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Slowly

I’ve been reading this for the past hour:

Sweet irony and absolute fit in one.

It’s one of the earliest books I bought myself, but never read fully through, which I’m sure its author, as an advocate of slow-pace anything, would approve of. It so happens I wrote an essay about idleness for university and did this at my grandparents’ on the last few good and hopeful summer days my grandmother had. I had fibbed a little to stay with them, saying I couldn’t write this at home because of the racket. But in truth, I’m used to the average rackets, and really wanted to hold on to what I felt was getting inevitably lost.

It’s ironic to be reading it because I ought to be really busy right now. It’s an absolute fit because I couldn’t be further. I’ve lived this book and worse.

It started on Monday when I still had an excuse. I was seduced by the sweetness of daydreaming when I ought to have started to research for my thesis. After the hectic weekend and the perfectionist’s panic episode that got quite bad at one point, a few hours of daydreaming seemed well-earned. It wouldn’t stop though. A few hours became a day, two days and five. I had no resistance to the peace of it. It felt like nature had given me an antidote to stress and my body was producing its own anaesthetic.

I quite stopped caring about the thesis and failing it the second time. It wasn’t going to be my failure or fault. It simply wasn’t fair play that others get three months and I got three weeks. I thought so much, so very much, wrote a lot of texts in my head too, and daydreamed a little for intermissions, but I never thought of the thesis. It was like being in a lazy cocoon. At the back of my mind, I knew it was stolen, and every day I was making things more difficult for myself.

Today I wondered if this is what burnout is like? Do you just walk out out of the blue? You totally lose touch and stop caring?

I’ve casually followed some course-related discussions on the forum and felt quite inferior and out of place. These people are interested in this topic! They read extra materials! They have all these clever opinions. And then there’s me recommending others that you don’t need to read through the thick English-language textbook, but can pass the course with just reading the slides. Like Delboy at the theatre asking if anybody fancies a crisp.

The entire time I’ve been studying psychology, I have struggled with this attitude problem. I know too well what my interests are and what I’m never going to need, parts of the brain, for example. And my mind filters out the latter and does not want to waste time on courses like this. But this attitude feels immature. Specialization is good but I’m not at that stage. So I feel like a schoolkid among all those people with more mature attitudes who manage to take an interest in a wider variety of topics.

I just like to think really. To think and understand. I don’t care about where the parietal lobe is.

This semester I like my psychometry course very much. Whatever I do with the rest (two), this I want to do. Its a very rewarding experience in its immediacy too. I recently learnt what a Z-score is and how to calculate it and felt like I understand a new piece of what seemed like elite code. And it’s always a “wow, I see, I see” kind of experience for me, no matter how small the new piece acquired. There’s something so calming in working with numbers too. I think I’d enjoy doing that for a hobby in old age. When others go to a knitting circle meeting, I’d go to a statistics and trignometry group, with lovely nerdy bespectacled Miss Marples. If such things existed, of course. Amateur mathematics.

I suppose I will try to do something next week. It will soon be over at least regardless of the result. This cheers me up a little. Come October, I’m freeeee.

Melancholia

Maybe the reason I’ve been making progress with my social anxiety is partly due to the fact that I simply have nothing to lose any more. And when you don’t care, it makes you stronger. It’s one possible cause. I don’t think it’s the only one.

But while realising how I’ve progressed was an uplifting event, tonight is melancholy, the counting of losses and unhappinesses night.

The thing I want most right now, more than any other thing in the world, would be a fun, imaginative, positive and playful friend.

I am so terribly bored with the unimaginativeness of adults and so alone with my sense of play. Even my particular brand of loving nature sets me apart.

If I ever saw another person wondering in the woods like I do, a girl, with her eyes up towards the treetops to catch sight of an elusive bird and her step slow, if I saw a girl like that, god, I think I’d stepped into a world of fiction where life-changing encounters happen right in the middle of the forest.

Okay, let’s not exaggerate, but it’d be very special.

Anyway, it’s not so important.

Imagination and spirit is what I want most. Another wild soul who’d go on a picnic with me on a starry and snowy winter night. And no, I don’t mean the people who’d find the thought charming and would gladly humour me. I mean those whose soul would be in it, too. It doesn’t have to be this idyllic or eccentric, of course.

Interpretation errors

A few weeks ago, I was summing up (in my mind) the progress I’ve made within the three years I’ve consciously tried to tackle my social anxiety.

The report looked bleak. I felt bleak.

Consistent improvement:

1. being able to step into a store, look towards the sales person and say hello in 90% of cases.

Starting situation: stepping into the store, trying hard to be unnoticed, looking down and never making eye contact, thus usually avoiding the hellos too.

If that’s the only thing one has achieved after 3 years of efforts, it’s a failure, isn’t it? It’s not worth it and one might as well conclude the entire thing a hopeless and deluded quest.

But then – yes, it’s coming – I had the following conversation with a friend about courage and bravery. I don’t remember the exact topic, but I called my friend brave for something that I didn’t dare to do myself. He rejected it, saying he doesn’t feel brave, that bravery is when you are scared of something but do it anyway. Like Frodo going to Mordor.

I felt “But that’s the story of my life!” I must be one of the bravest people then, because most of my life I do things I’m terrified of. It felt empowering somehow to realise you are not the hopelessly cowardly person you think you are, but have a lot of bravery too. These don’t seem so strongly linked, but I’m certain this was the turning point and led me to re-evaluate my progress in social anxiety reduction.

It is true, there was no consistent improvement, but in no other year than the years since I started on my SAD reduction, have I experienced so many social successes, so many unexpected, out of the blue socially normative and brave behaviours. And when I looked at it like that, the overall level must have improved because what else could explain so many successful outcomes. I write down some:

1. I walked into the post office and said hello in a loud voice. I was stunned by this. I hadn’t planned it. It just happened that I said hello in a loud voice. Normal situation: talking very quietly.

2. I was at a party with lots of people I had never met before and acted comfortable and socially acceptable. Normal situation: sit quietly and not say a word throughout unless specificially asked or just talk to the one person you know and feel safe with.

3. I felt like dancing and hopping around in front of the stage during several concerts. If I had the right people with me, I’d have just gone and done it, but these people kept me back. Normal situation: not feel this, being much too self-concious.

4. I managed what was probably the best presentation of my life at school. I talked well, did not get mixed up, stumble on words or lose track. I even managed spontaneity well. It was the first time I felt a glimpse of a possible other world, a world in which I could perform in front of people. Normal situation: stumble on words, lose track, speak very quietly, get stuck on anything spontaneous, IQ drop of one standard deviation, great distress.

5. I was rude to a sales person on the phone. Rudeness in my case being defined as telling them directly “I’m not interested. Bye” instead of trying to phrase it as softly as I could. Yes, it matters.

6. I posted on the school forum several times. Normal situation: say something, even if online, voluntarily in front of a large group of people? No way. Only when I absolutely have to.

7. I wrote to teachers asking questions. Normal situation: not do this.

8. I do not interpret my social failures as negatively as I used to and don’t dwell on them, feeling embarrassment and wishing the ground could open up and undo it. I often just think “Well, whatever, I’m sure they’ve encountered greater eccentrics than me” or “This person said a lot of stupid things in class today too, it’s not just me”. During the presentation, for example, I did have problems with not knowing where to put my hands, but it feels trivial and you can’t have everything at once.

9. I have come to notice a lot more how other people also have social anxiety. It makes me feel less alone, less abnormal. A few of our lecturers show signs of awkwardness in front of the class as well: one doesn’t know where to put his hands and gesticulates strangely, the other talks very fast and gets mixed up at times. I’ve always felt I was the worst. There was no one as bad as me. Maybe it is true, given the life I’ve had because of it, but other people also have social anxiety. I’m not alone.

10. In connection to point 9, I finally feel able to talk about it without feeling the stigma. I’ve always felt I had to hide it away and try to be as socially normal as I could, pretend it wasn’t there, pretend I had a normal social life. Truly, writing about it here in the extent I’ve done, delineating how deep its roots and the things I find hard to do, it is not something I’d have done two years ago. Writing about it in my native language or admitting it to course mates is not something I’d have done a year ago.

After such a list, it may seem confusing how I interpreted all this as “no improvement”, but it’s all about consistency. Most of my successes have been random and sporadic. They don’t suggest daily improvement in SA levels. They’ve just unexplainably happened. I did experience similar things prior to my SAD management as well. The odd day or event when I wasn’t acting painfully awkward by my standards, so the fact that such things happen, is not novel in itself. It’s the amount and type of them that is new. And this I missed because there was no consistent improvement. I still find calling hairdressers or ordering a taxi as hard as I did three years ago, but something good seems to be going on to account for the number and type of successes I’ve had.

And lastly, the strange thing is, not just concerning this facet of life but others too (like finances), when you got nothing, nothing is given to you by the world, but when you already have a little something, more of it gets given. As pleasant as it is to have fought my way up to this position when I already have a tiny something, the way it works before is disheartening.

Beautiful hearts

I have some sort of interesting thing going on with beautiful souls.

Whenever I come upon one, either in real life or through TV or internet, it makes me want to cry. I’ve wondered about this sort of peculiar reaction a lot. I’m obviously touched that a person like this exists. But it doesn’t quite seem like a sufficient explanation. I rarely do actually cry, but I feel like their beauty pierces my heart somehow. That my own heart leaps up and wants to run to theirs. Or press their hand in sympathy and understanding. To express it somehow how much it means to me that people like this exist.

In addition to that mixture of joy and pain, I also experience an overwhelming desire to protect the said person from the world. Even if they are a grown man twice my age in no need of protection. But there is that feeling. Of a treasure. And a distrust of the world. That destroys its beauty.

But a grown man twice my age surely knows that….

An absurd feeling overall.