Has your anxiety ever convinced you to reject someone you really wanted to be with? I’m not talking about some obvious asshole, who you’re attracted to but know would be nothing but bad news. I’m talking about rejecting someone sweet, who seems like they’d be […]
Andy and I planned on going to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. Those plans changed in the sweetest of stomach-turning ways – skunks moved in under their house and sprayed the place. It seeped into pretty much everything and lingered for days. Rather than go there for dinner, his parents said they’d just pick food up and bring dinner to us. All we had to do was provide the place to eat it.
One saving grace
We have our own rodent in the house (though skunks it turns out aren’t rodents, but close enough) – a guinea pig whose cage we keep under the dining room table. We don’t mind it, and almost never eat at the table anyway, but something about eating Thanksgiving dinner with a guinea pig at Andy’s parents’ feet didn’t sit right with us.
A couple of hours before they arrived, we dragged Monty’s house out from under the table. It’s a big, clunky apparatus, so the furthest we could get without dismantling the whole thing was the middle of the living room. I figured we’d probably end up there by the end of the night, but surely talking over a guinea pig pooping in his cage is preferable to eating over one.
With the cage gone, it was weird seeing all that empty space underneath the table. But not as weird as all the empty space above it. It’s the kind of wall that needs either one gargantuan piece of artwork or a collection of smaller pieces, neither of which we have.
The one saving grace about this grossly under-decorated space was the plant that sits in the middle of the table. At least we had that!
We stepped back to survey the situation.
“What do you think?” I asked Andy.
“Looks good,” he said. “Maybe just move the plant.”
I don’t remember what I said (if anything) but the gist of what I thought (and probably conveyed) was, “What the fuck do you mean move the plant?”
“To make more room for the food,” Andy said.
Eventually Andy got it out of me (or did I force it down his throat?)
Thank goodness I had just watched last year’s Tori and Dean’s Thanksgiving special. The one where Tori proudly shows Dean the gorgeous table she’s decorated for their guests (with pumpkins that have succulents planted on top of them, for God’s sake!) and all Dean sees is a space too crowded for food because Tori has gone overboard with the decorations. Instead of defending herself, Tori just looks defeated and there was no way I was going to let that be me.
“People have big centerpieces!” I said in defense of myself to Andy (and you take that too, Dean).
I don’t remember what Andy said back to that; I’m pretty sure it was some sort of reluctant concession. But I remember with certainty what I said next because it was a big fat lie:
“I’m happy to move it,” I said.
And I did.
And I pouted.
And eventually Andy got it out of me (or did I force it down his throat?): “You are so insensitive,” I said. “You don’t know all the thought I put into using that plant as a centerpiece for Thanksgiving, do you?”
Which would be zero thought, by the way.
The truth was, this wasn’t about the centerpiece.
The problem is I relied on one of the tricks I use to minimize anxiety about an upcoming event
We’ve lived in our apartment going on 2 years and this was the first formal entertaining we’d done. Sure, we’ve had friends stop by here and there, and my mom has stayed with us a couple of times when she was in town, but this was Thanksgiving dinner. With Andy’s parents. And minutes before they arrived I realized I was embarrassingly unprepared.
I didn’t have placemats.
I only had three matching dinner plates and no dessert plates.
Our only matching silverware has black plastic handles.
I could only find two of my linen napkins so we had to use paper towels that I didn’t even bother folding nicely because the only thing more embarrassing than putting paper towels down for Thanksgiving dinner is trying to make them look pretty (the same reasoning that convinced me my old Chevette in high school looked better dirty).
The only thing we had to offer them to drink was water or ice water.
I didn’t make a single dish to contribute to the meal, not because I knew Andy’s parents were bringing plenty of food, but because I was too afraid they wouldn’t like my cooking.
It’s not that I didn’t have the means to go out and get what I needed to be a proper hostess. The problem is I relied on one of the tricks I use to minimize anxiety about an upcoming event. I prepare for it as little as possible. But while that might work for events I’m attending, I forgot to consider the regretful consequences when the event is at my house.
I haven’t always been like this
Let’s not ignore the obvious question here: What kind of grown woman doesn’t already have at least a four-piece set of decent place settings for the smallest of holiday dinners?
I’ll tell you what kind of person.
The kind of person who breaks dishes regularly (beside the point, but true). The kind of person who doesn’t prioritize the replacement of broken dishes because it never crosses her mind she’ll need more than two place settings at any one time. The kind of person who is an anxiety-riddled entertainment-phobe so afraid of being a failure of a hostess that she’d rather not try at all.
I haven’t always been like this.
When I first moved to L.A. in 2010, I hosted get-togethers in my tiny studio apartment quite a bit. I made food. I decorated tables. I dressed up.
I don’t know what happened to that part of me.
I did fail as a hostess big-time once. Regular ranch dressing ended up on the vegan side of the buffet table. “What kind of vegan ranch is this that tastes so real?” asked my new friend who just happened to work for Vegan Outreach. I told her the truth and she confided she’d been eating it all night. She left devastated and we never spoke again (unless you count the time she was our server at a vegan restaurant in Silver Lake where we pretended not to recognize each other).
But as shitty as it feels feeding dairy to a vegan, I don’t think that’s what did it.
It’s like I just phased entertaining out of my life the same way I have other anxiety-inducing things, like producing plays, drinking coffee, and taking a walk through the neighborhood for fear of running into that one neighbor I hate.
Yes, eliminating all of these things means less anxiety in my life, but it also means missing out on the parts of these things that I love.
Getting back in the game
Hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year was a good start on getting back in the game. So many things weren’t the way I wanted them, yet I managed to relax and have a good time. The food Andy’s parents brought was delicious and the plant – which Andy insisted we put back on the table – served its purpose as a centerpiece; his mom asked what it was:
“A prayer plant,” I said. “The leaves open during the day and fold up at night.”
My anxiety did return a bit when it came time to serve dessert without dessert plates, but it turns out maple custard pie served on full-size dinner plates is fucking fantastic.
A few months after we started dating, Andy took me to a wedding. A dozen or so people there were friends of his I’d met before, but I didn’t know anyone well. Andy was officiating, so I was kind of on my own before and […]
One week ago today, I left the Los Angeles Blogher Conference feeling something I doubted I could: empowered by the experience. As much as I had wanted to go, my anxiety told me I would hate every minute of it and, worse, that I would hate […]
My fiancé, Andy, was very sick last year. It was scary, and stressful, and I needed moral support I didn’t know how to ask for. The best I could do was be honest with my family and friends about how things were going, but only when they asked because I just wasn’t good at reaching out.
Most everyone was amazing, checking in with us regularly to not only see how we were, but to make sure we knew they were there for anything we needed.
Sure, there were some I didn’t really hear from about it, but I chose to believe one of two things:
1) I had not made it clear to them just how serious things were, or
2) Busy with their own stresses, they had simply forgotten to ask
Either way, I didn’t let it bother me. No doubt, I had been on the other side of things like this a time or twenty, failing to reach out to someone who I didn’t realize could have used my support.
What was upsetting was the realization of a third possibility reserved for one of my closest friends.
For a long time I gave her the benefit of the doubt
After initially telling this friend what was going on with Andy, she never really checked in with me about it, even when we saw one another.
For a long time I gave her the benefits of the doubt listed above.
Then this happened.
One day while we were hanging out, I really wanted to talk about it, so I opened up without prompting, spilling my guts about how hard things were, living in pretty much chronic crisis mode.
Afterwards, I breathed a sigh of relief. She really seemed to get it and I felt like she’d finally heard me.
But then, the next time I saw her, nothing. It was like the last conversation didn’t exist. From that point on, the only time I remember her showing any interest in what was going on with us was in the presence of other friends who asked me how Andy and I were doing (and even then her interest was lukewarm, at best).
The conclusion I finally came to is this
I tried telling myself she’s just one of those people who doesn’t handle things like this very well. Someone who doesn’t know what to say so she doesn’t say anything at all. Like I’m not good at asking for support, maybe she’s not good at offering it.
I also considered that maybe it seemed to her like complaining and she just didn’t want to hear it. Though, the thing of it is, when something so serious monopolizes your life for so long, and someone asks how things are, the only way you can tell the truth is to talk about it, at least that’s how it was for me.
The conclusion I finally came to is this: I wasn’t as important to her as she was to me.
Now, that’s not a conclusion I would have drawn from this experience alone. In fact, there were countless times over the course of our friendship that I had felt unimportant to her. I just kept talking myself out of it.
There just seemed to be this imbalance between the closeness of our relationship and her ability to text me the fuck back. If that sounds trivial, neglected phone calls and emails also apply. I get that we all overlook these things now and then, but with her it was pretty much 75 percent of the time. It was especially hurtful when we had plans, I’d touch base about them, and get no response.
“I think we have different ideas about what our friendship is.”
Thinking back on it, I can’t help but wonder why I was friends with her at all.
All I can say is we had fun together, we’d been through a lot together, and I felt important to her when we were hanging out. Eventually she’d get in touch, or I’d try again, and my hurt feelings would be forgotten (i.e., buried). Plus, I’d invested a lot of myself in this friendship and, at the time, ending it felt like throwing all of that away. I reminded myself, if I wanted perfect friends, I wouldn’t have friends.
That said, there did come a time prior to last year’s health crisis when I couldn’t take her flakiness anymore. I told her, point blank, “I think we have different ideas about what our friendship is,” and went into some detail about all that was bothering me.
To her credit, she apologized, told me I was one of her closest friends (which I needed to hear to prove to myself I wasn’t crazy for wanting more from her), and we patched things up.
Things got a little better after that, but only slightly. Never enough for me stop feeling anxious every time I reached out to her, knowing the odds were small I’d hear anything back. Then came her response (or non-response) to mine and Andy’s situation last year, and that was the last straw.
It’s now been several months since we’ve spoken. I just kind of stopped reaching out. I did receive a random, generic text out of the blue from her a few months ago, but I ignored it.
Owning my shit
To be fair, I realize how much my own insecurities colored that friendship.
All relationships make me anxious, and it’s not unusual for me to feel unimportant to people I care about. These are people who I know I’m important to. People who prove to me over and over again how important I am to them. But all it takes is an oversight here or a thoughtless comment there for me to go into full panic mode, (temporarily) convinced I’m not important to them at all.
I guess the difference with the friend I just told you about is that I didn’t know I was important to her. I couldn’t trust that it was just an oversight here or a thoughtless comment there. Whatever foundation, or balance, or understanding I’ve found with other friends about the strength of our relationship, I never found it with her.
Though I do miss her, what I don’t miss is the anxiety our friendship caused me. That’s how I knew ending that friendship was the right thing to do – when I realized it didn’t make me happy and caused more anxiety than not.
How do you know when it’s time to end an anxiety-inducing friendship? I’d love to hear any thoughts or experiences you’d like to share.
One of our neighbors is having work done on their house. It’s loudest in the mornings, often right around the time we start meditating. If I try to ignore it, the construction noise drives me crazy because it’s all I hear. But if I actually […]
I was in the 8th grade when I found out I was smart.
I was in the 11th grade when I found out I wasn’t.
In between were the usual teenage distractions, so I didn’t fully enjoy my 3-year run of intellectual greatness. I just thought I’d be smart forever, I guess.
What I wonder now is if I’d been better off had I never felt like my intelligence was being categorized either way.
How I began my lifelong quest to prove I was smart
When I was in the 8th grade and it was time to pick classes for my freshman year of high school, I was encouraged to enroll in an advanced class that combined English and history into a 2-hour block. I didn’t expect to be placed in an honors class, but it also wasn’t surprising. I made good grades; it made sense.
“The American Experience,” as the class was called, was fun and fine. I wasn’t a star student or anything, but I held my own and felt good about what I was learning and doing there.
The plan was for me was to continue on the same honors track my sophomore year – in a similarly-structured class – but we moved and I spent the next 2 years jumping around to different schools.
Socially, it sucked, but academically, it wasn’t a problem. I was disciplined and took a lot of pride in doing my work well. I took honors courses when I could, but I don’t remember it ever being a big deal to me either way.
My junior year, we moved back to the same town we lived in my freshman year and I enrolled in the same high school where I’d had “The American Experience.” I was placed in an honors English class and, while I remember it being a challenge, I thought I was holding my own because I always did.
My teacher saw it differently.
Nearing the end of the 11th grade, she pulled me aside to tell me she wasn’t recommending me for honors English my senior year.
And there it was:
- The first time I remember doubting my intelligence.
- The beginning of a lifelong quest to prove that I am smart.
Isn’t that something? That one person’s assessment of me – a woman who’d known me a few short months – could change the way I viewed myself for the rest of my life?
That’s no exaggeration. It was a real killer, of my spirit and my dreams. Because when proving you are smart becomes the end goal, you cannot fully focus on putting your mind to good use for higher things.
The truth is, I don’t know anything
Not long after my teacher delivered the blow, we moved again, this time to a school that did deem me worthy of honors classes. And you better believe I rocked that shit out. Not just English and history, but everything. And not just my senior year of high school, but all through college, graduating magna cum laude with a 3.8 GPA.
Under any other circumstance, that would sound like bragging to me. But I’m sharing this with you for contrast to one of my most embarrassing admissions:
I don’t know anything.
I don’t know which president did what. Or where those countries are on a map. Or who wrote that book. I blame my obsession with grades; the straighter the A’s, the smarter I was. I wasn’t as interested in learning as I was in acing the tests; I crammed the night before and not a lot stuck beyond short-term.
My point is, the very thing I feared – that I wasn’t smart – led to a behavior, and subsequent outcome, that only reinforced that fear.
This reminds me of the piece I wrote on purpose and empowerment, Where Is My Power Getting Me?:
“What I find myself doing most of the time is using my power to protect my power, leaving little of it to achieve my actual goal.”
If I’d just enjoyed school like I always had, learning and doing the work just because, I’d surely have learned a lot more. But instead of using my smarts to learn, I wasted them on proving them, and there’s nothing smart about that.
If I know more than someone else, there’s been some sort of mistake
I talk a lot about my social anxiety, and what a tough time I have engaging in conversation. A lot of it has to do with being afraid I don’t have anything intelligent to contribute, especially when the topic turns to history, geography, or literature.
Even on the off-chance I seem to be the most knowledgeable person in one of these conversations, I assume there’s been some sort of mistake.
Whatever I thought I knew couldn’t possibly be right. I obsess over it, certain I’ll be found out. Sometimes I Google it after (or during if I can get away with it), just to double-check myself.
If I’m right – and by right, I mean, I realize that I’m wrong – I try nonchalantly correcting myself to those I’ve misinformed. Because the only thing worse than being wrong is not knowing you’re wrong. I need everyone to know I know before they find out later and judge me as someone who’s not only stupid, but doesn’t know they’re stupid. (Stupid, right?)
Being smart isn’t all about knowing things
I know what you’re thinking: Why not just pick up a book and learn something?
I’ve tried. Nothing sticks. I blame all the years I spent teaching my brain to value short-term memory over long-term learning (not to mention 23 years of saturating my already memory-challenged brain with drugs and alcohol).
But what I have to remind myself of, over and over again, is that being smart isn’t all about knowing things.
Being smart is about:
- Paying attention
- Telling the truth
- Following my dreams
- Solving problems
- Being resourceful
- Taking care of myself
Reminding myself of #2 has been the driving force behind my writing for this website. Actually, it’s my fiancé, Andy, I have to thank for that. Every time I tell him how worried I am about trying too hard to sound smart, he reassures me I’ll be fine as long as I do one thing – tell the truth.
Keeping that in mind really does make everything so much easier. Not digging for what’s true; that actually takes a lot of time and energy. But at least it’s something I can count on and measure with some accuracy.
I can’t write a sentence that everyone will think sounds smart. All I can do is write a sentence that is true.
Do you remember the first time you had an opinion about how smart you were? What triggered it, what came after, and how did it feel?
Why do something if it’s not important? I miss the days when my 9-year-old self would never dream of asking such a question. There was nothing important about building sand castles on the beach. Or reading The Boxcar Children books. Cutting pictures out of magazines. Or telling my […]