Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hello, it's me.

A man stopped me on the sidewalk to talk to me this afternoon. I was walking to the subway from my counseling appointment. I saw him in the red smock and knew he was trying to stop people, but I didn't have the heart to stare straight ahead and pretend like he wasn't there.

He told me he liked my shoes. I thanked him. He praised my style and asked why I was dressed so nice. Normally I would find this creepy coming from a man, but he seemed genuine (and probably gay). We got to talking and my discomfort continued, but subsided after a while. As an anxious person, I worried that he was harvesting information about me to kidnap me or something else equally sinister, but it became apparent that he was just nice. I mean, he also was trying to get people to support his organization, but he didn't force it on me, just mentioned it in passing and continued asking about me and making connections to his own life. Part of me still wonders if he was making it all up, but I don't think so.

At the end, he shook my hand again and said it was nice to meet a fellow history major and someone stylish. I have to admit that flattery does work on me; people used to compliment my outfits a lot at my old college because I used to be skinny so I could wear almost anything and I loved putting together outfits. I typically think of myself as frumpy now, so it was empowering to hear a compliment I never though I would hear again. I told him that it was nice to meet someone friendly. Because it was. It made me feel human again. I've been feeling so isolated lately, especially after that damn conference where everyone seemed so closed off and I felt so unimportant. Especially after my friend keeps favoring the guy she likes over me.

It was nice to have someone stop and reach through the barriers we put up to keep intimacy at bay. I feel them everywhere, just sometimes I've learned to ignore it so I don't feel uncomfortable with my own lack of effort I put in to reaching out. The whole of the mental health conference I attended last weekend, I felt weighed down by this dichotomy of all the speakers talking about telling your story and the reality of everyone being so closed off, including the people putting on the conference. Maybe I'm just sensitive, but I started to question if we really did matter to them, even though they kept saying they were so glad we were here. The staff didn't talk much to us, even when we were close by, and the younger ones spent most of the time joking around with each other. Maybe they were all tired introverts, but so was I. I made an effort to talk to the people who came by themselves because I knew I would feel scared and alone in their place.

So the experience made me realize: The acts of service that matter most aren't the big things (speaking on stage, starting a non-profit, going on tour, tweeting inspiring quotes to thousands of followers) but the small kindnesses we offer - the conversations on the street, the texts saying "I love you" or "By the way, you're really great", the invitation to a lonely co-worker to get coffee. Those speak to people and say "you matter". That's hard because we don't get the same recognition, but it's rewarding because those relationships we form through these acts enrich out lives as well.

To put it all simply: actions speak louder than words.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

You Are.

More thoughts processing #SupCon16, a mental health advocacy conference put on by To Write Love on Her Arms, this past weekend. It's easy to feel the temptation just to say everything was great, especially when everything I've seen on social media has been so positive, but that wouldn't really help anyone. And the whole point of the damn conference was that we should be honest about what we go through. So the truth is that while I'm glad I went and there were some good, even joyful times, there were some pretty tough ones too.

I wrote this mid-conference (Saturday) when I was just worn down by the lack of sleep, which tends to bring back my depression, and the anxiety over all that was going on around me and in my head. It was tough to deal with the pressure of feeling like you need to network and make the most of opportunities, especially as someone with social anxiety, but I was also struggling with my own frustration with where I am in life. Hopefully I'll get the chance to write more soon. You can see part 1 here. But let us commence with the angst:

You talked to that guy.

It was a letdown. He’s human. An amazing human, but a human nonetheless. And you? You were just another human to him. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You’re restless.

You want more. You don’t want to be young. You hate being young and confused. You hate being young because it doesn’t make sense because inside you’re so old. From what you’ve seen and because of who you are.

You want to be old.

You want to be older so he’ll like you, older so they will respect you, older so you can be wiser and know what you want to do. You want fast forward to where things make sense, you have a place, and people care about what you do.

You don’t know where to go.

In life, in this moment. You feel stuck in this purgatory of not knowing and not understanding and not being sure. You are stuck in this hotel room, caught between fears of missing out if you stay and the logic of knowing that you need something more right now than what’s down there.

You don’t know who to be.

You know who you are, but not who to be. Who you are doesn’t seem good enough. People don’t applaud you. People don’t ask you onstage. People don’t ask what your story is. People don’t say that you’re worth it. People don’t show you you’re worth it. You know you are, but when other people don’t say anything, it makes you question it.

You’re confused.

Why does the process of healing have so many twists and turns? Why is it that when you’re trying to help people, things can go so wrong and backfire on you and make your efforts all seem so worthless. The little book they gave you to take notes in is coming apart at the seams: the cover came off of the inside, a little bit the first day, then the rest of it today. You feel like that book. Life keeps pushing just the right buttons to make those unresolved feelings and vulnerabilities come rushing back.

You’re scared.

Of feeling dark again. Of the knowledge that there are so many people hurting. It weighs on you. It burns into your soul. You’re scared of trying things and having them fail. You’re tired of trying things and having them fail. You’re scared your writing doesn’t matter. Your voice doesn’t matter because it’s one of so many and it’s one no one seems to listen to, so why not have it fade into the background?

You’re tired.

Tired of being a nobody. Tired of being “in recovery”. Tired of being a voice unacknowledged because if no one listens, is it a voice at all? Tired of being overlooked, undervalued. Tired of being just close enough not to touch. Tired of seeing dreams die. Tired of telling yourself it’s for a reason.
Tired of being restless, not old, young, unsure of where to go, unsure of who to be, confused, scared. Tired of being tired. Tired of wanting to meet one guy after another and being disappointed each time. Tired of knowing each guy you like doesn’t have an interest in you. Tired of knowing that unless you’re famous or attractive, people don’t want to read your story, listen to your music, or make conversation with you. Tired of being the one overlooked in favor of the men your friends want but can’t have. They say they’re feminists but they don’t care much about your friendship when there’s the possibility of being with a semi-attractive man. That hurts. Especially when you write letters, speak encouragement, answer texts, trying hard to be a good friend. You’re tired of being hurt by lackluster friendships. It’s stupid. Because at the end of the day, you deserve better.

At the end of the day, you are so much more than all of the temporary feelings that weigh you down right now. At the end of your life you will be, in the past of your life you have been, and in your current state

You are

A daughter
A sister
A fighter
A writer
A voice
A choice
A friend
A new chapter about to begin

You are going to get through this weekend. You are going to get through this life. And it is going to be good. 

(PS - As a side note, things got better, don't worry too much.)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Things I need to hear right now:

These are the things I need to hear right now, so I'm telling them to myself. I'm in the midst of attending a conference on mental health advocacy, which has been a huge blessing in some ways, but really hard in others, especially when grappling with my social anxiety and the lies it tells me on repeat. So here it goes...I'm talking back:
  1. It’s okay not to talk to him. Or anyone. Don’t force it. Don’t push yourself and make yourself miserable with anxiety and pressure.
  2. But you’re strong and actually not that bad at talking to people, so I know you will talk to the people you need to.
  3. Sometimes the good work you need to do is not the good work you think you need to do, so let go of the networking you think you need to do and continue to have eyes open to the people who need to be encouraged. Maybe you’re not here to market yourself. Maybe you’re here to learn to be a more loving person.
  4. Stop planning out the conversation. Those wily little things have a way of getting away from what was planned, but that’s usually because they have much better places to go.
  5. You actually aren’t that bad at talking to people. You introduced yourself to that girl and pursued the conversation even when she didn’t keep it up.
  6. You actually aren’t that bad at talking to people. You have had at least two really good conversations about mental health in the last month where people finally asked about your story. You’re eloquent. You’re open and honest. You have some wisdom. You have some heavy and some light. You have a story.
  7. Your story is important and it was given to you for a reason. I know at times it’s been like a thorn in your hand that you can’t seem to get rid of so you just have to continue to hold, but I think it can also be a gift one day. I mean, if people had never left you alone, you wouldn’t have had the motivation to push past your social anxiety to reach out to people who are alone here.
  8. Maybe you’re not up there sharing your story and using your gifts like you want to be, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t valuable or that you aren’t sharing too. Opening up to your friend, inviting your other friend with you, putting your writing out there, telling people what was really going on – those are the real acts of bravery. Those are the real moments of grace. No one needs to slam a poem to live poetry.
  9. You don’t have to talk to him. You don’t have to be there for that. You don’t have to feel the pressure. In the end, it’s all grace. There’s all so much beyond what you can see and know. There was a grander plan you could never see going on when you were suffering, as much as you hate to admit it at times. So don’t force things that don’t feel right. It’s never worked before, and maybe now is your time to just soak in truth and be. I’m not sure where God’s place is in my life or if I need to cast off this belief that it’s all in his hands and instead become the initiator of my own desires, but I can never seem to shake the feeling that he works things out according to his purposes.
  10. You did a good job talking to her. Maybe you didn’t answer or ask a question to impress the whole room, maybe no one saw your act of kindness in reaching out, but that’s what hope is built on: everyday people doing small acts of kindness.
  11. You are beautiful and you don’t need to put on some eyeliner or put down other people or attract his attention to make that true. It just is true.
  12. You are here for a reason. You are everywhere for a reason. That reason doesn’t have to be becoming known by gaining name recognition; it could be becoming known by others who you become more open with.
  13.  It’s okay if you’re not perfect. If you don’t overcome everything. If you don’t take all of the advice they give you. If you don’t follow the models laid out. Just keep listening to that inner voice. It hasn’t usually led you wrong, and you know you better than anyone else who has tried to dictate what you are and who you should be. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

You can.

I know you feel desperate and worthless, but it's just for tonight.

I know everything seems hopeless, but eventually it might get better.

People are silent and you are unbelievably lonely, but the way you feel right now isn't everything. You've made it through worse nights.

Last year was awful, this year is somewhat better. I know that makes you think that things will never be as good as you hope, but maybe they will get a little better again over the course of the next year. And the one after that, and the one after that.

I know there aren't many people around to talk to, and you're too scared to even text one of those helplines because you're shy and you hate to be a burden and you don't know what to say, but you have had some good conversations in recent weeks, and you have more friends than six months ago when there was almost nobody.

I know you feel sad and rejection stings and hits you in a place that can never seem to heal properly, but I know you can overcome it too. Don't let the feelings take over you, because they're not everything. They're just feelings, and they will pass. And come back. And leave again. And come back. But stick around a while longer to see what else happens because you owe it to yourself.

Remember how you used to dream about what you would be when you grew up? That little girl deserves to see her life lived out and dreams accomplished. She always wanted to write, and here you are, writing. It doesn't matter if it's not read nationwide; that wasn't her dream. Her dream was to write from the heart because it was what she loved. And you are. Stick around and keep writing - for her. Finish that book because publishing one has always been on your must-do list. And because your 20 year-old self deserves for vengeance to be paid on the man who broke her heart so bad.

Remember the precious objects you've damaged in fits of anger or sadness? Don't you wish you had left them alone? Don't let a night's emotions get the best of you and rob you of things even more precious.

I know tonight isn't easy, and neither was last night or the night before, but you deserve to have a chance because no one else ever gives you one.

Remember the people who have given you chances? The internship that one summer you got to be happy before everything fell apart? The song you got to record in the midst of countless rejections? Remember the pride and joy you felt and the way you amazed people with the quality of your character and work? You owe it to yourself to do that again. Don't hate it when people don't believe in you, when people give up on you, so don't be one of those people that does.

You can make it through another tough night.

Friday, July 8, 2016

"Only a dark cocoon"

"Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly" goes the ending of the song that named this blog. For a long time, I've comforted myself in tough times by saying that all of the crap - the rejection, the heartbreak, the unpopularity, the opportunities denied, the hurt, the trouble - was just the prelude to something glorious. I had to walk through the tough stuff to get to the good part. I had to have some doors close to lead me to the open ones. But I'm not so sure any more.

I guess my life has improved, but only after everything crashed and burned. I guess I've benefited from the tough times I endured, but would I really be that much worse of a person if I hadn't had those things happen to me? I've told myself, and other people have told me, that I will be able to use my experiences to encourage others, but how is that going to happen when no one listens to what I have to say? Maybe there isn't any reason for all of this bad stuff. Maybe I'm just an unlucky person. Maybe shitty things just happen. (Wow, I've never used that word on here before.) I mean, there are people with lives much worse than mine that never get better.

I feel like I don't matter. I feel like I don't have a voice. I feel marginalized. I feel not as important as all of the other crap going on in the world that is making the headlines and eliciting the empathetic tweets and social media posts of people normally so callous. I'm sure it's selfish to say that, but what I mean is that when people die, we start to care about them. When people are alive, we only care about them if they're beautiful, rich, or famous. And even then our caring is very superficial. Everyone else is just the backdrop to the drama we're playing out. We are too busy to talk to them. We could care less what they're thinking, feeling, or doing. Unless they're getting engaged.

I've been feeling so worried and discouraged, convincing myself that friends don't want to talk to me and they're just tolerating my friendship to be nice. I feel grieved over a friendship that has been dear to my heart that I recently realized is most likely dead even though I wrote a letter apologizing and trying to salvage things. I don't know what I did wrong. I miss the relationship and I care about my friend. She was one of the few friends I made freshman year of college and remained my confidante until I left. I try to be a good friend, but maybe my mental illness was too much.

The organization that's all about telling people that their story matters and that there is hope has robbed me of both these convictions. My story isn't good enough for anyone, even me. I'm always hoping I will achieve something greater or be more loved. Part of me feels like resigning myself to fate and ceasing to dream or aspire, taking the safe career path that I'm on, that makes sense and would be lackluster but acceptable. The other part of me feels like fighting back, but is usually squelched by the practicality that was trained into me growing up.

I feel demeaned by the lady I worked with today who kept insulting people my age and saying they don't know anything about history, without ever bothering to talk to me and get to know whether I knew about history. Why else would I want to volunteer my time to learn about a random old house? I feel cut off again from my friends and family, unsure of how to convey this hurt and vulnerability. I feel confused yet again about which road I should take in life. I feel like nobody wants to talk to me.

People can speak all the inspirational things in the world, but their actions speak so much louder. People say you matter, but don't write you back. Friends insist they care, but don't reach out. The church says it represents love, but offers the cold shoulder or even outright antagonism if you don't appear practically perfect and follow all their rules. And people say that things get better and life, but they don't always. Even though I feel better, I'm still stuck. I still have these old hurts come back to haunt me. My dark nights are dark for the same reasons they were when I was twelve or sixteen or twenty.

I know I'm young and there's still plenty left to happen to me, but I see the people around me who I'm sure all once had hopes and dreams as grand as mine, and they all end up in the same place: settled. A spouse, kids, a house, a job. None of it was what they imagined, but it's good enough. They're not exactly happy, but it would be too hard to change.

They say that conditioning has a powerful influence on human thought and behavior. Maybe that's why this pessimism and self-hate keeps coming back around to my doorstep every time rejection visits or I'm reminded of others' success and my comparative failure. Those advocacy organizations and speakers are always telling you to have hope and believe in yourself and your worth, but who is reaching out to me? Who reaches out to the socially anxious? We're always overlooked, even in the mental health advocacy movement. And we're too shy to voice our needs, too anxious to do the speaking and marketing necessary to make it in the public eye, too afraid of being a burden on others or committing a faux pas. I tried to take a risk and put my story out there, but it only made me more miserable.

They're always pushing you to be positive, even the people pushing to talk about the negatives, but here's the reality: sometimes everything just seems to suck. Maybe there are people that not many people care about. They matter, but how would they know? How can they have a voice? And does a person have a voice if nobody is listening to what they say?

"Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly / Only a phase, these dark cafe days"

Maybe the wings don't come. Maybe the flying doesn't happen. Maybe I'll just be a wriggling worm stuck on the ground, chewing and chewing these stupid leaves, trying desperately to pass muster so I can finally be granted access to metamorphosis. Few marvel at the caterpillars, after all - awkward and ugly aliens, tiny and grotesque. They pay to see the butterflies - elegant, bright, colorful, flirtatious, graceful, brilliant, attention-catching.

I feel stuck in pupae purgatory. I will never break free and find my wings. I will never be marveled at by the captivated crowd. I will never brighten the day of some burdened soul who smiles at the fluttering reminder that hope springs eternal and somehow cruel nature produces winged masterpieces of intricate art.

But then again, even beautiful butterflies only last a few weeks.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Social Anxiety, Part 2 Billion

In the grand scheme of things, this week hasn't been that bad for me. I mean, I've had worse weeks...MUCH worse weeks. The week I just couldn't function any more and had to go home mid-semester and miss three days of class. The week I found out the guy I was convinced I would marry was dating someone else. The week my psychiatrist had me go off of Klonopin in a week. My whole body has trembled from medication withdrawal, my life has hung in the balance, my heart has been crushed, my dreams have been shattered, I have wept nightly on bathroom floors and turned my own hand against myself. Those were bad weeks.

This week, I've felt content. My proverbial sun has shone (as has the actual one, almost too much, if you ask me). The only tears I shed were in laughter (and in watching Finding Dory, but that doesn't count either). My dreams have been in limbo and my future has seemed hazy, but it still shines bright with hope and prospect. My heart has experienced pangs of hurt, but they don't shake and shatter it like they would a year ago.

All the same, it hasn't been my best week either, and tonight I'm feeling a bit defeated, albeit not depressed (thanks, SamE. Keep up the good work). Let's start with the small things; I gained the weight I lost a couple of weeks ago back. I've been trying to exercise but we've been eating out more often due to a series of special occasions in the last couple weeks. I try to accept my new, post-life-crashing-and-burning size, but it's still difficult, especially when even nice guys are like, "I want a skinny girl with pillowy breasts." But I'm venturing into murky waters.

I had also had some kind of awkward social interactions that week that I kept worrying about. This is one of the most frustrating elements of social anxiety; you obsess over whether you did something wrong in a social interaction, which makes you want to avoid them even more because you feel miserable about them for the next three days. Also, I had a conversation yesterday with a lady from my church who was pressuring me to join a small group or Bible study, which made me frustrated once again by my lack of faith and the church's lack of sensitivity. And before that, a friend of mine had talked to me extensively about faith, which brought up some hard questions once again for me.

Maybe I should just get to what's really been bothering me: The Incident. I've been wanting for quite some time to submit something to the blog of this one advocacy organization I follow because 1) they're an organization I really admire, 2) I love writing, 3) I really want to share my story with others to encourage them, and 4) I want to get more involved and connected in the mental health advocacy field. The problem was coming up with a piece. The other problem was that I was, well, scared. Pee-my-pants scared. Intimidated. I mean, I've published pieces on another website, but honestly they will accept any coherent piece of writing that comes their way. Which is awesome. People should have a voice even if they're not a stellar writer. And I'm so, so glad I got to have that opportunity and I hope to write more for them if I'm ever struck with inspiration.

Now, I write a lot on here, obviously. I think I'm over sixty posts total now, but to write a standalone piece conveying both your overarching story and some particular message is not an easy feat. I didn't feel like there was a piece on here that fit the bill. So for months I contented myself with the fact that I had published on the one website and that was enough. Then, one night in the wee hours of the morning, I was struck again with inspiration. What started as just a few sentences I wanted to jot down before I went to bed turned into two pages that kept me up an extra half-hour. I added and refined a little more over the next few weeks. I shared it with my mom. I knew right after I wrote it that I was considering sending this piece in. It seemed to fall in line with their poetic style, though it was a little long.

I was so nervous about submitting to such a popular website that I knew got a lot of readers and most likely was not accepting any old thing that passed across their desks, that I started to feel very self-conscious about the piece. I even started to hate it. But I knew that there was not much hope of my writing another standalone piece any time soon, and I was eager to submit something. So after more weeks passed, I finally spent half an hour drafting a meticulously thought-out email to the organization, attaching my story in a document. I asked my mom to read over the email multiple times. I read over it multiple times. I checked the document name. I considered how the greeting might come off. I included a heartfelt thank you for the organization's work because I know running an operation like that can get discouraging. But all along I had a niggling feeling that I should really read over my work again. But, like I said, I had come to hate the piece and just wanted to get it in to be considered. Kind of like a paper. You're proud of it, you put the hard work in, but you just want it submitted and out of your life and you cringe to open it when it's passed back because you're so self-conscious about how it came off to the professor.

Of course, something had to go wrong. I realized five minutes after I sent the damn thing that I had sent a draft, not the edited, pared down final draft. It wasn't the end of the world because there weren't really any grammar errors in the one I sent; it was just really long for a blog post. But I love long, as you might be able to tell. The only awkward thing was that there was a random sentence highlighted in the middle that I had marked for consideration to remove.

I felt utterly humiliated. I wanted to crawl under a rock, shrivel up, and die a thousand dehydrated fruit deaths. How could I be so stupid? What would they think? What should I do? I buried my face in my hands as I explained what happened to my mom. I slunk off to my room and threw myself on my bed. I hadn't felt this awful in a while. I was mad at myself for not being more careful, and I burned inside with the human hatred of realizing that something is your fault. As I lay in despondency, my mind drifted back to old haunts of self-berating.

What the hell had I been thinking, thinking that I could be published? That I could become a mental health advocate? That people would want to read my blog or listen to my music or hear my story? That I had a voice in this world that people wanted to hear. I have always been rejected and I always will be rejected. I am a nobody. Why did I think I could change that? I will always screw things up. I will always be unpopular and go unnoticed. Such was my line of thought during those gloomy ten minutes.

I felt like I was being punished for thinking too highly of myself, being put in my place and having my grandiose dreams put in check. It's embarrassing to share the possibilities for the future that crossed through my head as I wrote that email. I hope maybe people would actually start reading this blog. Maybe I would be invited to speak somewhere. Maybe I would be invited to sing. Ha. I could feel the power of the possibility of finally achieving my dreams start to rise to my head. So when I realized I had made such a stupid mistake, I felt that I was being shoved back into my little school desk and reminded that I was a mere plebe, meant to watch others have success.

My mom came and discussed things with me and I felt a bit better. I decided just to leave the situation since the final draft wasn't that much better than the one I sent, but I was still embarrassed about the random highlight, and just stressed from the social anxiety the action caused in general. It didn't help that I had had another embarrassing situation happen that morning and was also having socially anxious afterthoughts about a get-together the night before with an old friend.

Today, I found myself terrified to even open my email, even though I needed to check to see if other people had responded to some important messages. If the organization had responded, I didn't even want to see, because then the pressure would weigh on me to open it, even if I avoided it. I would rather just not open the damn inbox at all. Eventually, I had to, and I got my sister to do it. I cautiously looked over her shoulder and saw there wasn't any reply at all. All that worry for nothing. The incident kept weighing on my all day though, and I tried to reason with myself about it: I didn't even know them. It didn't matter if they didn't publish the thing. It didn't matter if they were confused by the highlight or judgmental about the length. None of it was a big deal and my life was much larger. But I still felt like an idiot and wanted to erase the entire occurrence from my life.

Initially, I didn't want to write about the situation on here because I thought it might be in poor taste, but I've come to view this as a safe, and crucial, space to share my struggles. Which is weird because anyone can read it. But I figured some people might be able to relate. We all make dumb mistakes. We blow things out of proportion. We get discouraged. We feel like losers and idiots. We feel worthless. We feel like we can never break out of the circumscribed place we've been confined to. But we simultaneously believe that we're the only person who feels that way and everyone else is very satisfied with their lives and feels like they're cool.

Writing this made me realize that my anxiety about this situation is a little silly. But the whole incident shut down my dreams to some extent. I'm kind of grateful, because they were the sort of dreams that were getting a little out-of-hand. It's probably better if I walk the plausible, accessible path before me and have a more realistic view of what I'm able to achieve in life. It's easy to fantasize about being famous, marrying someone well-known whom you admire, being a musician or having a TV show or whatever. But those sorts of things happen to the top 1%. And they usually happen either completely by accident without trying or by some fluke after years of hard work trying to break through.

For a decade or so, I've dreamed that all sorts of far-fetched things would happen to me; that I would meet people, marry people, accomplish things, publish other things, open businesses, acquire popularity, work dream jobs, etc. Such fantasies have been a double-edged sword. Maybe it's time I tucked them away into my little girl toy chest and moved into the real world. After all, I have plenty of potential for success in my own tiny corner of the world, even if it isn't the artistic opportunities or fame and attention I have previously hoped for. Maybe this incident will help me pop the bubbles that have carried me away previously into impractical skies, distracting me from living in and enjoying the reality and possibility of the real life that lies before me. I mean, dreams can be fun, but they can really mess with you too. Distract you. Get your hopes up too high. Delude you. from seeing the truth about people or situations.

I guess it's time to get real.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Not everyone gets fireworks.

Obviously, it's the Fourth of July. My family has never been big on celebrating any holiday, but our July 4's are especially lame because no one likes fireworks. Personally, I would like to see them, but my distinct memory from the last time I went out to watch them was that it was uncomfortably loud and bright. I guess I sometimes wish my family was more exciting and intentional about doing things, but they are who they are.

Watching the television broadcasts of sequined pop stars belting inane hits and the sparks ignite in the sky above the trees in my backyard, it's easy to get swept up into dreaming about the future. But at the same time I am plagued with insecurity about the present and reminded of disappointments in my past.

I found out tonight that another acquaintance from my old school got engaged. This one hit closer to home because I totally didn't expect it. The woman is not your typical sweet, skinny, blonde cherubic Christian girl who has been dating some equally bland man since freshman year; she's mouthy, cynical, not conventionally attractive, and has only been dating this guy for a year or so (as far as I'm aware). It just makes it all the more clear that I am among the Undesirables who will now be left to rot in Single, Semi-Attractive Smart Christian Female Who Has Never Been Kissed Purgatory until it's socially acceptable for me to join an online dating site in my mid-thirties. Now, I don't subscribe to this sort of thinking as much as I used to since I, 1) don't feel very connected to the "Evangelical" Christian church any more, and 2) would rather stay single for life than settle down with whomever will take me.

I don't want to be one of those people who gripes about being single and obsesses about finding someone. I'm thankful that I don't really care about all of that the way I used to. But I guess since my self-esteem has been pretty low lately, it's hard to see other people be Chosen, especially people who are more on my level of quirkiness of personality and level of attractiveness, while I have no prospects. It makes me feel once again like I'm deficient in some way: not attractive enough, not outgoing enough, not experienced enough in the game of romance. In the past week or so, I keep hearing these lies as I worry that friends don't like me, men don't find me attractive, my work doesn't matter to people, etc.

To make things worse, I made the mistake of looking at this woman's fiancee's Facebook page to try and figure out if he was someone I knew from school too. (Don't judge me...You know you've done the same thing.) I came across this ad for a concert one of the fraternities put on with some musical groups consisting of recent alumni from our school. The whole thing was ridiculously pretentious and I guess I'm pretty picky when it comes to music so I've never been particularly impressed with these people's music even though people at my old school were gaga over them. Now, I've been writing songs since I was a sophomore there and I performed at many coffeehouses and music events and post songs online and stuff, but I never got much attention.

People would compliment me after shows but I don't have the popularity or marketing abilities to get people to follow me on the Internet or get people to flock en masse to my performances. It would usually just be a few friends (if I was lucky) and some random people who happened to be there. I'm grateful for every performance I got to do and for every person who came and who said something kind, but I was always a bit frustrated that people didn't pay the attention they did to these other campus performers and alumni whose lyrics and music were less honest, less rehearsed, and, at the risk of sounding snotty, not as good as mine, in my not-so-humble-opinion.  I mean, some people didn't even have their songs memorized for performances when I would rehearse for days or even weeks beforehand.

I definitely noticed that musical popularity was linked to, well, normal popularity, and being a semi-attractive male - hell, just a living, breathing male - was a significant aid to anyone's campus music career. In my junior year, I auditioned for a coffeehouse and the all-female crew didn't even say hello to me when I came in, looked unimpressed throughout my performance, and whisked me away as soon as possible once I finished. They then chose a line-up of all men, including freshman boys who had singing voices like sawdust but were tall and single (one of their hit singles was a song about Korean barbecue, to give some perspective), and one committee member's boyfriend's band. It was my second year trying out and being rejected. I bet they all have shirts that say "#feminist" too.

Well, that was a bit of a tangent. Sorry, folks. But that story always give me a chuckle. A chuckle where your eye sort of twitches and your hand unintentionally claws at the sofa armrest. The point is, seeing these guys with all of their fancy graphics designed by fellows hipster graduates and their official Facebook pages with 600+ likes when I still have only 10 and remembering how those coffeehouse committee girls made me feel like worthless scum dirtying the soles of their Toms made me feel even more lame, unpopular, and, well, useless.

I guess even though I'm not depressed the way I used to be, thanks to the medication, I still grapple sometimes with questions like,

  • "What am I doing here?" 
  • "Do people care that I exist?" 
  • "Does my life matter?" 
  • "Have people stopped talking to me because they're busy or because I'm lame?" 
  • "What should I do with my life? How can I make it matter?"
  • "Why hasn't anyone been interested in me romantically? Is there something wrong with me? Will anyone ever like me that way?"
  • "Why does some people's work gain lots of attention while mine is largely ignored? I pour so much into it, try to be honest, and sincerely want to help others with my story. How can I make a difference when no one pays attention to the things I try to do to help?"
And I could go on. Part of me just feels so discouraged, defeated, pessimistic, inferior, unpopular, uncool, unattractive and unaccomplished, and things just keep coming along to add to the hurt. It's easy to begin to resent people you admire who have become successful and question your own talent or worth because you are not. Obviously, neither is healthy. But I sometimes realize that even if I did become popular and successful, I would probably still have these self-doubts as I faced criticism on a wider scale. Popularity even seems to fuel insecurity. People can win every award and still feel like they have to do more, more, more. 

Truly the best thing I can do for myself in life is establish a strong self-concept and a grounded respect for who I am as a person. Which I guess brings me back to what my counselor has told me all along, which is that I need to congratulate myself for the small accomplishments I make every day - the little shows that weren't well-attended but were examples of overcoming anxiety, the auditions, the conversations with new people, the events attended alone, the decisions to be honest and share the scary truths people didn't necessarily want to hear about my life, the choice to seek help and persevere through the many dark parts of my journey to recovery. The commitment to keep writing and fighting even when no one was reading my work or paying much mind to my life. 

Every day has been full of choices to keep pushing myself to overcome social anxiety, to stay alive in spite of my loneliness and depression, to rebuild my life after I lost almost everything. We focus so much on the grand displays - the award shows, the fireworks, the live broadcast concerts - that we equate success with monumental popularity, oodles of records broken, millions of views, etc. and forget to appreciate the quiet struggles, the people worthy of applause that walk through our lives each day, the songs we ought to listen to playing in the next dorm room rather than in the radio, the constant love of a spouse of thirty years rather than the celeb couple on US Weekly, the simple beauty of the guy or girl who sits next to you in class rather than the Pinterest board of swoon-worthy musicians with manufactured images. I guess I'm sounding old and crotchety now, but it does make me sad to see how fixated we are with famous, popular things rather than the lonely people an arm's length away. We Snapchat with people in other rooms when the person right across from us at lunch is longing just to know someone cares enough to listen. 

Okay, so that just spiraled into a whole other post and topic, but it was good to process through this self-doubt and I hope that if you struggle with similar feelings, you know that you're not alone and we can both start to see the things we've accomplished, no matter how small, rather than the fireworks that aren't for us. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Letter to myself.

Dear Self,

Here you are, embarking on the cruise ship around the proverbial world that is your next year of life. Isn’t every year kind of like a world cruise? Boring and mundane for the most part, with bouts of seasickness and homesickness every so often, but also sparkling moments of magic, fun, new experiences, and time with family and friends. That being said, I know you feel a little nervous about another year because it reminds you that one day you have to, well, die, and along the way you’ll see a lot of loved ones pass, but remember that it’s normal to have those sorts of nervous jitters whenever you set off on a journey and look at all the stuff you’re leaving behind.

You’re so young. And yet you’ve seen some hardships that others your age haven’t so your story doesn’t align with theirs so you sometimes feel like you don’t measure up or your missing out. You have what people might call an old soul and you were raised to be cautious, unadventurous, reclusive, and even a bit cynical. So don’t be too hard on yourself about you and your family not fitting the norm. I bet most people actually feel even more self-conscious than you even if they do match such standards.

What advice can I give you when we’re both in the same place? I guess here’s one thing: you’ve never been very happy when you made falling in love your number one desire and priority. You’re trying to do it again now, but I think you know deep down that it is only making you miserable. I don’t know why you fall for people you barely know. I don’t know why you never get to know anyone. I know it makes the prospect of knowing anyone that intimately seem impossible, even scary. I know it makes you feel self-conscious and start putting pressure on yourself to “get out there” more. I know you’ve racked your brain for a way to make your path cross with The Latest Guy, convinced yet again that there could be no one better for you out there. He’s a good guy – scratch that, an amazing man – but you know deep down that things will work out if they’re damn well meant to work out.

You don’t know what to do after this year is over. You still can’t believe that you were supposed to graduate this year and didn’t. You would’ve been out on your own by now. It probably would have sucked and you’re glad that you are on a better path that it providing you with plenty of chances, but you still feel the blow of all the chances denied to you, both in the past and in the present. You still look at your life and see all of the empty, all of the ways you aren’t enough rather than the things you’ve overcome that others can’t even dream of experiencing.

You look at yourself in the mirror lately and think, “Sheesh, she’s funny-looking. No wonder nobody’s interested. He certainly wouldn’t be.” Your mind keeps going back to the models he says he dreams of dating. Well, girl, take a look in the mirror of you freaking soul because if he got to know you and said he didn’t want to be a ring on that, he is full of it, no matter how many good things he does. A person who just dates people for their beauty is a shallow person who is missing out on basically the majority of incredible people. I know you look at him and think he could get any girl he wants so he would never want you even if he knew about you, who can’t get anyone she wants. But that’s because you should only get the person who’s absolutely head and shoulders above the rest and who’s madly in love with you. Because that’s what a person like you deserves.

You read the social media posts, hear the stories, are constantly reminded of the expectations to go out more, make more friends, be more adventurous, spend more money, travel, etc. and you feel guilty and worry that you’re missing out. You’ve been worrying more lately about how your life looks to people, just like you’ve been worrying about how your body and face look to passersby. I won’t degrade you by saying it’s related to him, but I think you know that it kind of is. And you definitely know that it makes you miserable. Maybe you could get out a little more, but give yourself a break. You’re an introvert artist with three anxiety disorders. You don’t drink, you’re afraid of people, your family is too, and your friends rarely ever arrange to meet with you. I'm surprised you leave the house at all. But here you are, volunteering, taking classes, occasionally meeting friends, etc. It's more than you used to do, and as long as your life is happy and full, that's what matters.

It’s frustrating to look at other people finding so much success, especially the ones who are still so young. You don’t know what path to take and the roads you set your heart on always seem to get closed while this odd, seemingly useless path has opened up before you and just sits there, waiting while you dream impossible things. It’s aggravating, but you have faced enough rejection to know that sometimes God speaks through closed doors.

None of your work gains much notice and you don’t know how to market this stuff. You dream of being published but know it’s a game of connections. Of marketability, your least favorite word. Keep writing though. I don’t know if it will ever be noticed, but it’s part of your soul and comes to you like breathing and makes things feel better. Maybe you can write your way through all your problems. Nothing else seems to help quite as much, especially when no one else really gets it.

If you don’t want to have babies one day, then don’t. Don’t let some male chauvinist or societal mantra back you into a corner. If you have the love to give one day, that’s great. But if not, it’s better to be honest with oneself than to make a child pay for your succumbing to pressure or trying to conform. And there are so many people and ways to love. It’s confusing because it seems like you’re happier when you don’t love, but it seems like there must be a reason that your faith in romance was reawakened out of nowhere by this most recent crush. Part of me wishes it had never happened so that you could continue on, angst-free and protected from settling or heartbreak. The other part of me is glad it happened because maybe you do need to love, deeply and dearly.

So I guess I’m saying that you should be you. Stop feeling pressured by the messages, positive or negative, and the lives of the beautiful people, good or bad. If you don’t have the strength to reach out to everyone, that’s fine. If you don’t have it in your soul to love God like you used to, just keep doing what little you can. If you don’t have the money to go to freaking Orlando, don’t. If you don’t share your heart with other people because the scars from having it rejected still sting too much, that’s okay. Life’s all a process. I think you’ve seen that by now. So if you don’t have it figured out, that’s probably a good thing.

If you put pressure on yourself to do anything more, it should be to remember all the ways you’ve been so strong and overcome.

Your Favorite Person

P.S. Don’t be self-conscious about the stuff you write either. I know a bunch of thoughts of things you’ve written lately that you’re worried people didn’t like just popped into your head. If it’s the dark stuff you’re worried about, people need to see it brought to light. If it’s the light stuff you’re worried about, people not writing back or having a sense of humor means they’re lame. Keep giving and stop apologizing so much. I don’t know why people pick and choose which friends they like and you’re never it. Maybe because they have bad taste. Just look at this season of the Bachelorette though; there’s no accounting for bad taste and it isn’t a reflection on the quality of what wasn’t chosen.