I’m a Wrimo

Been busy with NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month, which is a funny name because it’s a worldwide event. This is my second try, and this time I intend to “win.” (If you know about NaNoWriMo you know that each year there are tens of thousands of winners. Like one of those youth soccer leagues where everyone gets a trophy.)

Mine’s based in part on the autobiographical stuff that I posted early on in this blog’s history. I’m finally making myself write it out in a full-blown story, whether it sucks or not.

Wonderfully, this has lifted me out of the pessimistic funk I was in last month. I have an agonizing time making myself actually start writing, but once I do start, it just feels right.

Doing Nothing

MICHAEL
What?! Peter, you’re in deep shit! You were supposed to come in on Saturday. What were you doing?
PETER
Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing and it was everything that I thought it could be.

From “Office Space” (1999)

~ ~ ~ ~

BART: I’ll tell you the truth, Dad.  I wasn’t good at it right away, so I quit.  I hope you’re not mad.
HOMER: (wise fatherly tone) Son, come here, heh heh heh.  Of course I’m not mad.  If something’s hard to do then it’s not worth doing.  You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your short wave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle, and we’ll go downstairs and watch TV.
BART: What’s on?
HOMER: (sweetly) It doesn’t matter.
[The+Otto+Show1.png]

Conversation is not a trial

It happened a long time ago.

Me: “Hi”

Her: “Hi”

Me: “You saw me coming this time, didn’t you?”

Her: “Yep. I saw you. I knew you were there.”

Me: “Darn. I was gonna sneak up on you again.”

Her: “Uh-huh. I’m looking for you now.”

Me: “When I snuck up on you earlier, your face turned red – like you were blushing.”

Her: “Oh… Your face is red, too.”

Me: “It is? Really. Oh my.”

Her: “Yep.”

Me: “Oh wow. I guess I’ll have to work on that. Don’t want to let it show…. I was gonna talk to you again, a while ago, but you were over there… on the tray line… unloading the belt.”

Her: “Oh, yeah, I was over there.”

–(Pause for an awkward silence…) –

Me: “Ok. Well, have a nice weekend.”

Her: “You too, have a nice weekend.”

Painful. I’m a grown man and talked like a clueless little kid. I hated myself over this conversation (if you could call it that). I beat myself up like that easily-chagrined character that Chris Farley used to do.

She looked a wee bit like this . . . (Jessica, not the dog).

Well, maybe more like this

Let’s throw some responses at it, and see what sticks…

(1) But we all have to start somewhere. By definition my lack of experience may not satisfy the first woman I’m with, and maybe a couple more than her, but in the process that’s how I gain experience too. If we had to wait till we had experience before hooking up, no one would ever get together. It’s not magic, and I too can have it.

(2) I once read a comment on a blog: “As far as artificiality, most human behavior is artificial. If you’re saying anything other than, ‘Hey, you want to fuck?’ you’re being phony. And it’s OK.”

(3) Social interactions don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to wait till I have just the right personality or in the ideal mood for social interaction to occur. If everyone thought that way, they would hardly ever do or say anything.

(4) (I screwed up) — Maybe. So what?  Was I doing so much better the way I have been? Not interacting can be a screw-up too. Maybe withdrawing from social contact messes things up, too. It’s not necessary to be alone just because I’m not perfect.

(5)  I’m not on stage, I’m in the audience. It’s okay to be like aw-shucks, a newbie, honestly curious, experiencing situations and people, as if I haven’t before.

(6)  Consider the possibility that, in the process of talking without trying to be funny, your sense of humor just might come out anyway.

(7) Failure is something you do, not who you are.

Unable to distinguish small talk from intimacy

House, M.D., was right. People don’t change.

I haven’t. My core personality traits, the ones I’ve had as long as I can remember, are still with me. I noticed it once last week, and again today.

House is not happy

A dim memory…. When I was a boy, I was at a family get-together with all my cousins on my mom’s side of the family. We — the kids — all piled into a car in the driveway. It was packed with us. All boys. I was seated in the backseat. I was one of the younger ones, probably only six or seven years old. A cousin in front turned on the radio, turned it up loud. Then they all started swearing. Just various miscellaneous cuss words. That’s what I remember. Memory being what it is, maybe they were actually talking and having conversations, not just shouting out individual swear words. But that’s all I remember. Poor little virgin-eared me. I was frozen stiff by the whole thing. Self-conscious and not knowing how to behave I felt as if I didn’t fit in.

Fade out.

When I was a teen, some of my friends, one in particular, did lots of sexually explicit talk — jokes, insults, comments about girls, the normal typical stuff. I, being the socially awkward and restrained guy, just stood there usually, often letting my mind wander (perhaps a form of avoidance). This one friend, the “one in particular”, had a knack for noticing the quirks of others, and he would notice my reaction, my awkwardness. He’d say, “Oh yeah, that’s right — you don’t like girls.” It wasn’t true. If anything I liked girls too much, and pedestalized them. But along with being shy and socially ill at ease in general, around these kinds of situations I was even more reticent. (Another habit he had, in junior high, was when we were in the library he’d sneak into the small kids story-time area and dry hump these big angular cushions that were spread about.)

Cut.

New scene, the present day. Today, in fact:

At work I’ve had to assist in enrolling employees in a new id card system. My carefully maintained avoidance of social situations taken away temporarily. Amazing how it still affects me.

On top of it being very boring, it set off some of my worst triggers: In a social situation, in which I was the one having to lead things. Unable to escape without causing a scene (at heart I’m a male drama queen — a drama prince?). I was trying hard to speak clearly but still garbled lots of words. Trying to act casual and simultaneously worried that I was acting too smooth and not real enough. Usually not having anything to say, however (in terms of small talk), and that had me worried that I was making others uncomfortable.

While watching the people around me conversing and laughing and teasing…. It’s like being the paralyzed kid stuck in his wheelchair and condemned to watching all the other kids run around and play, wishing he could join in the fun, if only he could make his legs move, but he can’t; in my case, it’s not my body in the wheelchair but my personality.

Riddle: Which came first — the social anxiety and withdrawal or the social mistakes and rejection?

This is the part where those of you reading this who are blessed enough to be at ease around people will feel like commenting “You just have to relax and not worry so much. It’s no big deal!” Well, duh. So, you are correct, actually, but your advice can’t help. If people like me could just relax, etc, then they wouldn’t call what we suffer from a “disorder”, would they? That’s the whole point, when your own inner voice won’t let you be a normal, warm human being.

Anyway.

My supe making fun of what he said was my midwestern accent (doubtful: I haven’t lived there in over 30 years). Having to sit next to a security guy I didn’t know, just the two of us there at the desk for long stretches — you all know what I mean? Being stuck with just one other person and you don’t what to talk about but you feel compelled to say something, anything, so that they don’t think you’re stuck up, or so that they won’t catch on to how inept you really are? (A feature of AvPD: not just social anxiety but a constant effort to conceal the anxiety, to conceal your embarrassing defect from others.)

And then the other guys around me talking about the hot girls in our office as the girls came by to do their enrollment. Not quite flirting with the girls — HR is watching you! — but coming alive and doing more small talk with them than with others. And also I noticed how many of these coworkers know each other personally and well and share with one another. It actually came as a shock to me. It’s also amazing to me how casually people can talk to each other, joking and bullshi++ing and clowning around (verbally) with each other.

Most men don’t care about your heels

A guy who seems like a muscle head, douchbag, player type, talking about a local astronomy club (!) with a guy he works out with. I was confused by that.

The guys going cuckoo over the new girl whose face book page said she was a model. I felt like the left-out guy again, because although she has nice legs, other than that she’s not particularly hot, with an ordinary face and zits across her forehead. (“But she’s 19! omg!” … um, so?). And then “Charlize” walking past with a couple guests, and she goofing around with muscle head guy. “That’s it, you guys are terminated”, she says. And he says “I’ll terminate you.” And she thinks it’s funny. Surprise. And I got depressed — which really means I just got jealous but suppressed the feelings.

A psychological parrot.

And that old, old, old pull I get, that nagging weight on me to have to talk and act like whoever I happen to be around. Unable to distinguish between small talk and intimacy. Between friendliness and friendship.

Don’t mistake what I’m describing, please — it’s not a conscious thought or any sort of belief that I learned: it’s a form of hyper-sensitivity and over-responsiveness to the vibes of others. That’s my dirty little secret — on the outside I look like aloof and unemotional; on the inside all there is, is emotion and it’s in charge of me but itself under the control of what’s going on around me. It makes you feel like you have no boundaries, you’re totally permeable, and it’s sly and stealthy and pushes you around before you’re even aware of it. And that’s why we withdraw and we avoid and we keep to ourselves — not because we’re antisocial but because we never learned those boundary skills.

The whole thing is wearying.

Were it not for the miracle of modern psychopharmaceuticals I’d be either a blubbering mess tonight or engaging in some self-defeating behavior like junk food or porn.

But, this wasn’t that big of a situation. You’re taking it too seriously.

You’re right.

That’s why it’s called a “personality disorder.”

Emphasis Mine

Individuals with AvPD are “lonely loners.” They would like to be involved in relationships but cannot tolerate the feelings they get around other people. They feel unacceptable, incapable of being loved, and unable to change. Because they retreat from others in anticipation of rejection, they lead socially impoverished lives. They… believe that they can have no imperfections if they are to be accepted and loved…. They experience unremitting self-consciousness, self-contempt and anger toward others (Oldham, 1990, pp. 188-193).”

~~~~~

Individuals with AvPD… overreact to innocuous experiences but maintain control over their physical behaviors and expression of emotions. Their speech is hesitant and constrained. They appear to have fragmented thought sequences and their conversation is laced with confused digressions. They are timid and uneasy (Millon & Davis, 1996, p. 261)”

~~~~~

“Individuals with AvPD behave in a stiff, shy, and apprehensive manner that is disquieting to others. The very rejection they fear may be the direct result of other people becoming impatient and uncomfortable with their unremitting tension and inability to accept that they can be a part of interaction without special guarantees of safety.”

~~~~~

These individuals are anguished. They describe their emotions as a constant and confusing undercurrent of tension, sadness, and anger. Sometimes this relentless pain results in a general state of numbness. They posses few social skills and personal attributes that can lead them to the pleasures and comforts of life. They must attempt to avoid pain, to need nothing, to depend on no one, and to deny desire.

from: Dual Diagnosis and the Avoidant Personality Disorder

(http://www.toad.net/~arcturus/dd/avoid.htm)

Situations where there’s no script

Almost three out of every ten love-shy men interviewed for this study were not at all afraid to talk publicly. In fact, many of them greatly relished every opportunity they could obtain for talking or entertaining in some way before the public. These men were shy only in situations where there is no script—where there is no clearly defined, non-ambiguous role to play. Hence, many love-shys are shy only in situations where there is no purpose apart from pure, unadulterated sociability….  [P]ut this person in a coctail [sic] party situation, or worse yet in a one-on-one situation with a woman whom he finds attractive, and he will freeze.

Of course, in all candor I must agree that seventy percent of the love-shys I studied were too shy to speak publicly. However, it appears quite clear that any remedying of this deficit would in no way assure a remission of the love-shyness problem.

The moral here is simply that of let’s take first things first. An inability to function in a purely social, sociable situation wherein there is no purpose apart from pure friendliness, is far more debilitating to a person’s personal, social, and business life, than is any inability to deliver speeches or any inability to start conversations with strangers.

– Brian G. Gilmartin, Shyness & Love (1987), p. 141 [emphasis mine, in bold]

Amen, amen, amen! This passage is the one in this book that electrified me, despite my not really fitting the description of love shy male. I think it applies not just to love-shyness but to Social Anxiety (SA) and Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) as well.

“situations in which there is no script…” Yes, that’s what triggers my social anxiety. I wish it didn’t, because I think deep down I actually have a talent for improvisation – just not the guts to let it out.

Btw, the passage I’ve quoted supports my lack of faith in something like Toastmasters to help people who suffer from extreme SA or AvPD . Sometimes I read well-meaning but useless advice for “overcoming shyness” that suggests joining Toastmasters, and I roll my eyes. Toastmasters is a great organization for “normal” people, or even the moderately shy. I’m not dissing it. But for S.A. or AvPD, imho, fear of public speaking isn’t a priority problem. After all, even most outgoing people are afraid of getting up in front of a group and talking.

At least she’s cute

What I’d like to see is a “Toastmasters” for SA and AvPD, such as:

  • Sparklingconversationmasters.
  • Eyecontactmasters.
  • Chatmasters.
  • Whatdidyoudothisweekendmasters.
  • Chillmasters.
  • Socialmasters.
  • Amygdalamasters.
  • Flirtmasters.
  • Partymasters.
  • Intimacymasters.

You get the idea.