Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Anxiety Rooted in Self-consciousness

Hello, blog.  It's been a while.  Many things have happened, many changes, and many things still the same.

I've found a huge level of happiness over the years since coming out of the closet, leaving the LDS church, and essentially taking control over my own life.  I feel like I've grown up a lot, especially in the past year.  I started and ended one of the worst relationships I've ever experienced (I don't think I'll ever write about it so don't ask or wait for it), I moved to another state, bought a house, and started asserting myself at work more (I'm still working at the same place I've been for the past 10 years), which is something that I should have been more diligent at before, but there were reasons I never asserted myself and it was hard to confront it, and I'm still trying to confront it.

What I'm getting at is Social Anxiety.

It has been the biggest thing I've struggled with, and at times has turned what would otherwise be fun and rewarding experiences into complete terror.  And to the extent that I've been able to gain a level of self-awareness of it, it still eludes me in many ways. Although, I've come to realize that it has been rooted in and played a huge role in all the areas of my life where I seem to constantly fail.  (Even in this blog.)

For so many years I've been extremely self-conscious about my appearance, hobbies, interests, they way I talk, what I say, you name it.  No matter what it was, I would find a way to feel like I was being harshly judged for it, and that fear of judgement, and subsequent rejection was devastating to me. I could only find value in myself only if others valued me.  And, of course, that value from others was always fleeting.  I would end up just turning it all back on people and reject them before they had the chance to reject me.  I found solace in being alone.  Unfortunately, that solace became a prison over time, especially once I started to find myself.  I realized that even though I was an introvert, I was still very much in need of socialization, even with people I don't even know.  In other words, I'm not a strong introvert.  In the Meyers-Briggs evaluation of personality, I'm just a hair to the right of the midpoint between Extroversion and Introversion. And just for the sake of completion, my Meyers-Briggs personality type is INFP, which explains a whole lot of why I have trouble in other areas, but I digress.

For me, social anxiety is highly dependent on context and for the most part it's pretty much what I bring to the table in regards to my own personal beliefs about myself.  In talking with a boyfriend the other day, we discussed what it was that kept us both hiding in our little hobbit holes most of the time.  We talked about what it was like to be in crowds, why some crowds felt safe and energizing and why other felt draining and threatening.

I related my experiences going to Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA.  Four days of shoulder to shoulder crowds reaching as many people as 100,000 during the Saturday parade.  I feel fine for the most part, except in the elevators.  But going to Ocean City, MD in the summer time to walk the boardwalk, it's all I can muster to just get the walk over with and get the fuck out of there.  And then there are places like MAL where I have this cognitive-dissonance of feeling fine but also out of place.   What was the underling thinking in each situation?

Well, with Dragon Con I feel like we are all equals. We are all there to have fun and share in our appreciation of science fiction, fantasy and its associated pop culture.  It's a very liberal and progressive crowd for the most part, which invites creativity, acceptance and even celebrates our weirdness. And for the most part, even the ones who are rowdy and drunk the entire weekend are tolerable.

Ocean City, on the other hand is a place of very limited social diversity.  Mostly east coast working class vacationers, hetero-normative families, and often there are loud, obnoxious, young adults who binge on alcohol while cat calling from the balconies at the bikini clad girls on the boardwalk below.  Daily sexual harassment is the norm there. And the air is thick with tobacco smoke.  And as such, I judge these people harshly.  I feel as if I'm much better than they are and it disgusts me that they pollute places making them unsafe for women and gay people.

But then, events like MAL, and even in small ways, Folsom Street Fair and Gay Pride, the crowds can be a bit rowdy but they are friendly, and I feel safe.  They, after all are my people or at least friendly to my people and I know I'm one of them.  But, at the same time, and this is especially true at MAL, I feel like they are all much better than me and that I'm really not good enough to be there.  I'm not gay enough, or I'm not good looking enough or whatever I believe I don't measure up to.

The troubling thing about all this is that it's not rational to believe these things even when at times my beliefs have been validated by certain events.  The thing is, those times were because of outliers, they did not represent the group, and I know this.  But it's just so easy to cast aside the reality to reinforce the fears.  And those fears run deep, and they are strong and overwhelming.  And even though I can play logic games with those beliefs to talk myself out of them, it doesn't' always work.   And I feel like I'm not making any progress at all.   But really, I have made a bit of progress.  I've realized how I've been unknowingly contributing to the social anxiety which I wasn't aware of before.  I've learned a bit of nuance about my judgement of others and myself.  Also, medication helps, so there is that.

So, now, what's next?

I've started a new chapter in my life this year.  I'm putting myself out there a bit more than I ever have before.  I started vlogging on Youtube.  It's a way to confront my self-consciousnesses and social anxiety in a rather detached way.   I'm forced to confront myself when I do this.  I have to watch myself back while I edit the videos, I have to look at myself in a third person and know that the person I'm looking at is me, even though it doesn't feel like me.

This has been an interesting exercise to see where I have been self judging and self-censoring and where I continue to do so and what I've been doing to divert it and try to get people to focus on something else.  It's also interesting to see what ends up being the "something else" I try to use.  It's a strange thing to view myself in a detached semi-objective way.

I've been heavily editing and trying to polish my videos for the same reason I edit and try to polish my writing.  But, no matter what I do, the video shows a much rawer individual.  One prone to stammering, not talking in complete sentences and otherwise eviscerating all that is proper and eloquent grammar.  All of which are things I'm very self-conscious about.  Sometimes I'm sliding in and out of Utah/Maryland/New Zealand/North Carolinian accents.  Something that I had no idea I did until I started this vlogging project.  I'm finding it more interesting than disturbing now and I'm becoming more aware of how I'm perceived and in small ways, I'm starting to like the person I see in the video.

In all, it's been fun and frustrating at the same time.  Frustrating in that I have a very boring life with nothing to really vlog about and I'm constantly battling with technical problems such as sound problems and crappy white balance.  But its fun in that the editing process is creative yet very challenging like piecing together a puzzle.  I've always had an interest in filmmaking and this has re-sparked that interest, which I had long thought had died. 

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