purely from an emotional standpoint–and because I just want to send out love and hope to anyone who happens to read this.
I apologize if this falls into an incoherent rant–but I don’t know, at this moment, how else to share.
But I am one human being–and it shatters me to know how many people I love are hurting in one way or another.
In May and June of this year alone, I learned that two people whom I admired and cared about took their lives. As recently as this week, I learned that more people that I care about are suffering from heavy mental issues.
It seems as if in the last few years, a terrifying epidemic continues to grow and spread on a global scale. The more and more I turn around, the more I learn that nearly everyone I know has had someone that they lost to suicide. It shocks me to see how…regular self harm has become, and that we as a culture are not pushing mental health–and the education of mental health–to a higher precedence in improving the varying levels the human condition.
It’s not just the education of outsiders’ behavior towards those with mental illness. It’s also the education of those who are struggling with mental illness themselves.
The latter part is where my current frustrations lie–because despite the American Psychiatric Association declaring mental illness should be taken as seriously as any other medical illness–we still don’t.
Mental illness is probably one of the cruelest illnesses of the present day. It is not a new illness (goodness knows it manifests itself under different names for centuries), but in a time where information about it is more prevalent and available to the masses than ever, many of us still try to fool ourselves into thinking we don’t have any problems. It does not manifest itself in a way that can be immediately recognized, let alone treated.
If we can stand, walk, drive, smile in the public eye–we are fine, and we should keep going. We have families to raise, children to support, parents to care for, lives to live. If there is nothing wrong physiologically, then there is no need to worry any of our loved ones.
Or worse–even if we told someone how poorly we feel, we wouldn’t be taken seriously. Because, after all, we “look okay.” We “sound” okay.
The longer the illness lays untreated, the darker and more warped the thoughts within our minds become.
You’re not sick. You’re just faking it to get some sympathy, or pity, or attention.
What are you complaining about? Nothing’s really wrong with you.
You’re not the only one with problems. Stop being selfish and think about someone else for a change.
You’re whining about nothing. No one cares.
The cruelest part about mental illness is what it makes you think about yourself–absolutely nothing.
But you are absolutely everything.
I won’t say any more cruel points.
I wrote this post, because I wanted it to be a proverbial hand reaching out for those who are struggling with the depths of their own mental illness.
I can tell you right now—whatever your mental illness is trying to feed you, it’s not true.
If you feel lost or disenchanted or alone, left behind–you are not. Beyond the darkness that is the illness, you have people who are holding you tightly, begging you to stay, begging you to fight against the cruel isolation that the illness can cause.
It is one of the toughest battles you will ever engage in, and it is a battle that you will have to fight every second of your life.
Please don’t let the negativity win.
Fight. Please fight. Fight against every cruel thought that tells you you are worthless and/or alone.
The illness would have you keep your eyes shut so that you can’t see the people in your life who love you dearly, who are reaching out to you.
- The ones who invite you to lunch every day, even when you say no over and over.
- The ones who stay on the phone with you at night, not saying a word, just so you can fall asleep.
- The ones who text you silly memes just so you have something you have to reply to, and they know you are still there.
- The ones who wave you over to their table, even if you just sit silently with the group.
The moment when you can open your eyes, you will see them right there, standing in front of you, smiling.
And you will realize that they’ve been there all along. They were just lovingly, patiently, happily waiting for you to see them again.
It hurts to know that I can’t stretch myself rice-paper thin and spread myself across everyone I love, shielding them from the cruelties of the outside world–and the darkness in their inner worlds.
I can’t be everything to everyone. I wish I could be. The whole nature of being human is to find the balance of taking care of yourself and caring for others.
No one can be “everything” to anyone. Nor should anyone try.
But I never want the people I love so much to not know how much I love them, and how I wish I could hold them all, always.
Depression is a cruel, selfish illness. It creates words and images to seduce its victims into thinking that every negative thought passing through their minds is the truth.
Here is the truth.
You are a life.
You are a beautiful, breathing life.
You take a breath, and therein is the proof that you exist for a reason.
You have skills and talent, and there are people who are excited and looking forward to seeing you remember just how much you enjoy engaging in those talents.
Mental illness would make you believe that those people and those talents don’t exist. It is wrong.
I wish there was a quick fix. I wish there was a way to make tomorrow the cure to mental illness, where today would be the last time the feelings of loss and hopelessness ever wash over you.
Crawling out of the darkness may be the hardest thing you ever do.
But you can. I believe in you. So many people believe in you.
Please, fight. Keep fighting. Don’t let mental illness win.
If you are struggling with thoughts of self harm and other symptoms of mental illness, please reach out to a mental health professional in your area or call The Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Not gonna lie: when I think about the term “tidying up,” I think about a stray toy on the floor, an open book on the coffee table, or maybe some excess paper on a desk.
What I don’t think about is the endless black hole that I’ve managed to amass somewhere in the center of my home.
I’ve lived in my current house for a little over four years now, and at the time I moved, I was more in a rush to get out than I was to throw anything away.
At one time during my single living, I was quite organized and methodical in my…well, cleaning methods. Perhaps it was the five tenets of taekwondo I was practicing at the time that kept me on track.
Or maybe it’s because I’m so freakin busy now, I hardly have a second to breathe!!!
Regardless of the reason, I’ve finally decided to take a stand. It didn’t happen on my own, though. It took
three four different friends and family members to interject themselves into my house last year and help me clean. I felt awful that I couldn’t keep a clean house, but I felt even worse that they thought I needed help cleaning in the first place.
Enough is enough. It’s time to stop making excuses and start regaining a hold of my clutter.
2019 Resolution: Clean Up, Organize, and Redesign My House
My mindset and levels of stress are easily swayed by the state of my home. Seeing as how my home SUCKS at this moment…you can only imagine the current state of my mind.
Or, rather, don’t. You might hurt yourself.
Last Friday (it’s always last Friday I get these revelations, isn’t it? Ah, well), I mentioned to a friend that I was finally tackling my house. Instead of going room by room–which got me nowhere nearly every weekend last year–I decided to start with a different tactic. First on my list: wading through my clothes.
“Wait!” my friend yelled.
“I mean, I’m not gonna start it right now,” I said, my right foot frozen in mid-air over the top of my descending stairs. “It’s Friday. I’m still on ‘don’t do anything for one afternoon per week’ of my Creative Change Challenge.” [Shameless plug]
“Oh, okay,” my friend said. “In that case, I recommend you watch some of Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix before you start cleaning anything.” [Mildly shameful plug, though I’m not getting paid to plug it. …Be kinda nice, tho–sorry, got distracted!]
“Sure, why not,” I thought, going downstairs and plopping on the couch. “I was trying to find a show to binge watch, anyway.”
(…okay, so I fell asleep two and a half episodes in, but that was only because it was late-ish. The point is, I got the point.)
Marie Kondo: Expert of Tidying and Sparking Joy
To quickly summarize (because I think the Netflix trailer above speaks for itself), world-renown “tidying coach” Marie Kondo developed a method to organize and clean any mess. This method, called KonMari, arranges clutter into five categories:
- Miscellaneous (Komono)
- Mementos (items of sentimental value)
The optimal technique Mrs. Kondo recommends tackling each category is by compiling them into an open space, where you can view everything at once. By doing this, the shock of realizing how much “crap” (my word, not hers) you’ve accumulated over the years should also make you realize what’s actually important to you, and actually makes you smile. She calls this realization “sparking joy.”
From what I have researched about Mrs. Kondo since Friday, her philosophy goes so far beyond just cleaning a house. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, purportedly teaches the reader that, by respecting his/her property, you can take time appreciating what you have instead of going out over and over again to get more. It’s about finding spiritual balance and internal peace.
As above, so below. As within, so without.
My brain likes joy and peace and balance. So do I.
Ergo, if we could live in a house that sparks all of this, I think we would very much enjoy that.
Tidying Up A-go-go
On Saturday, I began stage 1: Clothing. According to the tidying rules, I now have 8 days (well, 5 days as of this posting) to get my “spark joy” clothes back in the closet and my other clothes stuffed away in industrial-sized trash bags, set for Salvation Army.
Let me slow down. It’s not as simple as picking and choosing what stays and what goes.
Mrs. Kondo states that with each article of clothing you review, search inside yourself and assess how that item makes you feel. Does it still make you smile? Does it make you feel good when you wear it? Then, keep it.
If the article does not make you feel good, it is probably best to let it go. However, as you are releasing your attachment, don’t forget to thank it for the times that it did give you joy. After all, you owned it for a reason.
So far, I like this technique. Sorting through the pile Monday afternoon, there were articles of clothing I found where I thought, “I can still wear this!”
Even if the question was “Will I still wear it?” I might scoff and shift and say, “…Maybe!”
But…does it bring me joy? Does it make me smile?
Accepting the Truth
I sighed at one dress, a jungle green turtleneck I’d owned for 10 years that I’d adored in the beginning. It’s been about four years since I’ve even tried it on. It was still good as new.
But…it didn’t make me smile.
Gently, I air-kissed it, thanked it for the times it made me feel truly beautiful, and tucked it into the give-away laundry basket where the other “goodbyes” were nestled.
I’ll confess, I’m excited to continue this new method of organization. I can’t help but think about the clutter and the mess that I’m currently not touching, and how well the KonMari method will apply to them. Nevertheless, I’m going to be patient. If this method allows me to mentally return to the way I used to be nearly 4 years ago (color-coordinated closet, meals prepped for every day of the work week), I would be absolutely ecstatic.
I just have one question:
Several years, ago, while moving into my current house and unpacking the multitude of boxes that I’d brought with me from my apartment, I came upon an interesting piece of paper called “Creative Change.” On the paper was a list of 12 commandments of sorts, each instructing the user to gently modify her life through small adjustment to her standards of existing.
Here’s the thing.
I have no idea where this list came from.
I’d never seen it before that day, and I certainly don’t remember where I picked it up or who might have given it to me.
The paper itself is highly yellowed and obviously dirtied. I have a lot of paperwork that is old and should be thrown out, but the only documents I have that look as worn as this list are my kindergarten report cards.
…Yes, I still have my kindergarten report cards. Let’s stay on task here, shall we?
The Creative Changes
As it is cited at the bottom of the list, the 12 Creative Changes stems from a book called Living Your Life Out Loud: How to Unlock Your Creativity, by Salli Rasberry and Padi Selwyn. Again, I’ve never heard of the book–but, as my creative side has been severely lacking lately, I’ve decided to get the book and see what else it entails.
As for the Creative Change list itself…I’ve been meaning to put it into effect for a while, now.
Alright, alright–four years’ worth of “awhile” now. These days, however, it’s becoming more and more mandatory, as I’m feeling something deep inside me shift.
I haven’t spoken much about how my mental and emotional well-being have been faring lately, because I haven’t been able to pinpoint the actual trouble myself. The truth is, though, that I have become extremely run down. It if were just lethargy, I would tell myself to snap out of it and walk it off. But it’s not as clean-cut as that. And until I get a better understanding…I’ll just leave it and say that, these last few months have been a little tougher than I’d care to admit.
Actually, let’s put it this way. Last Friday, I took the day off to catch up on folding some laundry, prepare my office space for actual office equipment–you know, really take 8 hours to tear down the house and build it back up.
You know what I did?
I folded two loads of laundry, then fell asleep on top of said laundry, still standing but leaning on my bed.
Not even kidding.
My daily living habits are shot and have been shot since at least the end of summer. I know I’ve been busy, but who hasn’t? So many of my friends are juggling what I feel to be so much more than I am. If they can do it, why can’t I?
Creative Change–the Challenge
I’ve also had to be more honest this year with myself and some bad behaviors that I have perpetrated. For the longest time, denial and victimization worked to put these behaviors off. However, if I want to evolve and be a better person in order to help and take care of those who mean the most to me, that all has to change.
Cue the improvement montage!
Now that I have effectively hypnotized you or made you pass out, let’s begin with the Creative Change Challenge.
On the Creative Change list, the first three actions are as follows:
- Set aside one afternoon each week with absolutely no plans.
- Learn to pause, taking mini-breaks throughout the day.
- Meet stress head-on through relaxation, meditation, and contemplative prayer.
My goal in this personal challenge is to integrate three of the list items into my life every month, until I am effectively incorporated all 12. At three a month, I should be full immersed by the end of March 2019.
Do I have high hopes for this challenge?
Because when random pieces of paper that say exactly what you need them to say, show up a-knockin at your door–you listen, dagnabbit.
As much as I would love to write a long, thought-provoking blog post right now, time constraints and the very reason I’m writing this is why I’m keeping this short. In fact, that first sentence may end up being the longest sentence in this whole post.
So, let’s get right to the chase.
Have you ever had someone tell you that you’re being way too hard on yourself?
And then, do you tell them, “Shhh! Don’t distract me while I spackle this house, jostle this baby, and prepare my speech for gender equality!”
And then they go, “….You don’t have a baby.”
And then you realize your arms are empty, and you’re all like, “Gah! I’ve been wasting my time doing two things when I should have been doing three! I’m so lazy!”
And then…they tell you you’re being too hard on yourself?
One-Women Show–The Curtain Rises
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the last four months of my life.
But let’s sum up, for time’s sake, just my frustration that prompted this post.
I just got home and switched from my full-time job to working on a project I’ve been contracted to complete. I had to leave work early because I volunteered to teach a writing course for a group of women who have been getting back on their feet and back in the workforce. My team at my FT job will be hosting an all-week meeting starting tomorrow, and with us being a tiny team, we must be sure to share responsibilities.
Pfft. Not if I have anything to say about it.
We created a WhatsApp to guide our first-time visiting global customers to our office in mid/downtown-ish area. I promised myself that I would send an introductory message to the group as soon as I had a free moment. You know–greet them, provide them directions, that sort of thing,
Yep. As soon as I had a free moment.
Any second now.
In the Spotlight
Suddenly, a ping on my main work phone shook me out of the project work I was focusing on, and I clicked the phone’s Home button to check my notifications.
It was from my manager. He had sent an introductory message to the group, greeting them and welcoming them to Atlanta.
Fudges! I cursed internally. I should have sent out the WhatsApp message earlier! I totally meant to. I had time on the train ride towards the Mary Hall Freedom House to send it. Why didn’t I do it then?
Due to unfortunate circumstances, many of this week’s meeting facilitations had defaulted to myself, and I wanted to prove to everyone that I could do my part and ensure everyone had a good time. I had spent so many years doubting myself in other areas–dating, being a good friend/family, doing meaningful work, leaving a legacy. If I couldn’t do any of these things, what good was I?
A One-Line Monologue
“You’re being too hard on yourself.”
This time, it’s not the generic friend speaking to me. It’s me, speaking aloud, as I try to remind myself that I’m not the only one on the team. My manager isn’t mad at me for not sending out the notification. He didn’t even know I was going to do it. In fact, no one is scolding me for dropping any balls. The only one getting stressed and angry…is me.
As I think about this for myself, I want to leave this for others who are also being a bit too hard on themselves. If you think you aren’t doing a good enough job, or caring enough, or doing enough, has anyone else said you’re not?
Well, then. Why are you still worrying about it?
Question to anyone reading this: did you get enough sleep last night?
Be honest. I won’t tell anyone.
And I know you’re not being flippant when you answer, because I’m not being flippant, either.
I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Or enough sleep two nights before. And I certainly wasn’t getting enough sleep two weeks ago.
How did I know?
Because I got a lot of very interesting and disturbing physical symptoms.
Signs I Wasn’t Getting Enough Sleep
Day One – Delirious Deception
The first day after not getting enough sleep isn’t so bad. But of course, this is how it tricks you. I actually feel a little buzzed, a touch giddy. My mind is still relatively sharp, and I even feel a little bit more motivated to get things done. I make jokes at work that are engaging, fun. Hi-larious.
I get home feeling proud. Could I go for a nap? Sure. But I’ve job–I mean, got some other work to do. So let’s do that, instead. Bedtime will come eventually.
Day Two – Just Five More Minutes
Bedtime does come eventually–three or four hours before I’m supposed to wake up. My eyelids are slow to lift; my body is slow to rise. Everything feels a bit heavy. I have a headache, but nothing a bit of Aleve can’t handle. I just gotta get through the day.
Concentration is tough. The three meetings that I must engage in make it even harder. People ask me questions; I know I know the answer. I mumble something. They give me strange looks. Great; I’ve alienated even more people from my life. Why did I say that dumb thing?
Skip to Day Five – Smear-My-Face Exhausted
I hurt. But I gotta get this project done. Focus, B. Why do I feel like throwing up all of a sudden? This headache has been hear for the last three days. And Aleve isn’t working anymore. Stop getting distracted, B! I’d love to take a day off, but I gotta work. Everyone’s counting on me. But no one likes me, so why am I even trying? Why doesn’t anyone like me? What is their problem?
Did I misspell something earlier? It still kinda makes sentse, its gonna.
Skip to Day Nine – This Be a–a Suck
Everthing stupid. Hate all. Why is tree so crying don’t wanna work. What I was doing? Huh? Ugh Gujhvh.
Skip to Day Eleven – SYS3TM F@lUr3
I can’t see.
The Deterioration of Health without Enough Sleep
I wish I could say the last few sections were me exaggerating, but I’m not. Managing my sleep patterns has been a struggle for me since college. I was not a college party-goer; however, I still became involved in the “finish reports at the last minute” club, all the way up to me hovering in my dorm door, hand poised over the printer’s paper tray as it spit out my latest “masterpiece.”
Today, I have multiple projects that I am juggling as I frantically learning to manage my time better. Even though I gave up my proofreading business for now, I’m busier than ever–and with seemingly less hours in the day to complete everything. My weekends are my only respite, but even then I spend 50% of the time visiting friends that I neglected during the week.
In a week’s time, I will be flying out to Europe for a week and a half for a global young leadership forum that my manager at work nominated me to attend. The forum will be full of people–a plethora of networking and business opportunities that I must–need–to take advantage of. And I absolutely need to be at the top of my game.
It’s bad enough that I’m a socially awkward super introvert. I certainly can’t afford to be a half-asleep, overly anxious, mortifyingly moody, socially awkward super introvert.
I’m juggling a lot of balls, including my sleep quality. Now that life’s momentum is truly running in my direction, I can’t afford to drop anything now.
One site that I learned of last week and am thoroughly impressed with (and fully intend to immerse myself in over the next few months) is Tuck.com. Tuck: Advancing Better Sleep, is a online community of valuable, slumber-based information. It’s dedicated to bringing not just more information on sleep itself, but also offers unbiased reviews on resources and products that will help you sleep better.
Honestly, as much as I love sleep, I’m surprised I’ve never heard of them. But I intend to delve more into what they say, especially on the ties between sleep and mental health.
Enough Sleep will Give You…Enough
I know I am the worst perpetrator of not getting enough sleep. I am also the last person who should be giving advice about it. That being said, the last three weeks of adverse physical and emotional systems were more than enough to make me nervous. If I want to be able to maintain all of the projects that I am working on, I need to be in the best condition I can be.
And as simple as it may seem, it begins with good sleep.
Though in this case, it will end with sleep.
Cuz it be night, and it’s my bedtime.
Speech. Social anxiety’s worst enemy.
Talk. Chat. Socialize. Comment. Network. Complain. Yell. Argue. Discuss. Brief. Debrief.
In the English language alone, there are thousands of words set aside for describing every type of verbal expression.
So where does that leave someone who struggles with socializing?
In just over a month’s time, I will be attending the OYW 2018 Leadership forum. This honor was imbued (teehee–love that word) upon me by my current manager at my job, and I couldn’t be more pleased, excited, and ecstatic to attend.
Yesterday, however, the OYW administrators emailed the agenda of activities and the option to sign up for workshops.
Great! I thought, opening the email and scanning through the list. I’d been wondering what we would be doing each da—
And that’s when I read it. The statement nestled between every other timeslot for all the days.
Networking with fellow delegates.
Networking with delegates.
Speaking Is Golden
It is my understanding (and numerous observations) that people like to talk. That a lot of people talk a lot. Some of these people are good at talking. Some of them…enjoy talking, even if they don’t have the most accurate of words to express themselves.
Of course, speaking is only half of it. The other half is being able to approach strangers on the street, at a party of unknowns, in the mall or at a festival. People don’t make them nervous. They don’t think of the worst (albeit oftentimes unrealistic) possible scenarios if their communicative tactics are off the game.
Despite my struggles now, I didn’t have much trouble socializing as a child. In fact, my mother has told me that I was rather confrontational. When my older sister and I were under 10 years old, I would get in the faces of any naysayers who dared to put her off.
I had friends in elementary school, and we interacted enough where everyone had a chance to talk on equal ground. No one dominated. We said what we needed to say and moved on.
- Kid: B!
- Me: Yeah?
- Kid: You’re It!
- Me: No, I’m not!
- Kid: Yeah, you are. I tagged you!
- Me: No, you didn’t!
- Kid *chases me; tags me* Now you’re definitely It.
- Me: Fine. *resumes game*
Nice, isn’t it? It’s simple, straightforward, easy to follow, and easy to understand. Kids don’t mince words, not to themselves or with adults. If they have something to say, they say it without leading up to it.
As adults, many of us lose that ability. Society dictates that it’s wrong to just approach someone and tell them what you want without using some generic lead-in to create a sense of politeness, concern, and niceties.
- Adult: Good morning, B!
- Me: Good morning! How are you?
- Adult: Good! How are you?
- Me *deep inside my mind*: Honestly? I’ve felt like crap for the last three days, and it’s too cold on this floor. I could seriously pass out right now. If I do, leave me on the floor. I don’t care who sees me.
- Me *in reality*: I’m good, thank you.
- Adult: Did you have a good drive in to work?
- Me *in my mind*: No; my SUV was T-boned, so I decided to walk the rest of the 10 miles here. I’m like the Unbreakable man; nothing touches me! Lawl!
- Me *in reality*: Not bad! Little traffic. Oh, and the stoplights were out.
- Adult: Omigosh, I saw that! Took me twice as long to get here!
Nine times out of ten, this conversation is nothing more than to ask Mr./Mrs. Adult if he/she can check in the flippin document on the shared web space, or invite him/her to a long overdue meeting.
The Rise of Social Anxiety (aka WTF Happened)
Somewhere between the playground and the office space, meeting new people made me anxious. Not all people, necessarily, and not anxious all the time. But there was certainly a difference in eyeing up bullies in my youth, to wanting to work alone through lunch.
The change is most noticeable between college graduation and landing my full-time first job as an English teacher. I like to call this time The Age of WTF Happened.
It’s not an elegant title. But then again, neither was that age.
I’ve touched on similar moments in various posts, from my desire to find escape to unintentionally “hermiting” myself three years ago. To keep the story short here, the WTF Happened age was a time when I truly doubted myself among strangers–not only with my abilities, but with my very personality.
Even as I sit here on my lunch break, looking around at the people scattered across the courtyard, everyone is talking. In pairs, in trios, in groups; even the people sitting solitary are pacing the walkways chatting on their phones.
Yep–the average person loves to talk. And that’s great!
But…it’s just not me. And trying to make myself feel that way, only makes me feel worse.
My strength of expression is not in speaking. Even if it was as a child, it isn’t anymore. I’m not the person who formulates a quick idea and has it ready in the middle of an important meeting. I’m not the one who walks up to every stranger in a party, hand extended and smile gleaming.
But I know if I want to achieve certain goals in my life…If I want to give good interviews as my acting and voice acting careers expand…if I hope to introduce myself and get to know whatever man will be the love of my life…if I want the OYW Forum to go well and gain many powerful connections…
I have to be ready to socialize–social anxiety be durned.
Social Anxiety ≠ Nervous
I can hear those reading this who might not have ever suffered from social anxiety, thinking, “B, relax. We all get nervous in front of new people. You just gotta suck it up and keep doing it until it becomes habitual. You’re gonna feel so much better once you’ve done it. So–do it.”
And I repeat–I will do it. To get where I want to be in life, I have to.
But the sigh of relief and exuberance in the way you probably expect me to feel once I’ve crossed that bridge will not always arise. If it does, it won’t always be for the reasons you’re thinking.
The shaky hands, urge to hide away and cry out my stress, and the necessity to surround myself with the things that would never wish to see me scared or hurt, will arise. The shame that certainly, I said the dumbest things ever and not only am I disrespected, but probably boring, will flood me at the most inopportune times.
And this will repeat inside every time I do it.
It’s mostly illogical thoughts, yes. But it doesn’t stop the very real, physiological reaction. The repetition just makes the aftermath easier to anticipate and prepare for.
That is the difference between social anxiety and nervousness. At least it is for me.
What Social Anxious People Want
A person who has never suffered from social anxiety cannot understand how much a person who has, want so badly to not only express themselves, but to express themselves and enjoy the experience of expression. They want to tell their favorite joke and watch their audience burst into bright, admirable laughter as they gaze on in respect.
They want to disagree with someone and not expect the world to charge down on their heads.
They want to tell someone, “Hi, I’m B,” and reach out their hand–and happily anticipate the cheery response: “Hi, B!”
They want to walk in a crowd and not have the crowd overwhelm their every pore.
The body heat.
The chatter from all directions.
The shuffling to nowhere.
The expressions on everyone’s faces. The impatient ones. The angry ones. The exhausted ones.
The anxious ones.
They want a moment when social anxiety is not on their minds.
Defying Social Anxiety
For me, I have two moments when social anxiety is a distant thought.
One is when I’m writing.
The other is when I’m performing.
Once I had a co-worker and fellow introvert double-take on me when I showed him my recent live voice acting performance in the radio drama The Blood Crow Stories. “So, you had no problem performing in front of all those people?” he said.
I thought about it for a second. “No, not really.”
He himself paused, to reflect on my answer. At last, he looked me sincerely in the eye and asked, “What makes performing not affect your anxiety, versus being in a party?”
My answer: I am able to hide some of my weaker natures from the crowd. At the same time, I am giving every essence of my soul to offer a quality presentation, thus leaving myself much more vulnerable than I could ever be at a party starting a conversation with “Hi.”
If my performance sucks, the crowd will tell me. If they like me, they will tell me. But I will know immediately where I stand. It’s the sweet simplicity of childhood all over again.
I feel stronger when I am not speaking–at least, when I am not speaking in the conversational sense. Oh, I will happily hold an in-depth, spiritual conversation with a person one-on-one (that’s the introvert in me). However, if I want to introduce my true self to a group of people, they will see it so much faster and fuller if it is in the setting of performer vs. audience.
Performance. My writings. Music and art. Eye contact. Touch. Presence.
The rare and elusive comfortable silence.
These are the communications I cherish.
The famous saying goes that you know you’ve met a true friend when you can sit in comfortable silence with them. This is what I seek in the people who will stay in my life for many seasons.
Because on the days when my social anxiety flares up and affects even them, they will hardly notice.
Because I’ve already “greeted” them in my own way. And they’ve “greeted” me.
And in this Tag life, we can play the rest of the game together.
It’s a fascinating revelation as a person who is clinically depressed, anxious, or just naturally pessimistic, to realize that they are having a good day. To wake up smiling and thinking back on recent events with love and joy is…well, a novelty. While others may not give a second thought on how well a day went, this kind of person will sit, reflect, and even marvel a little at how it is even possible to feel this way.
That it is still possible to feel this way.
Last Sunday was the annual live Dragon*Con performance of The Blood Crow Stories cast and crew as they presented episode 1 of their upcoming Season 3, “The Neon Lodge.” Earlier this year, through whirlwind circumstances I may divulge at a later date, I won the lead role for Season 3. The hero of the season, Kesha Charles, is strong, resourceful, and confident, and doesnt take crap from anybody.
And I was terrified out of my mind on how, exactly, I was supposed to play her.
However, yesterday’s live performance went off smoothly. The audience was engaged and really seemed to enjoy themselves. By the time it was over, all I remembered were the grins of the cast and crew, the pride and excitement of my friends who came to watch (all seven of them!! I have seven friends!! :O), and a strange, comforting calm as I (*gasp*) interacted with strangers.
Rewind to The Down Days
Last weekend was not a good day.
In fact, I would term last weekend as what I call “down days“–days that take you to the very bottom of yourself and sap your strength, your motivation, your emotions, and…in worst cases, your will.
Last Sunday was a day that I didn’t want to speak to anybody. I didn’t want to leave my house, or post a blog entry, or work on my novel, or clean or text or care.
Yet at the same time, I wanted to talk to someone. I wanted someone to sit quietly with me. I wanted–needed–someone to hold me. I needed that human contact to help remind me that I was a human being, and I existed. I wanted to shout and scream and expel all of the negative energy into the universe.
But I didn’t want to burden anyone with my stress. So I called no one. I ran the few errands I could make myself do. And I told no one how much I didn’t want be alone.
Most down days last, as the name entails, a day. This one stretched on through Wednesday. More than anything, I wanted to avoid people and work and anything that prompted thinking or moving. I had a chronic headache, shaking limbs and general exhaustion.
The last “down day” I had was five years ago. If I made it through then, I knew I could now. I had to.
And slowly but steadily…I did.
How You Know You’re Having a Good Day
But enough about the down days. Considering that today is a marketable 180-degree difference from last week means that progress is being made. Not only that, but I recognize that I am happy, that I enjoyed myself this last weekend. And I know that I want more of that.
For those who also want to remember the good days as they come, here are a few signs that you are in the middle of one–that you are enjoying it to its highest potential.
1. You wake up smiling
Ever have those days when the world just feels like it’s in Technicolor?
Don’t know what Technicolor is?
But, I know that Looney Tunes switched to Technicolor when re-releasing shorts, and classic Looney Tunes shorts are epic.
When you wake up on a good day, the world seems visually quieter, slower. The sun is bright.
And you remember that you are alive. You can do things. And there are many things in this world that are still beautiful.
2. You turn into a silly, happy fool
Oh, you know what you do when you’re happy. You can’t explain it or help it–you just feel good. And it’s been so long since you have. Happiness erases years and makes you feel like a carefree child.
You play your favorites songs or involuntarily hum to the songs you hear on the radio. You find the remnants of your favorite hobbies and think, “Ima start these up again!” And then you actually do.
You call loved ones on the phone and chat in a way that makes them think in pleasant surprise, “WTF is she on?”
Or, you dance like this–and dang it if you don’t commit:
3. Social media doesn’t terrify you
The term itself says it all. Social media.
Present that term to a super introvert with social anxiety issues.
Even though I have FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram, I use them both rarely and poorly. Even when I do take pictures of something I like, I lament silently on whether they’re public-postable. Then, I overwhelm myself with questions on whether I’m impinging on someone else’s rights to post a pic of them in it, and is my pic too blurry, and nobody will like it anyway–
Aaaaaand then I freak myself out and don’t post it.
On a good day, the thoughts don’t go as long. Either I post it cuz I wanna, or I don’t cuz I don’t wanna. Mind you, it still takes me about 5 – 10 minutes to write the caption under the pic–but I do post it, dagnabbit. And that’s what matters.
4. You rejoin the world
Three years ago to this day, attending DragonCon was a far-blown pipe dream. I never, ever could have imagined that not only would I attend it, but I would also cosplay in it and perform at a panel. Just typing that sentence leaves me staggered, humbled, and absolutely ecstatic.
That being said…I think this vid sums it up a little better than I can.
5. You want to give, give, give
One of the main reasons anxiety and depression suck is because of how selfish it makes you. You think thoughts like, “I am stupid. Nobody likes me. I can’t do anything right. I don’t want to talk to anyone.” Me, me, me.
The cruelest part of it all is, you can see yourself being this way, but you can’t just pull yourself out of it. You want to–you want to so badly–but it doesn’t work like that.
If you do manage to pull yourself out, however–the welling of love and understanding is almost overwhelming. The shadowy silhouettes that fluttered in and out of your life become actual people.
Friends. Family. People who love you. Who like you. Who want to help you. Who want to see you succeed.
You finally recognize how long they’ve stuck around, despite your crappy moods. And more than anything, you want to express to them that you know–that you appreciate it more than they can possibly know. You love them, too! And you just want them to please–please stay in your life.
Despite the times you can be an emotionless mess, canceling plans because you can’t find the energy to support them, or snapping at them when they’re asking if you’re alright for the fifth time, you love them and they mean so much to you. And you will help them however you can, so just tell you want they need, so you can do it!
And most times, you want to do it all before the next wave of depression and anxiety returns.
Because, believe me–it does return.
When the Good Days Go
The bad news is, there is no immediate, one-time cure for depression or anxiety, social or regular. Even if there is medication to help reduce the symptoms, medicine alone can’t fix it. Finding the right combo of medicine, therapy, and inner strength are the best ways to maintain control of your life and keeping the good days coming. It is hard work and long work, but it does reap rewards if you stay with it. The frequency and the duration of the down days reduce, and if you can just make it through each one, you’ll start to acknowledge them less and less.
Remember that today, you are in a good day.
Remember how good it feels.
Remember that, if the down days return, you always have the chance to bring the good days back.