Friday, June 19, 2020

Run, Rabbit, Run

I'm an introvert with severe social anxiety. Untangling where one begins and another ends is quite a task, but the primary difference is that when my introversion is driving, I can do the thing, I just don't want to. When the social anxiety kicks open the door and gets behind the wheel, I absolutely cannot. I stand at the threshold of my front door with tears springing to my eyes because I'm dreading what's about to happen. Sometimes I can force myself outside. Most of the time, I can't.

Thankfully Pokemon Go has been helping me through the anxiety from social situations and more by giving me the ability to go outside with a handy-dandy distraction to turn to should things get too overwhelming. As I continue to leave the house and then return without encountering any sort of confrontation or danger, it's getting easier. It's also giving me the space to sit down and reflect on exactly why the idea of even having friends over sends me into a tight-chest-can't-breathe spiral.

It's all too easy to cling to misanthropy as an excuse. But the real reason is that I am 100% convinced that everyone is going to hate me on sight. With very, very few exceptions, this is how my life has gone. I've learned that my neurodivergent behaviors and mannerisms are only accepted by other neurodivergent folks, so when they're around, great -- but otherwise, people don't understand, and thus I end up getting yelled at, bullied, and just generally rejected.

It happened at a software development conference I attended last year. I had built up the courage to go and be social. I was mid-conversation with someone when out of nowhere, another person walked up and after listening to me for a couple of seconds, started tearing down literally everything I said and did. I ended up fleeing the conference in tears and didn't come back for a couple of days and not without a serious outpouring of support from a handful of friends who convinced me it'd be safe. But I spent the whole time looking over my shoulder, terrified that The Person would resume their attacks, ducking behind pillars and dropping my head anytime I saw them in a crowd.

Maybe it seems like overreacting to most people. But between the rejection sensitivity dysphoria, the anxiety, and the fact that this is nowhere near the only time I've been singled out or made vulnerable to harassment because I am the Weird Kid, it was enough to make me swear off any tech conferences not catering to neurodivergent or disabled folks.

My childhood sucked. Everywhere I turned, I was met with a complete lack of understanding. When I couldn't conform to someone's ideas of how a "proper young lady" should behave -- swearing too much, talking too much, fidgeting too much, not having the right interests, just to name a few of the things that still swirl around in my head -- I got shamed. It wasn't just the kids in my class, either. It was the neighbors, family members, parents of other kids, and teachers. Adults were some of my worst tormentors while I was growing up.

If I was lucky, it was "only" emotional abuse. Otherwise I'd get punched, kicked, slapped, pushed downstairs, have my stuff stolen or broken... one time a group of the popular girls at my junior high got together to try and get me expelled and arrested by claiming I'd made bomb threats. I obviously had done no such thing, but who's easier to believe -- the kid who acts strangely and keeps to themselves all the time, or the kid who everyone hopes their kid will end up like?

Eventually I started wondering why, if nothing was wrong with me, did it seem to happen everywhere I went, every time I tried to communicate or socialize? The few supportive individuals in my life -- by few, I mean literally could count them on one hand and still have fingers left over -- kept insisting the problem wasn't me, it was the others who just didn't get it and didn't care enough to try. But the repetition of these social nightmare scenarios ended up convincing me that:

1.) Everyone judges me on sight.
2.) Everything I say pisses other people off.
3.) People want to hurt me.
4.) I can't conform, so it's better to just stay away from other people.
5.) I can't do anything right.

Pictured: the most unlovable little asshole you'll ever meet hyperfocusing on her books like a weirdo. Zero stars.

It's not a matter of low self-esteem. My self-esteem is in the deep negatives. If negative TREE(3) exists, it's somewhere around there. It affects everything I do. It affects my ability to have friendships or acquaintances, to meet new people, and to go off on my own to do the things I want to do.

It means that I don't understand why my husband loves me -- no, scratch that, I don't understand how he can love me. I don't understand how the people who insist they are my friends could possibly want to be around me. I assume that I'm going to embarrass myself the minute I open my mouth, or worse, embarrass everyone around me. When I accompany my husband to one of his company's events, I'm afraid to even shift in my seat lest someone notice me, I make a mistake, and then I make him look bad.

The truth is, I'm probably doing everyone a favor by making excuses to not hang out -- although the current pandemic is a damn fine reason to stay home, alone -- because I am convinced that the more time I spend around someone, the more chances I have to fuck everything right up and make them hate me.

And yet if a friend came to me and told me all of this, I would absolutely burst into tears and want to hug them and make them feel better and tell them that they're fine. It breaks my heart to see other ADHD folks go through the same thing because It Should Only Be Me. I deserve it, after all.

But it's hard to talk to other adults. I'm 33 and still stuck at 16, mentally and emotionally. We lived next door to our neighbors for two whole years before I finally got up the courage to leave a note under their door mat telling them their garden was really gorgeous (it is) and that I was grateful to them for maintaining it. They seem like nice people. We wave and say hi to each other now every time we see each other in the yard. They even invited me and my husband to come over once it's safe to do so.

I'm terrified every time. Terrified that this is the time I'm going to say or do something that will let them in on the fact that I'm Not Normal and then they will hate us and whisper about us and we'll have to leave this house all because of me.

Sometimes, when I stumble across a particularly cool person, like any of the folks I met on the way to or at Anxiety Tech last year, and they follow me on social media, I end up checking every so often to see if they've decided to unfollow me yet because they've found out that I really just suck and I'm annoying and they can devote their time to much better people. I don't really know how to make and keep friends. In kindergarten I walked up to the first person who seemed interesting and said "Ok, we're friends now."

Spoiler: she thought that was a weird thing to do or say, so we were not actually friends.

I want to go outside. I want to talk to friends -- energy levels permitting, of course -- and meet up with some of the neat Denver-area developers I've come across on Twitter. But that requires putting myself in a position where I could end up hurt again, like I have nearly every time I've done so.

So I guess I'll just play videogames by myself again today.