i recently got another letter from someone who said that she found me somewhat intimidating. i hear this all the time. constantly. probably the number one way that someone would describe me if asked is to say, “ciara xyerra? well, she’s really intimidating.” i’m not offended by this. i don’t think it’s meant in an insulting way. but i am just a little bit confused. i have a hard time understanding what exactly is so intimidating about me.
i talked the issue over with a friend recently, & she may have shed some light on the problem. she explained that i have a tendency to state my viewpoints in a really confident manner. in fact, i am sometimes so confident that it seems like i am unwilling to listen to differing perspectives. she said that i tend to portray my opinions as truth & i seem unlikely to brook dissent. i realized that she’s right–this probably is how i come off. i AM really confident about what i think & feel, as a general rule, & i’ve never seen the point in acting any less sure of myself than i actually feel. i think this is the product of reading one too many articles about how women are conditioned to express insecurity in their opinions, lest they appear to be bitchy, hostile ballbusters. i was like, “fuck that noise! i know i’m not a bitchy, hostile ballbreaker, so i’ll be as confident as i want to be & anyone who has an issue with it is obviously sexist!”
which, you know…i think there’s a lot of validity to that idea. i think sometimes even other women aren’t that comfortable with a really confident, forthright woman, for whatever reason. insecurity, jealousy, who knows? i’m not a licensed psychologist or anything.
but i am sorry if it sometimes appears that i don’t care about other people’s opinions or perspectives. i am definitely interested in other people’s ideas. i think i am pretty smart & well-read & rational & all the other good things that help a person form opinions on various issues, but i am also big on dialectical learning, which is basically a fancy way of saying “learning from other people”. i am coming to terms with the fact that, emotionally, i am kind of a weird person. i can’t stand extremes of emotion, either positive or negative. i kind of go way out of my way to avoid situations that are going to make me really sad or really angry or really happy. i don’t like to complain, but i also don’t like to express a lot of sincere enthusiasm. & i have trained myself to almost never cry or raise my voice. i am kind of like a vulcan. i definitely have a lot of emotions, thanks to my struggles with depression, but my coping mechanism is to filter my emotions through a prism of utilitarian rationality. i ask myself questions like, “where does this emotion come from? is it useful for me to feel this right now? how can this emotional energy be better spent?” i guess most people don’t do this.
i totally acknowledge that it is therefore helpful for me to talk to more “regular people” & keep in touch with how they see the world & respond to it.
but i also often wish that more people dealt with their feelings the way i do.
i was reading a zine about anxiety issues the other day. it was a big compilation, all kinds of different kinds of writing & art by all kinds of different people struggling with anxiety disorders of various stripes. but a common theme in the zine was this idea that people need to be taught how to deal with a friend who is having some anxiety. one guy was offering tips like, “ask me questions, but don’t let on if you feel impatient or frustrated because that will just make things worse.” i can vouch for the fact that a friend or loved one acting impatient & frustrated by my anxiety struggle does tend to ratchet up the anxiety (save for the times when it pisses me off so much that my anxiety disappears). but so what? that’s MY problem, not my friend/loved one’s. yeah, it would be awesome if they didn’t huff & puff & act like i’m inconveniencing them when i already feel like crap, but let’s face facts. someone having an anxiety attack all over you when you’re just trying to hang out or get out the door or live your life can be really frustrating, & sometimes it’s hard to hide that feeling. & sometimes it’s not such a great idea to hide the feeling because sometimes people use their mental health issues to control the people around them, & acting like you’re totally okay with being their untrained & unpaid mental health professional will only make them seek you out as a “safe person” the next time they’re freaking out.
i think people generally have an obligation to give what they can & no more. everyone has an obligation to be polite & have good manners, but no one should be expected to do more than that. this means, when someone is having an anxiety attack & i can’t handle being around it, i need to find a polite way to extricate myself from the situation. something like, “it seems like you’re having a rough time & i’m thinking you could use some alone time.” or, “it seems like you’re struggling to make this hang-out work, & maybe it’s doing more harm than good, so let’s re-schedule. call me when you feel better.” this is a lot better than waiting until you’re pushed to the limit & then screaming, “get your shit together, you gibbering maniac!” you know?
when i’m the one having the anxiety, i try to say something like, “i’m having a really rough time pulling it together right now, so i think we should probably try to hang out again sometime soon. for now, i just need a little personal time.”
what about people who really need someone to be there when they are struggling? there was a story in the zine about someone walking through the snow & ice to their zine library shift. suddenly they had some kind of panic attack & froze up. they could not physically force themselves to walk. & it was really cold. they needed to either go to the library or go home to avoid physically freezing to death. but they couldn’t. so they texted a bunch of friends until someone was able to come out & find them & take them to a coffeeshop & talk them through whatever was going on.
i can’t say this is anything i have ever experienced…save for a few occasions on which i used my mental health to manipulate someone into spending time with me. presenting yourself as having a mental health emergency & a friend’s presence as a mental health need is a pretty tricky little scam. who can say no to a struggling friend, right? who wants their frozen body on their conscience?
i think, nine times out of ten, that shit is baloney. this person couldn’t walk, not even to preserve their life…but they could text? something doesn’t add up. & they were able to walk once there was a friend there, ready & willing to listen to whatever their sob story happened to be that day? maybe i am just a jaded motherfucker from having one too many friends manipulate me into being their unpaid therapists while they had panic attacks & quasi-suicidal breakdowns in front of me. maybe i just don’t believe it anymore. maybe i take my personal philosophy of not inflicting my mental health on anyone that isn’t paid to listen to me a couple of steps too far. maybe i ask too much of others. but at the end of the day, if you can’t lift those feet & stay alive for the sake of yourself, if you don’t care enough about yourself to do that…why should i care? i need to keep me alive, you know?
i was talking with jessika rae about this & i said, “sometimes, ironically, i think i might actually be kind of a shitty ally to people with mental health issues.” she said, “me too…but i think i’m okay with that. i mean, if the alternative is enabling abusive behavior…”
there’s just such a fine line between co-signing nonsense like “friends make the best medicine” & co-signing actual emotional abuse. i’ve been burned too many times. i don’t know if i’m willing to take the risk anymore.