…the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re damaging the peg.” –Paul Collins
It was a concern that I’ve been pondering a lot lately, but it lifted to the forefront of my memory when my friends and I were reviewing an old quiz that I had taken when I was in my early twenties.
One of my friends stared at me as the other read the choices I’d left written in pencil nearly ten years ago. “ ‘You look forward to how you will be punished when you arrive late.’ ”
I covered my face with my hands and buried myself into the couch cushions. “I can’t believe I wrote that. I honestly don’t remember writing that!”
“Suuurre.” The second friend smirked, but not maliciously. I had brought down my book Your Erotic Personality (we’ll just save that explanation for another day) for them to check out (again, for reasons I don’t think I can really explain). At any rate, it was a refreshing evening of food, wine, and candid talk that I haven’t really had as much as I would like.
In fact, after they had left, I began thinking about how very little I was in the mood to have more. It was an odd dichotomy, that: wanting more, but being afraid of it when it was arriving.
I’ve lived in Atlanta for nearly ten years, and since being here, I’ve had a lot of firsts: first big city, first love, first real heartbreak, first job firing, first retirement plan, first martial art, first black belt, first work-from-home, first road trip with a friend.
Atlanta was also the first time that I was able to label segments of my personality — why I tended to get snippy at times and why quiet was often an important — alright, necessary — part of my life. Words that I’d never thought about surged into my mind. Introvert. Hypersensitive. Anxious.
And then there were — and are — times that make me wonder. Was I using words like “introvert” and “hypersensitivity” and “social anxiety” as crutches to keep myself from experiencing the world? I’d experiment by going out to a party in a location teeming with people — loud, young, boisterous, defiant people — and end up shaking and silent in a corner by the time I arrived. A friend or family member would ask me what was wrong, and unless they knew about my struggles, I simply lied and explained that “I’m just tired; I had a long day at work,” or “I just haven’t eaten.”
What’s worse, I’d lie to myself in the process. “Oh, I just took my 5HTP too late.” Or, more commonly, “B, you’re being stupid. No one’s attacking you. No one cares what you do. Just chat with someone — anyone. This feeling will go away.”
This feeling will go away.
The feeling that your head is being squeezed like a vice every time you’re surrounded by massive amounts of stimulus. The feeling that, every time you’re about to make a phone call or order food or even just tell a joke to a cluster of strangers, you’re holding your breath and talking yourself out of talking for long. The feeling that, as soon as you get home from work (especially Fridays), you just want to turn off your phone, flop down on the couch, and lie catatonic for at least two days straight. The feeling that, when invited to a public event, you need at least a week (heck, make it two) to pep-talk yourself into believing you will have a good time, and no, you won’t have 30 people laughing in your face — and that if they do, who flippin’ cares??
Yeah. That feeling.
Looking back, I can recognize that I’ve always enjoyed the company of myself or a few to the company of many. Some of my favorite childhood, adolescent, and college memories include me writing for eight hours straight with no interruptions, taking 10-mile rollerblading excursions with my older sister, or treating myself to a live wrestling show (or two) where the crowds were shockingly respectful and refreshingly kind to me.
That being said, I have recognized a difference in my overall sense of self that did not exist before. While there is an exuberance and hope for the future, there is also a fear and hopelessness of the present. While there is calm that everything will be okay, there is my fear towards how it is now.
How do I finally relax? How do I learn how, not necessarily to fit in, but to fit?
As a child, there was a strange, billowing, orange-warm aura of naivety that made me less afraid to reach out and try new things. Now in my thirties, that aura has become thin and brittle, blue and icily aware of too much. The next step is finding the happy medium — a sweet, calm, soft magenta that serves as the perfect filter to my inner world and the world around me. Finding it, and being ready for the changes it will entail.