I am tired, if I spend too long writing this, it will be a Tuesday morning reflection. However, it has been a very busy Monday, and I have to admit, I have become a Christmas tree up before December person this year. I would love to have a deep, meaningful reason for this; the reality is I was excited for no particular reason to put the tree up; which became trees. Yep the lounge got a tree and the kitchen dining room also got its own tree with lights that flash in multiple ways, which has made me somewhat more giddy than my age would suggest.
Life happened and rather a lot of it stood up, and although some of it was spent in a far more crowded place than I would like, Monday was a success, even if the gluten free lasagne sheets completely let me down dinner tasted great anyway. If Monday has been a success it comes at the end of what was, on reflection, a successful week.
My daughter had her 21st Birthday party which, while making me feel very old indeed, was a complete success, including four flavours of jelly on the party buffet (the children’s menu) and kids party games, thanks to my friend who just happens to be a professional DJ of fourteen years and children entertainer of even longer. There were some, shall we say, interesting interpretations of the dress to impress suggestion on the invites. The girls of the night smashed it out of the park, the boys, oh dear …. I guess with some I should be glad I couldn’t smell them at twenty paces.
Did I mention, I have debilitating social anxiety, which begs the question, “how did I negotiate a 21st birthday party?” The answer lies in how I cope with my anxiety generally, I avoid facing new situations alone, I always have an escape plan when possible, and I make the situation as familiar as possible. This week I was talking to a fellow traveller on the anxiety road. We talked a lot about how you end up isolated and fearful, sharing the negotiations that happen just to get past the front door. The variable nature, the seeming lack of any need for trigger, but I was able to share how I am able to do things which terrify me, and would, given any chance paralyse me. The first thing I do is reduce uncertainty, my life is dominated by travelling to places I know well. If the place is new I go with someone I trust, my wife being the obvious choice. Even before then I may drive to the place, look at it from outside, if that is not possible google street view and maps, with the sat-nav programmed. If it is a situation that causes severe anxiety then I will have a get out plan. Being know to be less than 100% health at the moment has made that easier, but in the past I have had “alarm activation” call outs, and of course travelled in a separate car so I am not needed for lift duty, if that was possible. I use Premier Inn, a chain where the rooms at every hotel are almost identical; it is all about familiarity and being able to keep the unknown elements to a minimum.
Being able to share my strategies for coping with my anxiety, and we did have many similar elements and feelings, and sharing that I fake it, in that I identify what the behaviour of a confident person would be and copy it. Taken from Tony Robbins, most people cannot tell the difference, and this person was one. They were astounded that I could spend ten minutes debating with myself before getting out the house. And, the fact that I could manage the sheer terror of new situations, in the ways I spoke about, was an extremely helpful revelation. I felt honoured and humbled that this person had chosen to spend what was a not insignificant amount of time with me opening up about their challenges, feelings, emotions and difficulties, the fears, the paralysis of depression and anxiety. This is a real privilege to me, and something that disarms me because I cannot really understand how I engender that trust in someone who at the start of the conversation had only really seen me about. It is also incredibly therapeutic to be able to share my own challenges, my feelings, and alongside compare and share strategies for coping with this debilitating internal struggle and incessant negative dialogue. I could not even lay claim to having an answer, and I still have days where making it out of bed is a massive achievement, and while my strategies can make me appear normal. Appearance is all it is, in reality, I have been in the anxiety management game so long that my life is very well set up in how it minimises source of possible terror by its very nature and structure.
Thinking about how often I have had the opportunity and privilege of talking to people, who are essentially still strangers when we start, about their innermost fears, feelings and challenges actually left me baffled. On the one hand, I have the undeniable fact that my appearance is designed to give me a quiet life, in so far as it discourages random interaction. Parents regularly shoo and usher their fascinated children away as if I were some Gruffalo incarnate. Which is cool, and kids staring in wonder is one of the cutest things there is. If you choose to look a certain way, which I have, then you have to accept the reaction that your appearance creates, and that is exactly why I have chosen it.
Take the time to talk to me, and of course, appearance and persona quickly reveal themselves as nothing more than social camouflage. And, not even particularly good or sophisticated serving only as a basic filter for interaction. If you fall for them then that saves me having to engage with you, if you see through them then it is significantly more likely that you are someone I can engage with and your sentences will not start with “did you see …” with reference to some celebrity or soap based TV program or ” did you hear about …” in relation to some Z-list famous for being famous so-called celebrity, over paid sports person or musically illiterate pop sensation, which is what I am looking for.
I want to listen more than I want to talk, although I have stock, what I call public domain stories I can share to create a feeling of familiarity and comfort, that I rehearsed with a friend many years ago, and have information, which while personal, is nothing that hasn’t been on the internet at some point as so is available to a few million at least, that I can share so you can get to know me a little better. I want to listen because I am interested, I want to know the person I am talking to, the real them, and I want to build friendships, not vague acquaintances. I am very lucky that I have gradually built trusting relationships with a few people. This is because I have stages of friendship. You start furthest away and through actions can move inwards, you can also move out, and it is a very rare individual that can move to the innermost level of trust at any sort of speed. That innermost level is the level at which I can genuinely be hurt by someone. The sort of hurt that causes grief, I have made the mistake of granting admission too soon, so I am, now, even more guarded than I used to be. There are actions, like stopping me committing suicide that will get you in close in a hurry. There are possibly five people in that innermost circle, but that may actually be four.
Despite the fact that I guard my closest level of friendship closely, I am a friendly person and have a friendship network, many of whom have been tremendously supportive through my life journey. Their non-admission to the inner most level is a reflection of my own trust issues, not any quality they do or do not possess. I am terrified of being hurt, and so have always sought to keep the number of people who can really hurt me and cause me emotional harm to a minimum. Which probably sounds odd coming from someone who was abused. Perhaps, being abused by someone who had gained admission to that innermost level is why it is guarded, and perhaps it was they who made sure it was not populated so they could maintain control. I have no idea whether I was guarding, they were, guarding or that it is just a sensible way to be, it is how I am.
The thing is, I want people to know who I am. When you meet me, I want you to assess me, and because I realise that not everyone can like everyone and because I realise that this means I may not be someone’s cup of tea, I want anyone who doesn’t like me to actually dislike the real me. What saddens me about my past is that there are people who dislike, and actually more than that, will hate me, because of the stories told about me. I know my appearance and persona will cause people to dislike me, however,if you are shallow enough to dislike me for my appearance then my life is richer for your absence, and perhaps maybe the planet would be better without you too. I have no space, time, need or desire for people who are judgemental, bigoted and what I call “…ists”.
My experience of people whose self-description ends with “… ist” has not been overwhelmingly positive, from racists, sexists, feminists, to psychologists and scientists, personally and professionally it puts me on red alert. Prefix your “…ist” with fundamentalist and it’s a long way back for you. I will be civil, I may engage with you, we can be on great terms and even a sort of friend (depending on your … ist, of course) with who I share and get on great. However, as a self-identifying …ist, you have set a level limit.
While I am aware that we make sense of the world and people using stereotypes as crude, rapidly deployed frameworks, I fully expect them to be developed and adjust in the light of reality.
On the friendship level it has been a fulfilling and rewarding week, being an ear let alone being able to have a dialogue about coping strategies and ideas, is a huge privilege Talking with friends about being disliked all the way up to hated for who you are, what you actually stand for, and judged on your words, your actions and the consistency of the two; opposed to stories is something important that I had not realised was as significant to me as it actually is.
While I have told my self I do not care what people thing of me, clearly I care a lot about what people think about me in so much as I want them to be thinking and judging the real me and not a story version. Sometimes I really wish I could be like the autistic lad I knew who did not, not care about what people thought of him. He could not comprehend why anyone would think about him, let alone go so far as to have an opinion about him. He was very much his own person, very functional, as well as bright (brains to burn was the phrase), and of course without the prison of expectations and the inner need to control what people thought about him, was very free in his choices through every portion of his life. His jam and Dairylea sandwich was a particularly tasty invention that came from the fact he ate what he wanted, how he wanted, when he wanted it.
My successful week continued creatively. My poem: To Carry On was a highlight for me and I am very happy to even proud of that piece. I have also been able to experiment a little, and while no profession photographer I have enjoyed sharing photographs and am looking forward to learning a little on how to manipulate. This also gives me options to travel outside, which whole being terrifying and tiring, is also very rewarding and great for my mental and physical health. The more I can break out of the prison my anxiety would make for me the better I feel. It was enormous fun to work with paint and create the picture frame, I am considering editing a picture of the final product to remove anything that can be used to identify me or the recipient, so I may just leave that where it is.
I am feeling a desire, or perhaps internal pressure to summarise or conclude this reflection. The summary is that this week I have been able to focus on the silver lining more than the cloud. Slowing down due to the pain and illness has allowed me some opportunities that business would preclude, and removal of the pressure put on me by me to be “productive” in that rigid sense I had constructed as meant I have felt better about reducing measurable outputs and doing other intangible things instead.
I also got my cooking mojo back – I may not want to eat it, but I am enjoying cooking again, although I will leave the innumerable food photos to my istagram as their creative merit is not high, and my dishes while tasty are definitely not art.