If you don’t know me, and only read this blog, you might find it hard to believe that I am, in fact, an incredibly socially awkward person. I am, by definition, a wall flower. I tend to hang out on the edges of things, in corners wherever possible, and with my back plastered against a wall when a likely crevice is unavailable. It takes me a long time to creep out and become at all social. I don’t like big parties, or crowded places. In fact, I really don’t like people very much. I don’t trust them, and always feel like they might somehow crush me if I let my guard down. Additionally, when I’m nervous (which I inevitably am around strangers) I have a tendency to say horrible, inappropriate, and often nonsensical things. All of my friends have forgiven me for this lack, seeing (I hope) some redeeming value in me that somehow makes up for the fact that it is impossible to take me anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes, when all the stars align, I can be almost preternaturally charming, but this usually only winds up disappointing new people because the next time they see me, I’m shirking in some darkened nook, pretending as hard as I can that I don’t exist (usually glaring into space because it isn’t working). Lately, the Rev has taken to addressing this issue by re-posting various and sundry links on Facebook that refer to the care and feeding of introverts. The thing is, I don’t necessarily self-identify as an introvert – unless, as I’m beginning to think – introvert is just a nice way of saying “weirdo.”
Here’s the thing about me – I not only have massive problems understanding and even existing around other people, I also, quite literally, see the world differently. It took me years to realize that my experience of sensation is unique. Most humans, for instance, aren’t so paralyzed by the way the light from the exterior burglar protection motion light falls through the dining room windows that they have to stare at it for fifteen minutes before subsequently forcing their mother to stand in the glow so they can take pictures of the way the shadows fall. Most humans aren’t driven to inexplicable Hulk-like rage by unmitigated fluorescent lighting. It’s just this that makes me so weird and hard to get along with. I stop in the middle of sentences when distracted by a color or a shape or the way an edge glows. I file all of this stuff away in my mind in what I imagine is like the Library of Congress of incongruence. Dewey would probably strangle me with my own intestines if he could see the way all my mental garbage is organized. It’s the same way with words. I think about the WAY people speak more than about what they’re saying most of the time, and all of those sounds and syllables are being filed along with lip shapes and the way hair waves over an ear. It’s much easier for me to talk to people when I’m not actually around them. Then I can manipulate my own environment to minimize distraction, and sometimes make some level of apparent sense.
Once Kelly said something to me that I found extraordinary (well, more than once). She said, “You know, shyness is probably the number one cause of alcoholism.” I think she’s right. For years I tried to mitigate my social awkwardness with hooch and drugs. I hadn’t ever really looked at the extent of my abusiveness until recently. Booze was pretty much the only way I could deaden my personal sensitivity enough to communicate with other people. Basically, strong liquor did exactly what it was supposed to – it reduced my complicated and neurotic inhibitions to the point that I didn’t choke on congeniality. I actually had to get pre-drunk before going out, just to appear somewhat normal. Unfortunately, alcohol not only reduced my fear of people to a tolerable level, it also decreased my fears of everything else – like climbing tall trees, jumping off buildings, and skateboarding down really huge, icy hills. Also, because I was actually speaking to people sans terror, I spent a lot of time saying incredibly stupid things about stuff that magically popped out of the yarn ball of information that is my brain. One instance of this is faithfully reproduced (much to my chagrin) in my Aunt’s newest novel. It’s a scene with my Aunt, me, and my boobs wherein I drunkenly wax poetic about the relationship between my dead grandfather and King Lear – for what was evidently a REALLY long time.
And then there was the Xanax. Because I was diagnosed (that means ON PAPER, people) with Social Anxiety Disorder, I got a prescription for 2mg bars of Xanax, which the label said to take ¼ of whenever I began to feel anxious. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Xanax, a 2mg dose is what you’d take, along with a couple of beers to get fairly fucked up (depending on your tolerance). Half of a milligram is the standard therapeutic dose, but here’s the kicker: my prescription was for 60 pills/month, refillable. Basically, the idea was that I should take around 4mgs of Xanax (or more) a day depending on the situation. So I did, for about two years. I was in graduate school at the time, a task that involved constant bus travel and being surrounded by people, and I kept about 10 pills with me at all times. I got used to nibbling a dose whenever I felt nervous, which turned out to be pretty much constantly. I worked my way up to about 8mgs/day on weekdays, and only about 2mgs on weekends (if I didn’t go out at all). Xanax made life tolerable. It reduced my anxiety significantly, but it also blurred out reality. I spent almost two years on this drug, and my memory of that time is very strange. It’s all vignettes rather than sequential experience. For instance, I remember seeing (from a bus window) a woman sitting on a backless concrete bench wearing a dingy white bra and oddly immaculate lime green blazer. She looked so sad. Her hair was plastered to her face as she sat in the endless Portland rain, and her mouth was making these moving O’s as though she was the grieving mother from “Guernica” brought to life. I thought to myself, “That woman needs help,” and promptly ate a milligram. I didn’t realize I was addicted, until one day I forgot to refill my prescription and had to go on with life in spite of being drug free. I found a random chunk that consisted of about 1mg in the bottom of my pencil case and gnawed off half of it. Then I boarded the bus and went to school. You have to understand, I didn’t think anything about running out of my “medicine” because I “wasn’t an addict.” I was a patient. I was following the orders of my doctor. I started feeling weird about an hour after I took my little dose. I didn’t want to take the last half, because that’s all I would have until I could get to the pharmacy. In retrospect, this should have been a big warning sign. I was nervous, and not the kind of general nervousness I experience all the time. I was shaking and sick and everything was way too big and too bright. Even now, it’s hard for me to remember the events of that day. I didn’t make it to my classes. I wound up in downtown Portland, huddled at a bus stop, hopelessly lost and trying to get back to my basement apartment where I could hide. It was horrible. That’s when I realized that I had a problem. I quit taking Xanax entirely for 6 months, and after that took it on extremely rare occasions. Addiction was terrifying to me because I saw what the result of not having your substance of choice was – it was like being marooned, but the sea was one of people that couldn’t see or hear or help you.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize (at least part of the time) that my “weirdo” problem isn’t entirely a detriment. Sure, it’s hard for me to communicate because my reality doesn’t have the same textures and consistencies that other people’s does, but there are upsides, too. I’m beginning to see that this stumble-tongued awkwardness is a rare and inarticulable gift. I live a quiet life. I try to keep things simple. I understand that surrounding myself with comforting color and light makes me feel safe and enables me to be expressive. I have a very low tolerance for drama outside of the theater, and (only recently) I’ve figured out that the endorphins released by exercise (specifically swimming) are more effective at keeping me calm and content than the pills and booze ever were. I’ve started painting and (as you know) writing again. It had been 15 years since I’d made any art. That was part of the effect of the drugs and alcohol – it dulled everything to the extent that the beauty of the world didn’t leap out at me the way it had before I started my intense “compensation.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an active participant in a self-induced existential crisis of gigantic proportions. While it can be good (and even wise) to realize that one’s impact upon the world is significant, I have taken this concept to the point of self harm. For instance, when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, I blamed myself for the fact that he had been cheating on me pretty consistently for about a year. I was, in fact, so low – finding so much fault with myself, telling myself it was because I wasn’t good enough, right enough – that I couldn’t see that his action was what was wrong, that regardless of whether I was ugly, or gross, or a bridge troll or not, I didn’t deserve to be treated with a total lack of respect – especially from someone who claimed to “love” me for me. I trusted him enough to confide in him, to let him see the inner me, and when he ultimately rejected that, I thought it was because my weirdness was repellent. And maybe it was, maybe it is – BUT IT IS MINE, and when it really comes down to it, it is all I really have. It’s what makes me ME, good enough, too strange, too odd, too scary, or not. I can’t change it, and I wouldn’t trade it – although, clearly, sometimes I’d like a bit of a holiday. It is because of being this way — because of being a weirdo and a space cadet — that I can see the things I see. Maybe someday, I’ll show you.