Baby Steps

Hello,

Yes, I am both alive and writing! This impromptu hiatus came from the good old-fashioned ‘shit I have a year’s worth of revision to do in three weeks’ fear, which is quite a reassuring kind of piercing dread compared to the other sources of piercing dread in my life these days.

And it’s that piercing dread, and assorted painful emotions prefaced with violent adjectives, that I want to write about today: shattering fear, gouging regret, gut-ripping despair, and the like.

This last year, from September to now, has been the hardest of my life. Certainly not the worst, but absolutely the hardest. I’ve fallen out with at least two close circles of friends twice each, and painstaking rebuilt the bridges I myself burned in operations about as easy as constructing a 1:1 scale replica of the Empire State Building out of matchsticks, chewing gum and discarded zippers from Sports Direct tracksuits. I also shed my assigned gender in scenes closely resembling the emergence of a butterfly from a cocoon, except if that butterfly suffered from crippling insecurity issues and fled back to their boring cocoon state whenever they hung out with their more beautiful and experienced butterfly mates who have been doing this butterfly malarkey for much longer. I started a magazine, lost interest, picked it up again, lost it again, and generally behaved as inconsistently as Rowan Atkinson’s character in the first season of Blackadder, and I was simultaneously distant from all of my societies, yet fanatically interested enough to sign up for two committee positions – including a presidency – next year, all but ruining any fledgling hope I still had of getting a first.

It’s been a year of swings, from wanting to get all dolled up in heels and makeup one minute, to loathing myself and anyone who comments on my appearance the next; from feeling painfully lonely one second, then being afraid of my friends at any social gathering with alcohol and/or more than five people. I was once told that this year has been like a pendulum, and I’m swinging wildly now, but it will soon settle into a more composed and coherent middle ground.

And last night, for the first time, I began to see that middle ground.

I was invited to a three-tiered social extravaganza, promising to whisk me from pub to flat to club like a Disney princess, only with fewer anthropomorphised lizards and more crushing social anxiety. In first year, I would have jumped at such an opportunity; I’d have put on one of my many shirts that falls into the ‘edgy and offensive but not quite insulting enough to result in my being barred from a club’ collection, rocked up painfully punctually, and enjoyed an evening of watching my friends fall into drunken, and hilarious, stages of affection, poor life choices and endlessly retweeted regret. This year, however, such interactions have filled me with horror; for reasons both personal and tediously complex I’ve developed a de facto fear of alcohol, for reasons mental I’ve fallen into increasingly unstable voids of non-confidence about my gender and appearance, and for reasons relating to my personal failures I’ve neglected a lot of my friends, turning social interactions into awkward bridge-rebuilding exercises, rather than anything necessarily fun.

Last night, however, these factors were more nuanced. The fear of alcohol was still there, and it honestly made the night difficult. Even the diabetes tried to screw me over, making everything a little more stressful and painful. But gender wasn’t an issue; I wore a dress and did my makeup and felt genuinely pretty for perhaps the first time ever. I talked to friends, and instead of our early exchanges being awkward and forced, I thought they were fun and relaxed. People were open and talkative, rather than shunning me in the way that I perhaps would have done had our roles been reversed.

Because ultimately, I don’t fit into a lot of ‘conventional’ (in heavy air quotes) social circles: I don’t drink but quite enjoy dancing but hate being in large, loud groups but love being lost in a crowd; I like playing sports but hate the afterparties but enjoy becoming stronger and fitter but hate gyms. If every social scene has, say, ten key features, I usually enjoy about five of them, and am repulsed or scared by the other five.

However, this is not to complain aimlessly, but to provide a starting point for next year. If there aren’t enough non-drinking socials at a sports club, I’ll invent some; I’m a president for gods’ sake. If I like dancing but hate most club music I’ll find new venues and drag my well-meaning but confused friends along to those. I’ve spent two years trying every social niche I can find – arts societies, magazines, sports clubs, after-work socials, you name it – and instead of getting frustrated at not fitting into one or two, I should be looking for new things, and if that fails, making my own amusement.

And I’m sure I’m not the first person in the world to think this. Surely not everyone at KOKO genuinely feels as elated as the handful of grinning dancers in photos they plaster all over their Facebook page, so I don’t want to set up a ‘me against the world’ approach where all my friends represent mainstream enemies, and I’ll find enjoyment by shunning them to start one-person moshpits in my bedroom. I’ve tried that, and it sucks.

I don’t know where this approach will lead me, but I’m excited to find out. In year one I tried everything under the sun, in year two I tried nothing out of fear and spite; now let’s find some events I’ll love with the people who are important.

Casey

Today was weird

Hello again,

Apologies for the radio silence. For nine days I’ve not written on here, nine whole days! 17-year-old me is freaking out and churning out crappy posts during free periods as a kind of bloggy penitence.

But I am no longer 17-year-old me, and so things are different. The main difference is that I respect and respond to the importance of my own mental health; because, surprise, surprise, the last week or so hasn’t been great from a mental health perspective.

By the end of last week I was stressed and exhausted, fresh off my first fortnight of exam revision that was tinged with the oh-so-comforting hue of ‘do I really want to do these exams?’, a rainbow-shattering tone that both stresses me out and makes it harder for me to get work done. At least we can give it credit for engineering such a catastrophic combination of two worst-case scenarios at once, like finding out the local Nisa is out of both blackcurrant and strawberry Ribena.

Then the weekend was stressful, partially because I took a day off and breaks have never sat well with me; missed blogging days used to stress me out, then skipping a day of revision scared me, and now not getting out six Game Shelf articles a week sends me into a maelstrom of logistical panic. Then I cleverly decided to embark upon three consecutive days of socialising, which may be completely normal for most people, but for myself, as someone with more social and physical insecurities than hairs on their body, this was an issue. It’s always weird, as I’ll see people who are important to me, then get exhausted and nervous around them, so when I get home and the day hasn’t gone absolutely perfectly, I toss and turn in bed, fearful that I’ve ruined my one chance to see that person, or present the best side of me. This is a hangover from my younger years, when I would literally ‘socialise’ with peers about twice a year, so there was an obscene amount of pressure to not be miserable or boring or quiet on those days; my social calendar is nowhere near as barren these days, of course, but it’s a hard feeling to shake.

So I woke up today – Wednesday, after my Herculean streak of seeing people I like – at about nine. Then, I felt sad. So I watched some LPs, shot the shit with a few friends, then went back to sleep. I woke up at noon and repeated. Then I woke up at four. Then I woke up at six, had a small moment of dysphoria (nothing says ‘I don’t feel feminine today’ as clearly as putting on a skirt and immediately wanting to impale yourself on a fish-hook) and crawled out of bed to get food.

I was okay from that point. I wasn’t productive or particularly alert – I played Madden and Spore, and watched more LPs – but I was awake. I was out of bed, and dressed, and I’d eaten.

It’d be easy for me to dismiss today as wholly unproductive and, should I get a terrible mark in a few months, I probably will. But it’s unproductive in a strictly academic sense, while being totally vital in a personal sense. I’ve spent years bottling up mental weaknesses to power through learning yet more French vocab or sourcing yet another obscure Yeats critic, and while it worked in the short term (suck on my grades, bitch!), I’d attribute the overwhelming majority of my recent mental troubles to that approach. I felt sad often, but wouldn’t take a day off; I’d question whether continuing to be alive would be the best option, but ignore that to question what Steinbeck really meant by that ending.

And here I am. I have a CV people would kill for but am an incoherent, terrified mess of a person behind it. I know more about the mind of the narrator in the Book of the Duchess than I do about my own head. My magazine is more carefully-organised than my daily routine.

Grades are important, but my health is of literal life-and-death importance.

So here I am, writing a blog post at 2am. I probably won’t get up until noon tomorrow, and almost certainly won’t open my copy of the Riverside Chaucer. The first step is to have a day where I wake up, and conclude that it would be worth it to wake up.

The Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness

Hi again,

First up yes, I didn’t post for a few days. Yes, I’m still the same person who sustained a 150-odd daily post streak last year.

I realised, however, that forcing myself to write is never a good thing; the last few days I was feeling sad, and instead of putting on a happy or upbeat face to write a quirky blog post, I thought eating Oreos and playing Civ V would be a less painful exercise. And, sure enough, I’m now feeling good again, so am getting back to blogging. This isn’t to say that writing in general is destructive when I’m feeling down – the opposite is true, in fact – but writing in this manner, on a personal blog that aims to be amusing most of the time, requires me to be confident in myself, and feel good enough to want to make jokes. If one of these conditions isn’t met, the posts, and the overall blog, will suffer; a lot of the bitchier, more aggressive posts on my last blog came from me writing from a position of sadness and fear, and in those moments anger is a comforting substitute for a real solution.

So there may not be posts absolutely every day on here, but I’m feeling better as a result; if the choice is a blogging streak or my mental health, I’m sorry WordPress, but you’re not winning that one.

Now, let us talk about social awkwardness, a topic analysed, laughed at and cried over by literally everyone to have ever booted up a computer and stumbled waywardly onto the homepage of YouTube, Reddit, or even just Facebook. Some people are afraid of awkwardness, others wear it as a badge of quirky, indie honour, others despise it as the result of an increasingly oversensitive society; and there are a million more opinions held by a billion more people.

My interpretation of this much-analysed social phenomenon is that it’s more of an event than a state of being; people aren’t socially awkward in the way that they’re friendly or anxious, but suffer from socially awkward events in the way that they experience memorably events and painful events.

For instance, today I locked eyes for half a nanosecond with someone who I think is from my course but honestly I couldn’t tell; they smiled at me – so we must know each other from somewhere – and I think I recognised them from the glimpse I got, but I can’t really say.

Now, I would call this a socially awkward situation, but I’d not say that I’m socially awkward. The awkwardness comes from my inability to remember people’s faces, the fact that I struggle to talk to strangers or people I don’t know very well, and the speed of the entire exchange that meant the whole thing was over before I had a chance to respond to it. These traits prevented me from smiling back, or stopping this person to chat about it.

You may call the combination of these traits ‘social awkwardness’ as a trait itself, but socially awkward situations can arise from so many personal traits that I’d find that difficult to do. A situation can be awkward because you’re shy, or not feeling like talking, or distracted by something else, or afraid of that person, or you make a mistake in remembering who they are and what they do, or an infinite number of other very specific behaviours.

To simplify all of this into ‘social awkwardness’ is an oversimplification that I think can be very harmful; I’ve spent a lot of my life not talking to people, or being afraid of sending emails to teachers or calling doctors and dentists, and when I found the Internet and its social awkwardness-blaming culture, I found false comfort. I placed myself in the ‘Irreversibly Socially Awkward’ category, which was comforting for a time, but then I realised I was still unable to make new friends, or keep old ones, or engage in people professionally, so this newfound label didn’t really help. I may have gone too far the other way now – breaking down each of my behaviours and mannerisms to identify which of the rainbow of Sims 4 traits I best personify – but at least I know how I’m flawed in more detail. I know that I used to be very dismissive of other people’s opinions, which I’ve tried to correct in the last eighteen months; I used to treat people with disrespect when they talked about something they liked rather than humouring my by feigning an interest in something I liked, which I’ve also worked on. I’ve not corrected these negative traits entirely, and I have a myriad of others that I probably don’t even realise, but I think I’m a more tolerable and tolerant person than I was two years ago; than I was six months ago, even.

So while diagnosing yourself as socially awkward can be a relief, it’s not a solution as far as I can tell. It’s a cultural phenomenon too broad to ever be improved upon by itself, so I would encourage breaking it down into smaller traits that can be managed, or altered, or unlearned altogether.

The more harmful traits I remove, the less the Dread Spectre of Social Awkwardness hangs over me; unless I lock eyes with an acquaintance in the library, of course.