You and Me

How do you explain something someone knows exactly, but at the same time they completely misunderstand you? This happened tonight as I spoke with my wife about one of the challenges my therapist gave me, to try to have a social interaction where I cede control, especially that of other people's perception of me. Now, without outing her too much against her will, we both have similar social hangups, we're homebodies and we're fine with that; and that is indeed fine.

My problem, and why two separate therapists have suggested this exercise to me, is that I have a perception of what other people perceive of me and I feel an obligation to satisfy that perception. Essentially, I act like I think they want me to act. The ALT says "That's how everyone acts. There are certain social cues and expectations..."


Except, I'm not behaving. Not like I should. I'm acting like I should. When you meet me, it is 100% me, I do not candy-coat shit. I will swear in front of your children. I will be selfish. I will also be kind and cordial and overly polite. I'm eclectic like that. But? It's all a damn lie. I'm acting like the persona that I have presented to be the truth of me. In reality, I'm terrified all the time; terrified I'm not entertaining guests or even hosts that have invited me, terrified I'm being too quiet and standoffish (yes! totally a word!), terrified that I'm supposed to chime in with this anecdote, terrified I've overstepped my bounds. Oh! I do have something relevant to say right now and I'll try interjecting. Oop, they're still talking over me. Did they not hear me? Was I not assertive enough or were they being aggressive? They were being aggressive, I need to be more assertive. No, no, that's impolite. Yes, I say fuck-shit-piss when no one and everyone is listening, but I'll be damned if I step on some toes.

You read that a couple of times if you like. That's my stream of consciousness. That's what is going through my brain every moment I am with someone, even my own family. Now, of course, with my dad, my wife and our daughter, and my closest friends, I do have a little breathing room, but that anxiety is always on. I've said to my wife before that I love being with her because we can ignore each other without really ignoring each other, we enjoy each other's the same time, my wife has complained that I've been too hung up on needing to do something, watch the next show, do you want to play a game? That's my social anxiety acting up. I feel like I need to be the entertainer.

Even though I don't want to be the center of attention, even though I really don't give two shits what you think about me, I'll feel guilty and ashamed if I fail in entertaining in some way. I like to see people having a good time, because maybe if they're having a good time, I can just observe and be left alone. So, that's my dichotomy of extremes, I am 11 or I am nil.

I explained a lot of this yesterday, but the conversation I had with my wife was one where I'm trying to explain that I am a mask, I don't wear one, you get me all of the time, but it's my perception of your perception of me, whatever that is at any given time. And I've been like this for years, maybe even decades. It's that whole idea of, I'm going to embarrass myself by oversharing with this brand new person, and if they can handle that, then maybe we can be friends, but if they can't handle it, I fucked up and I need to reevaluate my goals in life. But I never do, it's a rinse and repeat. It's the reason I've only had a handful of romantic and interpersonal relationships that have lasted any significant number of years. The people who stuck with me, got me. But where does the mask of me and the real me border at? It's blurry, and I guess that's the reason it's so hard to explain to someone else who understands my foibles well enough. They, she, didn't see the change, but I need to make that change permanent. And that's where trying to get myself into social situations, parties, get-togethers, is supposed to be like an exercise.

Don't be the mask, just be, let others direct the conversation, and if I end up being loud and boisterous as a result, that's fine; if I'm subdued and non-talkative, then that's fine, too. But I have to find a happy medium where I can be me and not what I want people to perceive "the me" as being.

She suggested trying church again. I pointed out she gets these inklings to go to church, we go, then we never go back. She's looking for a positive vibe, she gets her fix, and that's that. I want something more, connection—not to God, I've got that—I want to have an interaction where I don't feel my shoulders and butt-hole clenching as I speak because I'm putting an effort into being understood; that mask of being knowledgeable or clever. I'm verbose not because I'm talkative, but because I don't want you to ask a second time or dare ask me to go on or clarify. I want to get my point across in one go and be done with it.

"Okay, fine." She relents.

And in my head that's the worst response, I didn't clarify, I didn't make her understand, I failed in my execution. She's mad at me now, she thinks my problems aren't real, she thinks her ideas are better than what I'm going for.

None of which is true, but even with my wife, this is the trap I fall into. So what to do about it? Well, even if she was mad at me, plenty of people who are married have their times apart with just friends or family. Sometimes your significant other might even be mad for how long you stayed out. But, that's just part of life isn't it? Being upset is normal, rocking the boat happens, not understanding someone else's explanation of themselves is acceptable. Maybe you (I) can't get them to understand because it literally does not make sense and that's the whole point of trying to get better.

So, that's a lot of nonsense to basically say: I might go play D&D with some friends some night. Also, we might go to church, or a farmers market, idk. The point is to try and get happy in a medium space. Be present, not worried about the future, not overthinking the reaction to the reaction, or stressing about how things could have gone different. Just be.

In health news, as promised, I got my lab results back: my bad fats are wack, fix your diet, you scum. Otherwise, everything that ails me? More than likely stress-related. So, here we are, working on it.

I say "we" when I'm really writing this for myself, but I actually mean it, we, you, whoever is reading this, if you relate in the slightest, the struggle is real and I'm in it with you, but we can get out.

"Where the fear has gone...
Only I will remain."

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