blogging · existential crisis · people · social anxiety · social norms · writing

The Weight of Me

Am I really here? Do I really exist? Am I truly being seen? What do people perceive when they look at me, when they interact with me? Do they remember me still after time has blurred the edges of a memory?

These questions came up in my mind at the most random moment ever. I was having a very quiet Thursday morning as I caught up on some cross stitching. For the last two Thursdays, I was volunteering for an environmental organization where I worked with my supervisor, Carla, both times. I wasn’t planning on signing up again this week because, yes, I was starting to feel I was fast approaching the bridge of social norms where I’m caught in the space between “I’m a general acquaintance of this person” and also having the potential to change it into “I’m an acquaintance of this person but I am getting to know him/her better now”. And that made me very nervous. With any relationship, I have the choice to make it into something more. This is the trouble I always have with people who I know I could become friends with if only I weren’t so terrible at communication.

These thoughts led me to consider how relieved I feel after I have successfully navigated a social interaction without being a complete mess. And the internal cringing I do as I’m finally out of the situation and on the subway or in a cafe or wherever place that allows me time and space to consider all the things I f*cked up on during whatever conversation or verbal exchange I had earlier. I’m a person whose mind always goes there even if things went well in the situation, so the alternative I have for not getting stuck in my own negativity is to know I’ll still think bad things about myself but I won’t mull over them to the extent of allowing one perceived “bad” thing that happened to ruin my mood for the rest of the day. That is usually the consolation I use to move on from the internal beatdown I give myself and to not try to delve into the “mindreading” technique of imagining what the other person thought of me. It also helps to be physically away from the person so it is easier for me to feel safer with the mantra, “out of sight, out of mind.”

Today I felt strangely guilty for not volunteering at the usual place. I even wondered if my supervisor noticed I didn’t sign up to come. Or maybe she didn’t since I have only been with her one day out of a week for the last two weeks. I really am self-deprecating with how little value I sometimes put on my own presence. For example, the times I am present for something, I assume I’m just a one-off person that people can see but will forget about later in the day. I don’t think it’s sad because it happens to everyone. I see people all the time but of course they’re just strangers I see once and never again, I won’t remember them a week later. Even people who exude a charismatic air or are physically striking, I might be more likely to recall what they looked like but not to the point I remember every detail of their faces or how they were dressed.

For social situations where I am a one-off, it is kind of helpful to think I will be forgettable so I feel more okay about making an idiot of myself, with the knowledge I will never see those people again afterward. Yay or nay? For the opposite scenario, where I have future chances of seeing the same person again, I just feel more nervous about how I am supposed to act because the person will obviously get a stronger impression of who I am the more times he/she interacts with me. Only on this blog could I admit something like this. And it’s not the actual person who triggers such feelings in me. Sure, I can be afraid of flubbing things up by being too quiet. I have an ideal that I need to live up to the social etiquette of the situation by being cheerful and open and talkative and I know I can’t because I’m too busy gauging what is the wrong or right thing to say. Which seems to shatter my own expectations for myself because how can I have an ideal about how I should act socially, yet at every turn, question if how I’m behaving is good enough?

This circles back to my existential crisis questions. A long time ago one of my default reactions, whenever I felt invisible in the presence of other people, was to act like I wasn’t even there. I would go away in my head and completely disassociate myself from my surroundings. So while I knew people could physically see me in the sense if they looked over at me, they would think, Oh, there’s someone sitting/standing there, but as far as I knew, I wanted to believe they were looking at thin air and my presence was actually affecting no one. The introvert in me still struggles during times when I would rather not be seen. It’s those times I really want to revert to disassociating from reality even though I’ve moved on from that unhealthy period in my life. In public when people stop me to ask me a question, I still have rare moments where I look into the person’s eyes and feel both startled and confused by the amount of trust reflecting back at me. It’s a natural human thing to lean on someone else for help. I’m not completely comfortable with being depended upon in this way. I know it’s because I do want and I do not want to be seen and because of the weight of knowing I can’t just pretend I’m not there.

2 thoughts on “The Weight of Me

  1. Don’t feel guilty for not showing up – your supervisor probably either won’t think about it because you’ve only been there twice or she will think you’re too busy doing other things (which is your right; you don’t owe her anything). But I understand that feeling of being more comfortable when people don’t know you well vs. making real connections, which creates expectations and more pressure. I managed to do an internship and a few summer jobs because they were just for one month. By the time people could get to know me I had to leave already. It gives me a sense of security that they can attribute me being quiet to being new there, as opposed to it being my personality, in which case they would think I’m a weirdo or loser. But I’m terrified of a long-term job, because I won’t be able to leave when I feel like people are starting to form a real image of who I am. So maybe it might be easier for you if you don’t volunteer every week? If you skip a few times there is no regular pattern and you won’t create the expectation of going every week and then feel guilty when your anxiety is too high to go? It might take off some pressure, knowing that you CAN go if you want to but by all means you don’t HAVE to, and no one will think it’s weirdor be disappointed if you don’t go.

    I also dissociate sometimes at parties or family gatherings when I’m surrounded by a large group of people. I think about what I’m going to say so much that I can’t say anything at all, and I just pretend I’m not there because I can’t deal with the anxiety anymore. It creates a strange sort of calm, but I’ve noticed that it often has the opposite effect of becoming invisble to other people. The dissociation makes people think I’m comfortable with them because even though I’m still quiet, I don’t display any more signs of anxiety because I feel like a fly on the wall. They start joking around with me, acknowledging my presence and focusing the attention of the group on me. This either creates more anxiety if I’m pulled out of that bubble or embarrassment because I’m still in it and can’t be bothered to answer them.

    I also hate it when strangers on the street ask me for help or directions. My navigation skills are terrible and I often realise I have given people the wrong directions when they’ve already walked away 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the period of building a relationship with coworkers can come easier if you know you won’t be there long. In my own past experience, I felt this was kinda bad for me because then I would generally not really care about introducing myself to other people or making small talk to ease myself into the uncomfortable situation because I was already in the mindset of, “well, I won’t be here long so it doesn’t matter anyway.” :/ In a way it is a form of self-preservation since I’m scared of taking steps to actively pursue a relationship repeatedly to the point the person isn’t just someone I casually say hi to in the morning. First to think about is whether my interest in getting to know him/her will be reciprocated or not. Sometimes I feel I come across as desperate if I ask the person a lot of personal questions or awkward if I talk about myself a lot in an attempt to be open and have a conversation.

      I don’t know if I will skip a week for each time I volunteer. The whole reason I started going is because it was an organization with a job role that interested me even though it’s volunteer work only. Right now, they actually have an open job listing for the work I am doing except it’s paid work. I applied but I don’t have much hope they will want me. It was a big step for me to even show up the first time. For the last few years, I’ve gone back and forth with being a semi-hermit to the point I barely go out anywhere. So the volunteer job plus my interest in the job itself were reasons I used to push myself to just do it. At the same time, it’s hard because I kinda put expectations on what I wanted from it. To look normal? To look like I’m not afraid of people and want to melt into the floor everytime someone so much as glances my way, which, I think if the general population knew about me, it would be seriously embarrassing for me. And it is because who wants to tell others that people terrify them? The whole basis of life is that we have to interact with people to be able to function in a society, like with making friends or getting a job. I guess this is all what I was thinking about, too, when I chose not to go to the volunteer job this Thursday. I thought I was failing my own goals.

      You described dissocation well. I have the weird calm sensation too and appear to other people as if I’m just super chill and not dying of anxiety on the inside.

      Strangers asking for help is a common situation to face. The times I try to avoid it, somehow it still happens. I’m not good at giving directions too. It’s even awkward nowadays with a phone because I try to look the information up for them.

      Liked by 1 person

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