The Breakdown Continues
For five days I have been holed up in my apartment, incapable of facing the outside world. And in an odd twist, my social anxiety doesn’t apply so much to strangers as to my friends. How effed up is that? I can go to the corner store and buy some overpriced tomatoes, communicating with the clerk with only minor discomfort, yet I am no longer capable of even making eye contact with people I know and love. What’s up with that?
To elaborate: requiring groceries, and feeling up to a stroll, I thought I’d head to the Metro. I did so in fear of meeting people I knew, but I also figured the chances for this were slim. Little did I know. I was still in the parking lot when a friend pulled up and honked her horn. It took me a pathetically long time to recognize her. I just stood there in some sort of slack-jawed daze, and at length I responded by waving a timid hand. She drove off, doubtless confirmed in her opinion that I’m a nut.
And so I am. I entered the store, now fully on edge, praying that nobody else would be there. And of course that was not to be. As I was checking out, in quick succession I bumped into two of my very best friends. It was too much. I started to shake and stammer and felt their eyes like pokers burn into the back that I kept carefully turned and hunched. I was in a full-blown panic, and had one of them touched my arm I would have jumped. As it was, I was fortunate enough to escape, quivering, before dizziness and fear could overtake me. So how the hell did it come to this?
A bit of backtracking. On Friday a whole whackload of stress – of the kind that people, in their honest concern and out of a sincere desire to be helpful, always probe the wherefore – came to a head. Here are some of the issues.
I’ve been riding a wave of intense creativity, composing what appears to be some half-decent verse in advance of a full collection. But the effort of doing so (of thinking, concentrating, working out connundrums, even doing basic research) is something I’m incapable of sustaining. Plus, I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Folks around here seem to like my performances, but I really want to write for the page: and my mind is too scattered to allow me to think deeply and abstractly enough to be credible as a poet. This isn’t sour grapes, but an extension of the inadequacy that I’ve demonstrated since day one.
The aforementioned distraction is pure hell. I can’t sit still, can’t focus. I only have the wherewithal to read jejune little Maclean’s articles on the crapper. I haven’t read a book – a real, honest to goodness book – since mid-summer. Mid-summer! How pathetic is that? I used to have two or three on the go at all times. How can I ever go back to school? Assuming there’s a program that would appeal to me, and which would lead to a feasible and remunerative career…. But I digress.
I’m hypersensitive to the people around me, and it seems as if there’s tension everywhere. I do not wish to reveal details, but my nearest and dearest both in the community and at work have unitentionally subjected me to a lot of stressors. They’ve been going through tough times. They also make me feel uncomfortable, through no fault of their own. My morale at work sucks. My boss is great and has been most accommodating. But recently I’ve had a lot of difficulty sticking with punctuality, partly because I live in a weird, aleatory, timeless world, partly because I’m finding it harder and harder to be functional in the workspace.
A Cluttered World
And why would that be? A vicious circle, ratcheting stress ever upward. Historically, I’ve always had difficulty functioning in work environments. This difficulty has got to the point where I cannot, in fact, work unless I know there is nobody in the immediate vicinnity. I’ve mentioned this before. But it’s more than that. It’s fully environmental. The lights in the workplace are too bright, the sounds too loud. And (though perhaps I shouldn’t mention this), I’ve never felt comfortable at any time, in any circumstances, with any of my co-workers.
Various Paranoias, Work-Related
Then there’s the nature of the work. It’s hard to reconcile what I’m doing now – I’m a dishwasher, folks – with my former white-collar aspirations. My primary source of income is Disability. I defy you to imagine a circumstance whereby I won’t end up in some Dickensian nightmare nursing home. I’ve tried to do more ambitious things at work: helping with catering, doing the soups and the muffins. But it never worked. I’ve had breakdowns in the kitchen, classic social anxiety crumbling, in the face of instruction and supervision. It doesn’t matter that the boss is a good friend. I have not ever, at any time in my life, been able to multitask or think past the step I’m working on. FML.
Social media is messing me up, big time. I have a bit of an addiction to it. Well, quite a large addiction, and this is one of the worst stressors I feel at the moment. And what the hell: in the spirit of disclosure, I’ll admit to my two other issues: problems with food and hypersexuality. Of the three, I find the use of the computer the hardest to manage because I’m fully and completely mired in the Facebookiverse. So much so that I feel nauseous and sweaty-palmed as I try to make my way through my news feed more quickly than updates can come in. And woe betide me if the chat window should pop open! Between the ticker and chat, I’m like an air traffic controller jacked on amphetamines. The food and the sex thing I’ll leave be for now. Neither has got me into trouble recently. I’ve temporarily disabled Facecrack, and I’m actually feeling a sort of withdrawal.
I have to go out during the day, despite the fact that my natural inclinations damn near command me to be active at night. At night – and especially alone at home during the night – I feel what you might call normal. Our circadian rhythm slows us down naturally as part of the sleep cycle. This slowness brings me down to your daytime level of activity. What provokes torpor in you provides me with simple relaxation, something impossible during the day. And then there’s the fact that sunlight is often too bright, illuminating far too much in the Jackson Pollock world I live in. I rely on the darkness to hide things, to filter out disturbances in my perceptual field. Sadly, I also love the sunlight and feel claustrophobic at this time of year (more below).
And as for sound…. Sound is becoming increasingly painful, and perhaps one day it will be intolerable. It’s wretched, because this is a town that runs on music. Many of my friends are musicians, and all of my friends are music-obsessed. I used to be, yet I’ve listened to music only sporadically in the past two years. I doubt I will ever attend a concert again. But that’s gravy compared to the bigger issue of day-to-day navigation. Traffic noises used to disturb me, but now even regular automobiles cause me to jump and tremble as they pass by. Semis gearing down or using air brakes, car horns, loud motorcyles, the bloody factory whistle they installed on top of the Tourism building – all put me in a full-on panic and rage. Hence another reason for going about at night when things are fairly quiet. This evening I bought foam ear plugs from Shoppers Drug Mart. They’re good for 33dB. Not much, but I hope they’ll dampen things sufficiently for diurnal egress. If not, I’ll go as far as I must for silence – all the way to industrial headphone-style ear protectors. I’ll look like an idiot. But I feel like one already.
President’s Choice Memories of Trauma
As the stressors combine and snowball, I am now becoming exceedingly easy to frighten. My amygdala is pissing me off, as I can’t walk down the street without feeling like I am back at school and about to get the snot beaten out of me. Anyone who may be a threat is assumed to be one. Given that Owen Sound is pretty rough and tumble, that means that I perceive a lot of threats. Every butcher-boy faced, baseball-capped lout on a stolen bike; every male entering, exiting, or in the vicinnity of the Harb or the Coach. I’ve frequently had to stop dead in my tracks and prevent hyperventilation. ‘Nuff said.
I’m having huge difficulties dealing with separation from my son. On this I shall say nothing, other than that it constitutes a suffering I never thought possible.
I Love You So Much I Have to Run Away
For the first time in my life I have a posse of friends. It’s a safe bet that almost all of you take the fact of having friends for granted. I cannot, for I have never really known what it meant to have more than one or two people in my circle at a time. And yet, and yet…. Just as a large city would overwhelm me (for which reason I am content in a town with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants), I think my friends are overwhelming me. I love them so goddamned much, but I’m feeling burned out. I don’t know if I have the stamina for social activity. It’s just like sound, light, trying to function in an enclosed space, trying to work in the presence of others, and Facebook. So much going on; even if I go nowhere and see nobody for days, my head is positively aswim with social stimulus. People simply drain me. The feeling of weariness you carry across the threshold as you come home after a hectic day is the feeling that I, knowing I must interact with even well-disposed individuals, have as I leave the house. Hence my assertion that I can never, under any circumstances, live with a romantic partner (or anyone else). I despise myself for it, for I truly, truly love people. And of course, a major reason why I’m unemployable.
Happy Birthday to Me
That said, the final provocation came on Friday when, in addition to all of the above, it was bandied about that some friends were planning a birthday dinner for me. I cracked. The period between November and January is one I thoroughly abhor. I despise everything to do with it, including my birthday and Christmas. Most of my hospitalizations and cutting happen at this time. Call it Seasonal Affectivity Disorder, call it the memory of my dad’s epic boozefests, call it the realization of incipient mortality (there’s a reason why more people commit suicide around Christmas than at any other time). It’s hard enough for me to attend social gatherings in general, and parties in particular; parties for me are just about unthinkable. I would enjoy a modest, “spontaneous” gathering of a few of my nearest and dearest in an intimate setting (the evening we planned for one of my friends before he left for a monastery in Toronto comes to mind), yet the moment plans are openly discussed, I become ill. I really don’t know what to do, because I desperately want to do something for my birthday… but what? And how? And I haven’t even mentioned the discomfort of receiving gifts.
Enough Already – You’re Depressing Us
And there’s more. But you don’t need to know the specifics. It’s late (early!), I’m exhausted, and I apologized as best I could to my friends from the supermarket via electronic means. It took me almost seven hours to calm down enough to write this, and I’m thankful at least that I can communicate this way.
Facebook, however, is off-limits.