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beyond anxiety - The Literary Exhibitionist
beyond anxiety

-- चार हजार और सत्तर --

Social media has been so maligned for so long as a modern means for trivializing average lives and perceived human connection, I have been thinking for a while about how I'd like what I post to have more substance than the average person's. And I mean this to be the case whether what I post is serious or humorous. I would never say that everything I tweet or post on Facebook is essential reading; in fact most of it is the opposite. Still, too many people use social media -- and, it often seems, especially Facebook -- for stupid bullshit. Sometimes, as in the case of family members (or plenty of other people too, I suppose) going through a breakup, it is overtly passive-aggressive. I'd rather share something that has genuine meaning.

It occurred to me this morning: people are enriched by reading books all the time. Why shouldn't that be the case for reading something online? There's no reason it can't be. It's just that the quick and easy access for sharing in short bursts allows for the basest of humanity to come out. I'd like to counter that, every once in a while, if nothing else.

So, it was with these sorts of things in mind that I chose to share this on Facebook yesterday afternoon:

I’ve spent too much time assuming people with anxiety will grow out of it with age, as I have. I’ve come across too many people who deal with it well into their forties and fifties, which used to surprise me, until it finally occurred to me to remember that, even in this context, there is no “one size fits all” of social expectations.

I was a very anxious and nervous person when I was younger – especially socially – but for me, it was a byproduct of different kinds of abuse, of varying severity, endured as a child. The generally contented person I am now is actually who I always was, simply buried beneath layers of side effects borne of trauma, which I have since systematically shed. I suppose this is where my often stunningly screwed up memory comes in handy: the shit I endured as a child, which I was always open about, I can now barely remember. The older I get, the less relevant it becomes.

There remain residual effects to my personality that I would still connect in some way to childhood experiences. But these days they make up a small percentage of my identity.

It finally occurred to me recently that for other people, anxiety of different forms may simply be something they deal with in one way or another for their entire lives. For some, unfortunately, it’s simply how they are wired. The thought of that makes me sad, and my hope is always that they find help where they can (therapy, medication, whatever works). But if nothing else, although my life is wonderful and has been now for a very long time, I do have the ability to empathize. For the people in my life with these sorts of experiences, my hope – and my goal – is always that I can be at least one good thing in their lives.

. . . And indeed, this seems to have touched several people, or at least meant something to them. I've been getting some pretty satisfying feedback, more so in the forms of comments than "likes."

Part of the context here is also the widespread understanding of how people can get bogged down by how "perfect" everyone else's life can look on Instagram or on Facebook. I'm maybe the wrong person to speak to this, since I genuinely am a happy person, but I will also share darker thoughts and ideas -- I'm not interested in painting a misleading picture of my life. I also understand that other lives aren't perfect either, no matter how they get portrayed on social media.

When it comes to anxiety specifically, much of what I wrote above was inspired by Tommy, my last roommate. There was (and still is) always a bit of an aloofness to him, an aversion to getting too close or being too open about his struggles -- instead, he'll make it abundantly clear on social media (particularly on Twitter) what kinds of social anxiety he experiences. (Incidentally, Twitter is where he bucks the trend of presenting an artificially perfect life; but he does get closer to that on Facebook, and especially on Instagram.) But he's not the only one, and that's really what struck me the most. I follow a lot of comedians on Twitter, and anxiety, among a host of other emotional and mental disorders, seems to be a prevailing theme. It comes up a lot in the many comedy focused podcasts I listen to as well. There's even a podcast called The Hilarious World of Depression. And taken as a group, these people represent a wide range of ages. This is specifically how it finally occurred to me that I can't apply my experience to everyone: although it may be common for age to bring on giving far fewer fucks about anything, it's hardly guaranteed.

I was also brought back into thoughts about how many people I know deal with anxiety because of this article, posted on Facebook last week, surprisingly, by one of my cousins. My youngest cousin, who I had no idea dealt with these things. It can be easy to read these things and be dismissive if you've never experienced anything similar, in which case it all seems preposterous and ridiculous. But these are very real problems for many people. Another Facebook friend deals with it to such an acute degree that we used to be friends who hung out in person frequently, but it's now been about ten years since I've seen him in person.

I often feel like the wonderful life I lead is some great irony, because I am surrounded by countless people who seem genuinely incapable of being happy. I once spent a lot of time judging such people and deciding they just made that choice for some reason, and I still think there are people who fit that profile -- even some of the people I care about. But it's not all of them. Some of them, I've come to realize, just have different brain processes, and are overwhelmed by their emotions in ways that can be truly difficult to control. This applies to some of my very closest friends.

I guess I just somehow hit a jackpot. I have no idea what made me one of the lucky ones, but I do seem to be one. I really can still recall the exact turning point in my negative-vs-optimistic worldview: it was after I lost my job at the Seattle Gay Standard. 2001 was a dark time for everyone, and for me it included the loss of a job for which I had real and true passion. And in the months after, I ran out of the last of my inheritance money, and I got to a point where I could count the months it would be before I could literally no longer pay my rent. But, in made a choice: instead of panicking, I took stock of the good things I still had in my life, however temporary they could be -- right down to having a roof over my head.

This is truly what made all the difference, and what has made me the contented person I am today: capacity for gratitude. What I also understand now, though, that I did not understand until recently, is that "making a gratitude list" as an exercise is not a cure-all that applies to everyone with depression and anxiety problems. Some people need something more, like -- as I said -- therapy or medication, or maybe both. For some, neither helps at all. There are poor bastards out there for whom there actually isn't much hope, and I grieve for those people.

I mean, only for as long as I think about it. Another one my convenient skills is the ability to avoid internalizing other people's problems. Friends and family going through terrible things is always something that makes me concerned for them, perhaps even worry about them, but it doesn't generally ruin my day. That may sound cold and callous to some, but I honestly think of it as healthy. I'm always interested in being a good friend and offering support how and when I can. I always want to be available when I am needed. But beyond that, I just continue living and enjoying my own life.

And, as what I posted to Facebook yesterday indicates, this was not always the case. I was sexually molested and emotionally abused as a child, and these things seriously fucked me up for many years. But now, I feel like I'm closer than ever to being the me I was always meant to be -- so close to it, in fact, that functionally I could probably say I'm actually there. Consider what Danielle's friend Danielle, the one I went with to Vancouver two years ago for the Madonna concert, but without Danielle because of the death of her dad, sent me via private message yesterday:

Hey. I read your post and just wanted to say that I can relate. I endured all kinds of abuse as a child ... it was hell. I still have severe social anxiety and deep rooted insecurities that I don't think will ever really go away. I definitely empathize with people who have anxiety. You never know what people have gone through or are going through, so it's best to just be kind to everyone. ❤

(I edited out just a few words from the above for privacy purposes.)

I wrote this back to her:

Funny you should be the one to tell me this -- that trip I took to Vancouver with you and Andrea is actually very relevant to this discussion, as I thought a lot at the time about how I was only able to do that due to "aging out" of a lot of my social anxiety. Ten years ago I would have been terrified of not just taking a trip, but SHARING A ROOM with two people I didn't know at all. It just wouldn't have happened, and honestly I was always struck that you two were willing, especially as two women with a man they didn't know (a gay man, sure, and a close friend of Danielle's, but still).

She replied:

Yeah.. I was a little nervous, but because you and Danielle are so close and I had heard all about you, I wasn't tooo worried about it. ( : .. and I want to hang out with you again! We should get together with Danielle so you can experience a Danielle sandwich.

Ha! I'll have to get a picture of a Danielle sandwich when that happens.

Another particularly relevant comment was left publicly on my post -- by Darcy, one of my mom's oldest friends, who was also the mother of two of the three boys I shared a room with in the house where all four of us were molested, by Darcy's stepfather:

I hate that you had to endure any of that. Because of all that happened, at 54 my anxiety has only gotten worse. But I believe in the hope that tomorrow could be better and it keeps me going.

I've been Facebook friends with Darcy for several years now, but we don't often directly communicate, so it had been a while since I thought about how much connection Darcy had to my childhood abuse. Jan, Darcy's mother, was the one who mentally abused me to such a degree that she fucked me up way worse than being sexually molested did. (The worst example I can still remember is when Jan once accused me, when I was about eight, of French kissing my mother when I kissed her goodnight: "You stick your tongue in her mouth and she sticks her tongue in yours." I can still remember crying as I denied this, a stunningly disgusting accusation for an adult to make with an objectively innocent child.)

Jim, Jan's husband who did the sexual molesting (with Jan's complicity), went much farther with the three other boys, who were one, two and three years younger than me. I was barely old enough to know that certain things he did with them would be things I knew for sure were wrong and not allowed. That made me very much a challenge for him, which I have always been sure was something that in itself titillated him: he washed me in the bathtub, always taking extra time with my penis, which I would rationalize -- you're supposed to wash that. He constantly told me I had to go to bed with all my clothes on, which I hated -- getting into bed with jeans on is not comfortable. I always woke up in my underwear, and I was such a deep sleeper I never woke up when he was undressing me. I was in my late teens before it occurred to me that Jim got off on coming in the middle of the night to undress me.

One memory I'll never forget, from the first few years after Jim's crimes were revealed (first by me, telling my brother, who told my mom, who called Darcy): we were all visiting at Darcy's house, and her two sons and I were together in their room. The door was shut, so we thought we had privacy. And we started talking about things Jim did to us. Mom and Darcy heard us talking, and since it was the first time they heard us talking about all this together without being asked about it by adults, they came to the bedroom door to eavesdrop.

I can remember almost none of what the boys and I talked about. Mom later told me she remembers hearing one of them say something like, "That's why I can't eat mashed potatoes." They were talking about Jim's semen, evidently -- something I never came into contact with (thank god). What I do remember is having to use the bathroom, and still being a kid, and assuming Mom and Darcy were in their own adult world visiting with each other, I thought I would be silly and try to crawl behind the couch that was by the bedroom door, undetected. But the living room was conspicuously silent -- no talking at all -- so after getting about halfway past the back of the couch, I just got up and walked.

I told Mom about that several years later, and that's when she told me the reason they were so quiet was because they were trying hard (and failing) to act inconspicuous after rushing away from the door so they would not be discovered eavesdropping. They might just as well have been whistling to themselves and twiddling their thumbs like cartoon characters. But, I was still too young to pick up on it.

In any event, this all provides some context: the primary source of what fucked me up growing up. I had a hard time in middle school and high school, and in retrospect I might not have had the molestation and abuse never happened. I probably still would have been screwed up in some way -- I would have been told growing up that gay people were going to hell, regardless -- but I still probably would have been socialized better. I never thought of this until now, but I might have had the more typical gay experience of having an actual girlfriend in high school, before finally coming to terms with my sexuality. Instead, I just convinced myself that I was nobly waiting to lose my virginity until marriage.

I was well into my thirties, though, before I felt totally at east in nearly all social situations. My total lack of self-esteem when I was younger is now at a complete turnaround. I was telling Ivan about this just last week: these days, it literally never even occurs to me to wonder if someone likes me. That sort of thinking seems almost quaint to me now, if not outright ridiculous. Why wouldn't anybody like me? Tons of people love me. I get compliments regularly, and this in spite of how much fun I have with the idea of being a narcissist. To me, that really says something.

There is one person at work I know for certain doesn't like me. Not only has she been frosty to me (at best) for years, but a mutual friend has actually confirmed it. This doesn't even phase me anymore. Like, who gives a shit? She's kind of a bitch anyway. Or at least, she can be. I have to own up to how I've contributed to the mutual frostiness just about as much as she has. There are times when we both make an effort, if not to be friendly, then not to be unfriendly to each other. That's progress. I still don't like her. She doesn't like me. In a way, I suppose it's a good thing to have a reminder that no matter how great you are, you're still never going to be everyone's cup of tea.

-- चार हजार और सत्तर --


-- चार हजार और सत्तर --

I had a somewhat interesting meeting at work this morning.

HR is updating job descriptions for everyone who works in the office. I was asked to fill out a template describing what I do, to use as a template for my job title. Us Merchandising Assistants have been asked to do this a few times in the past by higher-ups in our department, but this is the first time it came from HR. I'm not worried about it; it makes sense for HR to want to have up to date information, and God knows my job has evolved a great deal since I started working here fifteen years ago. (This was also how the conversation with Kibby about our time working here got started yesterday.)

So I met in one of the small conference rooms, at a table for four, with Rosie ("Recruiting Specialist"), and Kate -- whose title confused me when I saw it in the Outlook calendar event invite: Assistant Store Director at Bothell. I was like, huh? I thought at first that maybe Rosie had had an auto-complete accident and sent it to me by mistake.

But, nope: Marissa, the "Recruitment Manager," is out of the office for a while for some reason, and Kate is here filling in for her until next week, evidently helping out with this project. She looked vaguely familiar to me. She told me she used to see me shopping at the Fremont store, and she was my cashier. She mentioned that she and I both used to have really long hair, which indicates it was a very long time ago; I haven't had particularly long hair in over a decade.

At one point in our meeting we were talking about how hard it can be to recognize people sometimes, because of how many people we meet and in my case in particular I know people mostly by name in emails and rarely, if ever, see them in person. This results in regular instances of people in the office saying "Hi Matthew!" -- because people tend to remember me -- and I can't for the life of me remember who they are. This was when Kate mentioned also that I have long been memorable because of the "cat pictures" I used to include in POS emails that I sent twice a week. We have a new process now that precludes the regular POS emails, so the LOLcat images I used to include them all have since pretty much stopped. I've had two or three people email me in the meantime that they miss them, so I sometimes send them images I find online just for the hell of it. I did just today, in fact.

I remember hearing once that in at least one store -- probably more than one -- people have printed out the pictures I've sent in emails and hung them on their staff bulletin boards.

Anyway. The meeting was overall kind of fun, to my surprise. They were very pleased with me, because the template had asked, if possible, to list tasks we do and what percentage of our job it takes up. I was able to do this with some real accuracy, because I found the file I had sent Justine a few months ago when she asked us to track our tasks and list how long they took us to complete every day for fourteen days. I have no idea what Justine did with that information, if anything, but it sure came in handy to me now: I was able to tally up the minutes spent on all the different tasks I do, and accurately share how much of my time each of them takes up.

Noah had his meeting with them right after me, and he had apparently told them he was coming "woefully unprepared." Not me! Rosie joked that I could stay for a minute after we were done, just to give him a disapproving look. But I declined.

-- चार हजार और सत्तर --

Is there anything I can actually tell you about last night? Not a whole lot. I walked home, reading a library book the whole way. I'm getting into the novel, now that I'm about halfway through it -- although it's been interesting from the beginning. Shobhit had dinner ready when I got home, and then I watched my Amazon Prime streaming rented movie: Trainspotting, to catch me up before going to see the sequel with Evan and Elden tonight.

I hadn't watched that since I saw it with Gabriel and Suzy while we were all still in college, in probably 1997. I wondered how much of the dialogue I actually understood then, as at the time it would have been on VHS and putting on the closed captions would not have been possible. I was sure glad to have them handy now. Tonight may be more of a challenge, in an actual movie theatre.

I'm never convinced making a sequel to a movie that's already two decades old is a good idea, but I'm still curious about this one. It'll probably be just okay.

Anyway, after the movie I watched a few episodes of TV shows, and Shobhit and I did the New York Times crossword puzzle. Then, to bed.

Ivan has taken a weekend trip to Oregon, and he left sometime yesterday. He's not back until Monday, so Shobhit and I have the condo to ourselves for that time. Clothing optional! I didn't have to take care to put on my bathrobe this morning, for instance, before going to pour my bowl of cereal in the kitchen.

-- चार हजार और सत्तर --


positive energy please