anxiety · avoidance tendencies · life · social anxiety

Being Stone Cold

Excuse the profanity and cursing in this post. If it’s not your cup of tea, please exit this page now. Otherwise, read on, but be aware this is an extra long post full of more of my ramblings than my usual dose.

My mood fluctuates and can be so unpredictable, at times. Is it the social anxiety? Is it life in general? Do I have an undiagnosed mood disorder? Or have I consistently failed myself because I keep relying on shitty coping mechanisms that aren’t working out for me but I can’t seem to let go of after years upon years of depending on working out (or not working out) my emotions in unhealthy ways?

I don’t know where or when this started. Mainly I feel as if my brain and body are constantly being assaulted. I can’t seem to think anything or say anything these past few days without feeling attacked and perceiving like every little thing someone says to me is a hidden deception and that in actuality people are secretly mocking me or thinking bad stuff about me. I know how irrational that sounds, but only because I’m writing it down now.

My default mode is to isolate myself as much as possible. Or distract myself in ways where I’ll have as little contact with people as I can. The biggest thing is I have never felt content in the presence of my immediate family and I can’t even remember the last time I was truly 100% content with them. I can also honestly say I don’t fully trust them and there are days where I lose patience with some of the things they do, whether I have a right to be pissed off because they’re being ridiculous or whether I’m having a bitch fit because I can’t handle all the thoughts going around in my head in addition to having to put on a public face of being completely all right.

One example is yesterday. I don’t think my bad mood started on that day but it accumulated due to many things. First is the frustration I’ve been feeling every time one of my parents or my brother asks me if I’ve heard back about from anyone about any of the civil service canvass letters that I answered. I’ve explained to the best of my ability that a canvass letter is not an offer of employment and it’s only an agency asking if I would be available to work, and even replying with “yes” in any given letter does not guarantee they’ll contact me for an interview. It’s easy to blame their pestering of me as a reason why I feel upset, but I’m starting to wonder if the impatience I feel towards the situation is wrong and the impatience I feel is my natural temperament coming out.

It isn’t like they have said bad things to me like, “Wow can you hurry up and get a job already?” or “Do you expect to be taken care of financially for the rest of your life?” It’s more like I tend to read between the lines and jump to bad conclusions depending on what the person has said to me. My mom said, “Oh that’s weird you haven’t heard back from any of the agencies that sent you letters. Shouldn’t they be contacting you for interviews?” See, from this comment, I immediately got the implication that she is frustrated at me for not making progress. Which probably is not actually a true reflection of her feelings, and it’s stuff I imagine she thinks.

I believe my perception was colored by how I view myself. She doesn’t know the true extent of my phone phobia, but of course, in this moment I was thinking about the fact I could have called at least one of the numbers listed on the canvass letters to follow up on stuff if I hadn’t heard anything back after several weeks. Instead, I haven’t, at least not since I received an email from Megan at the H.R. office, whom I spoke about in one of my previous blogs about calling almost every week to ask for an update about a job vacancy I applied for (and getting her voice mail every time). She told me via email that the vacancy I applied for requires me to wait for a canvass letter. That one email absolutely crushed me to know I had misread the job vacancy description and gotten the impression I could just email my resume and cover letter and hear back. Instead, I have to wait for a canvass letter that very well might not come until half the year is over and even then the letter itself is not an offer of employment. I’ve heard that after the canvass letter, it can take up to two years for the agency to contact you for an interview. Fuck my life.

Then I was freaking the fuck out about wanting to call Megan and ask her a few things for clarification. Her email to me even politely stated that I could call her if I had questions. But a million thoughts kept me from it. I kept worrying I would get her voicemail (again), or that I’d muster up the courage to call only to hang up if someone answered. If I ended up stuttering while talking on the phone. If I worded a sentence wrong that I meant to say in a different way. If any information I get from her leaves me more disappointed than I already feel. It’s stupid, right? You’d think I would have some semblance of control in dealing with these thoughts, especially since I have had past experience making phone calls while I was terrified out of my mind, felt like I sounded like a nervous wreck but in the end I survived the call and if I stuttered or made a misstep with a word then so what? It’s not the end of the world. I don’t know what was so different about this time to make my fears even more palpable than usual to the point I dropped all my shit at once and took a backseat from life in general.

I’m one of those people that doesn’t take perceived failure well. One strike out and I feel as if I’ve been struck by lightning and can’t get out of my funk of depression and self-hatred. It’s also not only that I feel bad about myself, but my attitude towards others becomes quite short and can turn stone cold. All this is what I was feeling from that single interaction with my mom. Irritation at her for asking about a topic that makes me feel uncomfortable (because I’m paranoid that she thinks negatively of me, real or imagined on my part). Anger at myself for my own perceived inaction (not making the phone call). Further anger at feeling anxious about the continued topic being discussed and the fact I have to partake in it verbally, without coming across as upset or snappish for the sake of being polite.

I can only pretend for so long that I am all right. I always feel obligated to seem fine on the outside. Like I said, I don’t trust my family fully. There’s the awkwardness of not knowing what to say to them half the time, the feeling of sometimes just generally wanting to be left alone to my own devices without my dad talking up a storm or asking me question after question or hovering over me when I just want peace and silence.

What else happened yesterday? I went to a hiking meetup in Central Park, but only I came, in addition to the host who walked around with me and showed me the popular attractions in the park. I was desperate to push myself to go because I haven’t committed to attending a meetup in months, despite the number of times I RSVPed to many of them. I think part of me was also desperate for a person-to-person connection although I had never met the host before until that day. I had a great time in the park, though I think there were times I was quiet and felt too hypersensitive about my quietness, which in turn made me paranoid about my social anxiety and if she could tell something was amiss with me. Look at how my anxiety inflates things. She probably didn’t notice, and the most I think she knew is that maybe I was kinda nervous because we were texting prior to the meetup to confirm I was coming and I had told her I was nervous.

After the hike, I parted ways from her and went to Whole Foods to grab lunch. I got a croissant and two cookies and then waited in the line at the coffee bar to pay for my items, in addition to ordering coffee. I can’t even say in words just how anxious I feel having to be in the line and practicing in my head what I’m going to say to the cashier. It was my first time ordering a coffee at Whole Foods, while I have ordered many times at Starbucks. It doesn’t always go swimmingly though. I feel more at ease ordering something at a Starbucks I’ve been to many times, especially if it’s the same usual order I have. Those times, I get used to the flow, however, if I have to say a different order, I feel strange and out of place. Other times it’s not the order that makes me nervous, but if the barista is having a friendly rapport with the customer who is ahead of me, even if it’s a one word quip from either person that has both of them smiling and all I can think is, “Oh god, they’re chatting so happily and here I come next in line, a complete stranger.”

Anyway. Back to Whole Foods. I think I was spazzing out even before it was my turn in the line. I saw the register screen for what the woman in front of me ordered: an iced coffee @ $2.50. For a second I entertained the idea of also getting the same thing, but chickened out imagining having to stand at the side for my order to be made. Though if this was Starbucks, I would probably have no issue with waiting for my order since it’s such a common sight in any Starbucks. I convinced myself the regular brewed hot coffee might be cheaper (it was not) and that I could get it right away and get off the line. The cashier asked me what items in my bags so he could punch the prices into the register. One bag was bigger than the other but I had to briefly glance down to tell which was which and for those two to three seconds that I paused midsentence to tell him which had the croissant and which had the cookies gave me a bit of panic. I know when someone gives me eye contact while I’m talking, it’s a sign I’m being listened to and focused on.  I interpret it as the person seeing me, but I react with fear to being seen as if it’s a bad thing and I just wanna crawl under a rock where no one can ever see me.

I stayed in Manhattan even after lunch. Now here’s the part I feel like I acted like a scaredy cat. I could’ve asked someone at Whole Foods if they have a restroom but I didn’t. There was a restroom in the park that myself and the host passed during the hike, though that one was too far away from where I currently was so I tried my luck finding a closer restroom in the park. I eventually did find one near the park zoo, except it took me more than a half hour to meander my way there.

My day didn’t go badly. Mostly. Being out in the city wasn’t the hardest part. I enjoyed the freedom of going wherever I wanted to go. However, that morning before I left the house, I do think I was quite cold to my family as a response to feeling defensive. It wasn’t even anything they did, but it’s a response I often have when certain people are home the same time I am and I feel irritated that I can’t just ignore them if I see them and go about my business. This circles back to my avoidance of verbal communication when I am deeply uncomfortable.

I talked once before about how I get anxiety sometimes telling people where I’m going when I already have anxiety about going to the meetup/hangout/event in question. And the more anxious I get, the more upset I feel. In these situations, I end up feeling angry at the people who I perceive are “in my way” and/or “preventing” me from going out because I can’t just leave without telling others where I’m going, but I associate the process of starting a verbal exchange as something to fear because I feel anxiety actually doing it.

On that particular morning, my dad already knew I was going out, but annoyance was simmering in me when he was casually asking me questions; some about where I was going and who would be there, and others that were just general comments or questions that he would say to anyone in conversation. Yet somehow I felt like a bear that he was poking and baiting on purpose to get a rise out of. For every question he asked, I answered grudgingly and tried my best to hide how I really felt. I cannot help but be suspicious, maybe too suspicious, when he asks about my friends and how many people I know in the meetups I go to. His favorite question to ask me in any situation seems to be, “Are there any Chinese people there?” A normal response might be, “Yeah, of course there are.” But the bitchy, angry part of me wants to retort, “The hell does that matter? Do you think just because I’m Chinese that I only have Chinese friends?” I’m always fighting between whether the anger I feel is converted from the insecurity I have about my verbal skills or if I’m angry because I have a right to be offended. Then he asked about the damned canvass letters and if I’ve heard back from them. There’s the bullseye into my sore spot. He didn’t imply anything negative by simply asking if I heard back, but I drew my own (negative) conclusions and felt thoroughly uncomfortable talking about the topic.

Then he asked about the damned canvass letters and if I’ve heard back from them. There’s the bullseye into my sore spot. He didn’t imply anything negative by simply asking if I heard back, but I drew my own (negative) conclusions and felt thoroughly uncomfortable talking about the topic. It seems to me I almost always convert my feelings into anger. Once the anger is there I’m like a runaway train that can’t be stopped until I physically pull myself away and out of the vicinity of the person or people I feel resentment towards. I even felt pissed off when my brother asked where I was going that morning. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like once I get into that zone of wanting to be verbally shut off from my family and one of them attempts to engage with me verbally, the words coming from the other person bounce off me like a nuisance I don’t want to deal with. Those times I am angry that I have to yield by answering or I’ll look rude. Worse is when I do answer and I let the anger bleed into my tone.

My parents came home later than me. It was like a dam that finally broke through and was overflowing.  That’s how I’d describe my growing anxiety and discomfort. Several things bothered me right away. First the sudden shift from quiet stillness to a flurry of noise as soon as my parents popped in. Internally, I was resisting and not adjusting to the change at all. I felt a sour mood come on, as I imagined my dad peppering me with questions about my day and the inevitable gut twist in my stomach that I’d get over having to answer him. Awkwardness, vulnerability, and embarrassment rolled into one. And then I shoved those feelings aside in favor of pulling up my walls and being on guard, with me treating each question or comment he gave me as unwanted trash I wanted off my territory. Everything felt bothersome and too close. Even my dad standing near to the table where I sat irked me and I wished he would get away from me.

Obviously my biting responses to his inquiries alarmed him. He eventually asked if I was all right. Mindlessly, I nodded and “uh-huh”ed but he wasn’t buying it. He sat down across from me. At one point, he asked if I could tell him what was wrong. I met his eyes. Not to sound like a psychopath, but the concern in them somewhat disgusted me. I don’t know why I bothered, but I admitted to him that I have been experiencing built-up frustration over not hearing back since sending back all those canvass letters. That’s the jist of what I felt able to tell him. I didn’t say anything about the wretchedness I feel every time he and my mom discuss other people’s salaries because this makes me all the more aware of my jobless state or the scathing jealousy and resentment I feel towards my brother because of his financial freedom and how often he’s helped my parents financially, or the number of times I’ve felt I will never amount to anything because I’m so goddamn scared of everything all fucking time.

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3 thoughts on “Being Stone Cold

  1. This is probably the most honest post I’ve read from anyone. As someone who has anxiety and am afraid of social situations, thank you for writing this. As recently as a couple of years ago, I was in your position, applying for jobs through agencies hoping I’d hear back. Most of the time I’d hear back. When I did hear back, the agency person would set up a phone interview with the employer. Like you, I dislike phone conversations and each time my voice would wobble throughout the phone interview no matter how much I prepared.

    Good on you for going to that meetup 🙂 It sounded like a relaxed and low-key one. Also lovely to read you bought some lunch and a drink. I too get flustered whenever I order new things, and when I’m at a restaurant and no wait staff is looking, I’d take forever to wave my hand and get their attention. Queuing up to order food doesn’t sound too bad to me – at least I will get served.

    ““are there any Chinese people there?” ” My parents like to ask this too whenever I go anywhere, be it work or social circles 😦 As you said, what does it matter. It doesn’t. The folks may be thinking people of the same ethnicity will have similar values – I suppose they want their kid to have similar values too. But at the end of the day, we are all our own individuals. At my work, I am the only Chinese person in my department; the rest are Westerners. Mind you, my job is not something to be ashamed of – it is a competitive position. My parents have never talked highly about my work and department to others, but they are forever hyping up my younger brother who works in dentistry. I guess, I’ll never be good enough in some people’s eyes.

    Once again, thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi again Mabel. 🙂 It’s always great to hear from you in the comments section.

      Goodness, the first and last phone interview I had went terribly. I had no idea I would be called that day for the interview because I had just emailed in a job application that the manager specifically wanted me to fill out after she reviewed my resume. I was so unprepared because she basically called me and asked if I could be interviewed right now. I remember she asked me why I was interested in working for the company and I paused as I tried to work out a response but it came out really lame sounding. I think I said something like, “well… to at least try out for the job”. Ugh. Then I hung up and didn’t answer when she called me again.

      Yes, I didn’t regret going to the meetup because things went fine even if I was nervous. It’s still incredibly hard for me to show up to an event if I know more than 5 people will be there though. My instant thought is that no one will like me and I’ll be really boring in a conversation.

      You’re really brave for signaling wait staff in a restaurant. I haven’t put myself in that kind of situation yet since I usually won’t go into a place to eat if it means I have to be served like that. When I was younger, sometimes I would be made by my parents to go to the counter and pay for our food check. There were times even saying my order to the waiter was a painful experience for me.

      The “are there Chinese people there?” question particularly bothers me because I associate the question as my parents having a very narrow view of non-Chinese people. I absolutely hate it when they often use the word 老外 (lao wai) to describe anyone who is Caucasian/White. The word itself seems to imply they view them as foreigners, which makes no sense because this isn’t China or Taiwan or Hong Kong where most of the diaspora are Chinese natives. And even in those countries it’s not possible to expect that only Chinese people live there or speak the language anyways. I also hate the word 黑鬼 (hei gui) used to describe a black person. The word itself is derogatory. When I didn’t know any better as a child, I used it but now I do not. It bothers me that my parents see nothing wrong with using it and my brother still uses the word too. So I guess it’s acceptable in their eyes.

      You’re not the only one who feels like you’re standing in your sibling’s shadow. I do too. My parents have never outright said my brother is better but I do get the sense it’s implied there are aspects of me they don’t favor and prefer if I was like my brother.

      Like

      1. My parents also use that term a lot, lao wai, or rather gwei lo/gwei mui in Cantonese. They use this term all the time in Australia and you get the sense of ‘othering’ whenever they use it. It is like, your race, your skin, your culture kind of mentality.

        I’m going to be revisiting writing being in your siblings shadow this year. I feel like I have a lot more to say on this topic.

        The worst part about signalling to the wait staff is when they don’t see you.

        Liked by 1 person

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