Union Station, Toronto, 2012
Anxiety is very personal and I work with it every day without most people being aware of it. I feel like an outsider with it, but I know that I’m not alone with it. However, isolation and anxiety are running themes in some of my writing, and these are thoughts currently running through my head.
I believe we all have anxiety in one form or another. In my case, I was a quiet kid who grew up in a really social family. I was surrounded by close and extended family. It isn’t clear to me if I was born with the tools to learn sociability or if I acquired the need to learn sociability from being in that environment. Evidence to the latter can be found in my early school report cards where teachers wrote concerned notes about me being “quiet” or “lacking interest in playing with her classmates.” That last one I believe wasn’t so much that I wasn’t interested in other kids, because I very much wanted to make friends. I don’t believe I knew how to made friends out of strangers. I had my social life at home with my parents and cousins. The whole idea of reaching out and saying, “You want to play?” to someone I didn’t know filled me with a certain dread. What if the other kid said no? I was happy being an observer in the playground and absorbing my lessons instead. It was easier to do that, than to place myself in the position of being rejected or worse, bullied (ironically, my quietness made me a good target for the bully). I also had a stutter for some of my early childhood which made me feel awkward on top of that. I eventually grew out of that though.
I did learn to make friends at some point and discovered that I have a lot of fun sharing things with people. A big push towards that was from discovering my children’s own need for sociability. After finding out they were on the autism spectrum, I felt that if I had to socialize them, then I had to learn to be social too.
I found a good network of parents and groups online. All good folk, most of whom had come from disenfranchised backgrounds like me. The internet is good for that. It made it comfortable to have a conversation with someone, build a rapport, and make connections. It made it easier for me to meet new people in person.
Online I used to be more confessional, especially with my private livejournal account. For a long time, that blog was my one connection to the outside world besides the world of my children. Although I’m not as open as I used to be, I also don’t have that account anymore. I keep a personal paper journal for the sake of my sanity. The web can be an overwhelming place of chatter and exchange for me, so much so, that I feel like my brain might explode from the constant influx of information. I find the internet for me to be a very good tool to start to make a connection when I haven’t made one in person. There is a difference though in the way one presents each other online that makes it hard for me to maintain that interaction solidly. I’d rather spend time talking to someone one on one and see what’s behind the avatar and let them see me without the mask, or whatever it is I tend to have in front of my face in my profile pics. My real life connections are solid and very close to me. I could probably count them on the fingers of one hand.
I have my coping strategies for social anxiety. My husband calls them “algorithms,” and they have their triggering schemas. A few things that cause me to hyperventilate are:
1) Strangers coming into my home (plumbers, home repair people, etc.).
2) Government office appointments (this is why it took me so long to get my driver’s license and passport).
3) I can’t make phone calls. Using the phone, even if it is to get something important from someone, especially a stranger, makes me shudder. I won’t order your pizza by phone if I can do it easily online.
4) New situations with people I don’t know. Them: “Let me introduce you to *insert name here*. Me: “Nice to meet you.” My brain: “GET ME OUT OF HERE.”
Those are just a few of the things that have me panicking for no rational reason. Believe me, I’ve tried to find some sane reason as to why it seems that I’ve created a struggle out of something as innocuous as making a phone call, but in most cases, there isn’t one.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
1) A sour feeling in my gut and throat.
2) Over thinking things I say or do.
3) Heart palpitations.
4) Itchy or cold hands.
I have scenarios where I can deal with it logically. If, for example, I’m required to meet or call someone to get some help for my children, I’ll do it as fast I can so I don’t have to think about it. It’s a duty as someone who is responsible for two dependents, that I must gulp down whatever panic threatens to overwhelm me for this. It’s all a case of, “I had these kids, so I have to do this so one day they can independently live on their own. ” I don’t question it, it just gets done.
House parties and clubs are fine. I do have a problem with crowds, but if everyone is dancing to the same beat and the music drowns out the need for small talk, I’m there. At house parties or get-togethers, I’m usually with people I know and connect with individually already. I’m all about the individual contact. It’s probably why people don’t generally witness any of my anxious moments. I try to avoid stranger situations altogether. Friends don’t see me as quiet because I’m too busy enjoying their company to shut myself down. I’m outgoing in a comfortable environment. If I am silent, it’s because I’m observing. I love being the included observer or just the observer. The isolation in a room full of people is a great feeling to me. Some might call it loneliness, but I like to think of it as a basic existential need to just exist apart of anything else in the world. An out loud laugh will become a spark in a crowd and a simple movement can mean a life changing perspective sometimes and I try to reflect that in my writing as well.
There are days where the feelings of dread and nervousness come out of the blue. Those are the hard ones to get through. In my chapbook, “Maybe” there’s a poem called, “Ready” that’s based on a day like that. I couldn’t make it out of my house. It was either go outside and face the fear or stay inside and just fret. I chose to fret and write about it instead. I spent the whole day writing and the words kept flowing out. In essence the anxiety became a driving force and a creative outlet as opposed to just another form of therapy.
When I write, especially poetry, I sequester myself. I have to disconnect from a world of provocative thought (politics, opinions, insights, etc.), so that I can feel it, regard it, and then meditate on it. I draft it out, shape it, edit it and eventually end up sculpting something out of that separateness. Sometimes the words resonate and sometimes they will cause someone to think. I’ll know I’ve done my job well if the original observations that elicited writing in the first place, manifest themselves in clear images through the words I’ve chosen. I’ve created an attachment in my detachment and it’s a wonderful feeling when I’ve done it right.
I would say that anxiety is a thing a lot of writers deal with, but writers are people first and foremost. We aren’t a “being.” What writers do and are is purely defined by the individual that writes. I’ve read far too many differing writing advice posts and negate that we all process and process things with similar motivators or methods. A writer is a human being with flesh and blood. A writer who has anxiety is just another person in a complex world dealing with the every day the best way that they can, by writing about it.
Those are just some thoughts.
The Sketchbook Project World Tour 2012 kicked off today in Brooklyn. My sketchbook is in it and you can see it at any of these venues on any of these dates.:
Toronto! See it at The Gladstone July 18-22nd:
Stay tuned for some upcoming posts with some of my daily poems a day.
Oh and the squirrel came back to visit my office window today. I’ve named him Jesus (Hey-Zeus).