Anxiety in Learning, and People Who Refuse to Understand

How do you explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t understand it? How do you open a discussion about how you’re feeling, when the other person is sitting across from you in judgement, and telling you that you’re wrong? These are questions I asked myself this week, when I had an encounter with a friend that left me feeling frustrated for those very same reasons.

I do not have anxiety in any diagnosed sense. But, like every other person in the world I’m sure, there are certain things that do make me incredibly anxious. I find being in crowds acutely uncomfortable. Meeting new people either turns me into some kind of overly expressive, unintentionally aggressive(ly energetic) person, or into a silent, dismissive, seemingly moody person who can’t make conversation. But another thing that makes me feel anxious is learning from other people, one on one.

I like to teach myself things, for a few reasons. Firstly, I am as stubborn as a mule. I like tackling challenges – despite often getting a little overwhelmed by them – because I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after completing something that I spent time and effort on. Of course, this doesn’t always mean it’s an effective way to learn; my lack of musical ability (despite trying to teach myself various instruments over the years) is a testament to that. The other major reason why I enjoy trying to teach myself things as opposed to learning a skill from another person, is because I hate feeling like I’m stupid. And as silly as this might sound, learning new things can make me feel incredibly stupid.

See, the thing about learning from someone else, is that somewhere in my brain there is a little voice that tells me that the teacher is judging my inability to do ‘the thing’. And even though I know realistically they’re not thinking that at all, I can’t help but feel awkward when I’m learning something new that I haven’t yet mastered. It’s one of many reasons why starting a new job makes me nervous. The idea that I might not get it right, that I might take too long to learn, that the teacher might get frustrated with my questions and think I’m an idiot…these are all factors that contribute to the feeling of anxiety and inadequacy. I like to learn in solitude, where no one can witness my inevitable mistakes, and where it doesn’t matter how long it then takes me to fix them. Learning from someone else can come with a level of pressure that doesn’t come from teaching yourself how to do something.

I was trying to explain this to my boss the other day. I said learning new things can sometimes make me feel stupid, and his exact verbatim response was “Well, you’re wrong, but ok.” There it is. You’re wrong. With those two words, he managed to simultaneously belittle me, and prove my point. When I tried to further explain what I was talking about, he cut me off and told me that it didn’t make sense, and that feeling like that was weird and “not normal”. Which brings us back to my original question; how do you explain a feeling to someone who is determined not to understand?

There are always going to be people who think you’re weird for feeling a certain way. There are always going to be people who don’t understand. I usually try to avoid having to have those conversations, but in this case it was unavoidable. I guess at the end of the day, I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, and I certainly don’t need to justify how I’m feeling, especially not to someone who refuses to understand. But, I can get mad about it and vent on my blog. Have any of you ever had that experience? Have you ever struggled to explain how you’re feeling to someone else? Tell me your stories!

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How I Awkwarded Myself Into Buying a Giant Cup I Didn’t Want

Do you ever walk away from a situation cringing internally about how awkward you were? It happens to me pretty regularly. Honestly, if I ever need inspiration for an awkward character, I need look no further than my own reflection. My entire life is a string of humiliating experiences and cringeworthy encounters.

Today I had a day off, so I drove down to a nearby cafe. I stop into this particular cafe from time to time because they make an excellent soy hot chocolate, and you’d be surprised how difficult it is to get a good one in the town I live in. I walked in with a firm idea in mind regarding what I wanted. See, in addition to my takeaway beverage, I wanted to buy one of the reusable cups they sell. I eye off the display every time I walk into the cafe, and keep intending to buy one, so today I thought I would.

I approached the counter and placed my order for a large soy hot chocolate, and then enquired about their cups and I said I would like a black one. This is where the miscommunication, and my inability to clearly explain myself threw a spanner in the works. See, I wanted a small cup. My daily takeaway beverage is a chai, and I only ever have a small because too much sugar sets me teeth on edge. The small size in this particular brand of cup is perfect for what I wanted, and it never occurred to me that there would be sizes other than the small and medium cups on display.

My mistake lay in ordering a large hot chocolate. My intention was to buy my larger drink, and then also buy a small cup. Instead, the girl interpreted it as me wanting my hot chocolate IN a large cup. She told me they had no black cups in the large size, and indicated to a blue one instead. Instead of explaining that I only wanted a small cup, I got flustered by the unexpected information and said “a blue one is fine!”

The girl behind the counter then disappeared to grab one before I had time to correct myself. By the time she came back with a large blue cup, I felt too embarrassed to explain that I really only wanted a small one, and in black. The barista asked if I wanted my drink in the mug, and having resigned myself to buying the large cup, I said that was fine. The girl who served me then said they would need to wash it first if that was the case and I, by now flushed with embarrassment and desperate to not be any more hassle, blurted out “I’ll take it however it comes!” I think I startled the barista a little, and the girl serving me was probably silently begging me to get out of their tiny space in case my awkwardness was infectious.

The thing is, I’m aware that it probably doesn’t sound all that embarrassing but standing there in that little cafe, unable to properly verbalize what I wanted, was absolutely, horrifyingly uncomfortable. The notion of actually asking for a small cup, after the girl had gone to the trouble of getting a large one, felt like I was being a burden, and made me increasingly anxious. Which of course only made the words stick in my throat even more. Go figure.

My cheeks burning red with mortification, I paid for my drink and the mug, and silently stepped away from the counter. While I waited, I considered the fact that had I have just been able to get my stupid brain to work, I’d likely have saved myself $35 and actually ended up with the item I wanted. The giant hot chocolate filled cup came out moments later, and I scurried out the door as quickly as I could. But not before I babbled nervously about how I didn’t mean to make things difficult. So now I can never go back (ok, perhaps a tad dramatic), and I have a massive reusable cup that I will probably never use. Ah well, what’s a socially awkward girl to do?

Disheartened

Lately it seems like every time I try to get ahead, this adult life just keeps dragging me back. I’m living week to week, barely scraping though and hoarding every cent. I pay one bill, three more arrive in my email. I can’t even contribute to the everyday living costs at home yet, because I’m just not earning enough right now. The drama lies in breaking my lease. See, I’m paying rent on a house I don’t even live in anymore, and despite the rental demand, apparently the real estate agent and/or landlord ‘haven’t found a suitable tenant’. The house, mind you, has been on the market for five weeks. Five. Fucking. Weeks.

I’ve been travelling two hours each way to this house I used to call my home, scrambling to get everything done before I had to hand the keys back. I cleaned the entire house three weeks back, and moved everything out into a storage shed two weeks ago. The yard is the final thing, and I went back last week to try and finish it. I didn’t finish it, and have no more time. So now, I have to pay for a gardener to come in and complete it. Which is another cost to add to the every growing list. And still, they haven’t found someone to take over the lease. They’ve had inspections aplenty, because they email me and text me every time they do. So I find it very difficult to believe that they haven’t found someone suitable in over a month. Personally, I think they’re just biding their time because they know legally I have to keep paying rent until someone else moves in. So I expect to be paying rent on this house until well into next year.

It seems every time I move away from my home town, things go spectacularly wrong. Things were bad when I lived in the city, things turned sour when I moved to this new town. I just keep coming back to my home town, time and time again. Part of me wonders if I’m being drawn back for a reason, and another part of me is screaming that I am in charge of my own…fate, if you will. Whatever the reason, I think it’s gonna be a while before I’m brave enough to move away again.

The truth is, I’m just feeling really disheartened lately. For a myriad of reasons, not least being that I feel like I’m being a burden to my dad, who I’ve moved back in with, and the fact that I just can’t seem to catch up. I need a break in my bad luck. I’m not even talking winning the lottery, I’d just like to be able to get some sleep instead of lying awake because I’m so anxious. Or for the real estate to email me today and say they’ve found a tenant. Or, let’s be real, winning the lottery would be kind of awesome.

Alone at a Wedding

It’s official. My life has finally become a bad comedy for real.

Yesterday my friend got married. I was invited to the wedding sans a plus one, because I don’t have a significant other. But I knew that another couple from our old work place were invited, and I always got on with them very well, so I knew I would have someone to sit with, and talk to.

So when yesterday arrived, I got myself dolled up and drove an hour to the venue. I got there and gave my friend a hug (I’m not usually a hugger, but I made an exception because it was his wedding, duh). Then he said the words that made my heart sink. Our other work friends weren’t coming. I didn’t know a single other person besides the bride and groom. I was very much alone, in a room full of strangers. Aaaaand cue my social anxiety.

The ceremony was fine; short and sweet. The bride looked lovely in a simple, yet elegant dress of tulle and lace. The venue itself was a school camp, and despite my initial thoughts upon hearing that, it was actually quite a lovely spot. During all that talking, it was ok to sit there quietly, alone. Afterwards, whilst the bridal party did all the official stuff, another guest came to sit with me and we started chatting. As it turns out, her cousin actually runs the networking event that I attended a few months ago, and we had a laugh about a few remembered moments from the night in question. She was quite a character, and I enjoyed talking with her. But when it came time to go inside for dinner, she and her husband were seated far away from me, and I was put on a table with a bunch of middle aged strangers.

The meals were brought out – a serve yourself kind of deal, with roast meat and vegetables – but my stomach was churning and I was unable to eat. Which of course only served to draw unwanted attention, as people questioned why I wasn’t eating, and then cast sideways glances at me while they all conversed. I could read the looks on their faces, and practically hear them thinking how strange and rude I was. I attempted conversation with a few guests at my table, but none were particularly interested and I fell into sitting in silence.

My friend did come to chat to me a few times, but it was his wedding and he had many other people to talk to, so I didn’t want to monopolize his time. A couple of the groomsmen also came to chat a little, but for the most part I sat there very much alone, one of the few single people in a room of couples, and groups of friends. Am I glad I went, to celebrate the wedding for my friend? Yes. Did my solo presence stick out like the proverbial sore thumb? Absolutely. Was I acutely uncomfortable and anxious? You bet your ass I was.

Weddings are not traditionally events that one attends alone. They are a celebration of the very nature of being in a relationship. And there I was, sitting like the loser in every bad comedy you’ve ever watched. The only difference is that my actual life doesn’t come with that story arc and happy ending!

Honestly, it was a lovely wedding and I’m so very happy for my friend and his new bride. But I don’t think I’d be in a hurry to repeat the experience.

Behind Closed Doors

I almost started this post with “the problem with anxiety and depression is…” but the truth is, there isn’t just one problem. There’s about five billion. So, let’s begin again.

When an outgoing and gregarious friend unexpectedly tells you that they’ve been to see someone about anxiety and depression, it kind of knocks you for six. It’s easy, you see, to look at someone’s outward personality and assume everything is ok. It’s easier still, to not even consider the possibility that they may not be ok, because they’re not the kind of person you readily associate with the black cloud of mental illness.

Anxiety and depression can affect anyone. In fact, statistics show show that 1 in 4 Australians will experience anxiety, whilst 1 in 6 will experience depression at some point in their lives. That’s a fucking lot of people. And, unlike a physical ailment that can be fixed with a bandaid, mental illness is not so easily remedied. It’s all consuming and bleak and confronting, and there’s no easy fix.

I’m a ‘suffer in silence’ kind of person in most aspects of my life, so I can understand why it’s easier to pretend things are ok than to tell people that you’re having a difficult time. Why it’s easier to lock the bad things behind a door and pretend it doesn’t exist than talk about it, or face the hard reality of it. And that’s why it’s never a good idea to simply assume that someone is ok.

Ask. Check in. Be there to lend a shoulder, or an ear, or to just sit in silence. Because you never know what’s going on behind closed doors.

Little Anxieties, and Experiencing Life

I don’t have anxiety. Not in the diagnosed sense, and not warranting any kind of medication to alleviate. What I do have are moments of anxiety, which I think everyone has. Having anxious feelings is surely part of the emotional spectrum that comes with just being human, right? Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and how those little moments of anxiety affect the decisions I make. Or don’t make, such as it is.

If someone were to give it a name, at a stretch it could be said that I have a mild social anxiety. Being in unfamiliar situations makes me uncomfortable, and I’m rarely content around other people, particularly those that I don’t know. Large crowds – and small ones – have a tendency to make me nervous, and I am much happier just hanging out with a small handful of people that I know, and have spent time with before.

I was thinking about my holiday. Except for the two nights I hung out with my friends that live in Tassie, I spent my nights in the motel room, watching The Knick, or writing, or sewing. And that in itself isn’t a bad thing. But all I ate for dinner in the motel during that week, was crackers and dip. I know, I am a poor excuse for an adult. The thing was, the microwave in the room nearly exploded the first night I was there, so I couldn’t heat anything. And in my defence, I really did try to get proper food for dinner. But every time, I was thwarted by crowds.

I made trips in to the city centre for food four times. Four times I looked up places to eat, or got a recommendation. And four times, I went in my car and navigated my way there. And four times, I couldn’t face the front door without unease. The fish and chip place on the wharf was so packed with people that I got in my car and turned right around as soon as I found a parking space. Similar situation with the pizza place I tried the second night. And the supposedly excellent Italian restaurant that offered takeaway was closed when I went to check. It was only on my last night in Hobart that I actually succeeded. I put aside my nerves, walked right into the pizza place I had tried earlier in the week and made an order. And I ended up back in the motel room with one of the nicest (if priciest) pizzas I have ever eaten.

I do a similar thing when I eat at restaurants that I’ve never been to before, with an unfamiliar menu. For example, whenever I have Asian food with friends, I tell them to order me something because I have a terrible fear of pronouncing something wrong and making a dick of myself. It’s only when I become familiar with a place that I start to order things for myself. I’m not a big fan of ordering drinks at a bar, and I’m the absolute worst when it comes to making decisions when I’m around other people. And off the food topic, there have been many times when I have wanted to check something out, or do an activity, and have ended up leaving it because I can’t face up to doing something unknown on my own.

I feel like I am probably missing out on a lot of cool things, simply because I get myself too worked up into a state of nerves at the prospect of potentially making a fool of myself. And the thing is, that’s all entirely in my own head. That fear of being judged for doing or saying something wrong is completely unfounded, and I am aware of that. Most people aren’t even paying me any attention, much less watching to see if I make a mistake. But I can’t seem to get past that momentary anxiety in the moment. I need to take a leaf out of my best friend’s book. He is going on a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in May, and we are discussing his trip via text as I write. It’s going to be a total culture shock, and he has already planned all the awesome things he is going to do. It is going to be a completely new experience for him, and instead of standing on the precipice of mild discomfort at the thought of all that different, he is going to throw himself wholeheartedly into it. And rightly so!

Don’t get me wrong, I love new things. I love trying different food, and exploring different places, and finding out what different things result in the best orgasm. I do a lot of day trips on my own when I get the time, and indeed my trip to Tasmania was a solitary one. But I think I allow my small anxieties to get in the way of having really fulfilling experiences. And I would like to change that. When he first mentioned he had booked his trip, my friend asked if I would go to Vietnam (at some point, not to join him on his trip) and I said, honestly, that I would. Because as I said, I love having new and different and exciting experiences. But I think, despite being a pretty solitary person in general, that overseas travel is something I would like to do – at least at first – with someone else. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that a life lived in fear is not really a life fully lived. After all, how can one really enjoy all the wonderful things life has to offer, if one is too busy being nervous about the unfamiliar?

I’m not big on personality overhauls, mostly because I think it’s impossible to change who you are. But there’s nothing wrong or impossible about changing smaller aspects of your personality. So I’m setting a goal for myself. My trip to Tasmania was the start, but I want to do things, without my moments of anxiety stopping me. I am going to try and do things outside of my comfort zone; really put myself out there, and throw myself into life’s experiences. My best friend has inspired me, so I’m gonna make him proud. You watch, I’ll be a thrill seeker in no time!

Tiny Positivity in an Otherwise Miserable Fortnight

My life is in the midst of falling spectacularly to pieces. I haven’t even been living in the city for a month, and already I’m missing home. And you know things are bad when I actually miss the town that had me feeling so stunted and stuck. I can’t work out if it’s just the adjustment period, or the bad headspace, or if it’s the combination of all the little things that have built up and turned into something so much bigger. Perhaps all of these things together attribute to this mess of mine.

It’s been a bad couple of weeks. I’ve been waking up every day to a wretched combination of existential dread, and depression, and it makes getting out of bed exponentially harder. I can’t shake it, so instead I have to go to work and feign normality and if not outright happiness, then at least some modicum of mild contentment. This week they finally got me into my new shop, which should have been awesome. But after a few days of drama, unnecessarily irate customers, the worst set up in the history of shop openings, and technical difficulties that make my job incredibly complicated and inconvenient, I can’t say it’s been a super thrilling ride thus far. The plus side is that the shop is new, I’m working on my own, and I can set it up how I like. The downside is that a franchisee if buying it in November, which means all my hard work is for the benefit of someone else. And to make matters worse, I just got out of the creepy, poorly organised shop that messes with my head and had me in tears last week, only to be told that when the franchisee takes over, they’ll put me back there six days a week. My increasingly fragile mental state might not be able to take it.

And then there’s those technical difficulties I mentioned. In addition to the troubles at work, a couple of weeks ago my laptop decided to stop cooperating. The dreaded black screen of death reared it’s ugly head, and I’m left with a laptop full of writing that I can’t access. It’s frustrating, especially for a creative person like me, who relies on being able to create to keep herself sane. My best friend/hero/emotional saviour is sending me a laptop to keep me going, so I have that to look forward to. I just have to work out a way to extract my hard drive from my poor defeated Atticus so that I can salvage my work. And if that wasn’t enough, yesterday my phone died with the same problem. With no explanation, it simply refused to turn on past a blank screen. So there goes all my photos, recordings, messages and phone numbers. I spent a larger portion of yesterday trying to set up a new phone but the inconvenience was certainly enough to make me throw my hands up in frustration.

In amongst all of this is trying to navigate the city (I’ve been lost a lot), working out how to happily live with someone else, trying to organise my one day off into some small measure of productivity and the underlying anxiety about uprooting my entire life for the possibility of something better that had, thus far, been very far from my expectation.

But despite all this, there is some light ahead. I woke up today and for the first time in two weeks, I didn’t feel like burying my head under the covers and hiding forever. The sun is out and there’s a real feel of spring in the air today. A hint of positivity peeked out from where it had been hiding and I am ready to tackle this day, and anything that comes with it. I’m hoping that this is the start of an upward curve. No pressure, Little Positivity. You just get me through today and I’ll be content.