This is an aspect of my being that I forget to tell people. I’m not confident. I’m not even faking it. You just can’t embarrass someone who has very little ego beyond rational self-interest. I mean, what are you going to tell them? “You have troll hair.” Yes, and? “And bad breath.” This is something I’m already conscious of, but thank you for pointing out that it’s bothersome to other people so that I can address that. “And I think you’re stupid.” Welcome to the club. I tell myself something similar all the time.
I walk into my psychiatrist’s office, avoiding eye contact with him for the entire duration of the appointment (that’s right, it’s the appointment, not mine) while I sit there and bare my soul. I uselessly fidget with my finger tips and anything near them, but otherwise trying to take up as little space as possible in that room. I spend at least 75% of the appointment staring at the floor while I talk. But especially while he talks. He’s a psychotherapist and prefers his patients relax and lay on the couch facing a wall of pretty things to gaze at. But for a number of reasons, I find myself caught between being too closely reminded of past sexual trauma and feeling like I’m not entitled to actually take up that much space. It’s a trap.
A guy I know who is also a psychiatrist tells me in the middle of a debate, that I never asked him what he thinks of me — what he doesn’t stop and think is I wouldn’t dare solicit for this kind of information from him. Unless I’m 100% certain that I have lost virtually all respect for the person I’m soliciting from, I never ask. The more highly I respect someone, the more crippling my fear of what they really think of me is. It’s a trap.
It’s a trap because if something good happens, I’m not used to it, and good things are things I’m not used to. That makes me feel overwhelmed with anxious feelings that take work for me to overcome. Primarily, I don’t trust good things when they happen to me because they have most often been used against me as a means to an end, and the end is always bad for me. I find myself waiting for the axe to fall as soon as something good happens. It always seems to be when I finally let my guard down and stop waiting for the axe, that the bad thing starts happening. If a bad thing happens right away, it’s a familiar feeling, so I just try to vent my frustration and sometimes disengage because I don’t need the abuse in my life. I feel better over the relatively short term, and I usually accomplish this by getting so mad that I just start writing sarcastic shit that makes me laugh. But I’m not happy experiencing bad things, because I know I deserve to be treated better. That I haven’t been is why I grieve.
I wear sunglasses everywhere I go in public, day or night, so that I don’t have to make eye contact with strangers. This also has the benefit of hiding the bags forming under my eyes from all the time I spend waking up from intense nightmares, they also hide the redness around my eyes when I’ve been very upset (such as immediately after my psychotherapy appointments — ooh, look! This time, they’re mine, because they’ve made me bawl my eyes out). I do look at people from behind my sunglasses, but I frequently tune the rest of the world out by staring in any direction other than another human being, and wearing a set of noise-cancelling headphones (i.e., the International Sign for Don’t Fucking Talk To Me) to make sure they don’t try to talk to me. I learned to do this to cope with being ostracised by everyone in school (and at home), and I used it to cope with being selectively visible while I was homeless. Now I use it to cope with feeling lonely and isolated, although I’m aware that this just isolates me further. It’s all I’ve got.
I warm up when I’m around people in a safe space and I finally take off the sunglasses and headphones (except with my psychiatrist). I frequently crack jokes because I like to share laughter, but it’s also because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and I’m scared that if I am alone with my thoughts in front of people who are talented and smart and social, I’ll just start to feel really fucking stupid and low on myself. There are times when I choose not to speak, during which I actually don’t feel stupid. These are the times I watch my friends’ hands as they play an instrument; or actively listen to other people speaking, sharing their experiences, politics, and knowledge. All of these things are important to me. Sometimes it’s very emotionally overwhelming, and this shows. I try to take up as little space as possible when this happens, and it gets worse if someone else notices.
Writing and photography are helping me learn (and sometimes fake) a sense of confidence. But these are inherently dissociated forms of creative artwork. I don’t have to watch someone read my writing, and a camera acts as a barrier between myself and other people, just like my sunglasses do. I’ve gotten rid of the camera lens that literally allows me to take a portrait from a half a block away if I wanted to (that means I could have taken a macro picture of someone’s nose hairs from across the room, for the sake of perspective). And while I regret the reason why I had to do that (i.e., to pay my roommate’s rent), there’s a deeper and more profound sense of relief, that the only lenses I have left are for taking pictures very close to my subjects (one is a macro lens). I have hopes that these “jobbies” (it’s like a job that’s a hobby, or maybe the other way around) will help me build confidence. Somehow. It’s all I’ve got.