Friday, October 14, 2016

Goodbye, Jackson Hole

by Charley Daveler

I hate looking people in the eye. It encourages them to speak their mind, and their minds are freakin’ bizarre.

Every so often I decide I’m going to be more social! I’m going to smile, speak loudly, meet people’s gazes. On one of these occassions, while I was in Australia, wearing a tank top, a young man—who was probably seventeen but looked like he was ten—stared at the pale whiteness of my chest, and flirted with me by instructing me in proper sunscreen use.

What is this sunscreen you speak of? Why isn’t this in the news!?

I shrugged it off, annoyed, but empathetic. He was just trying to start a conversation, and as a completely socially inept individual, I should understand what it’s like to say stupid things in order to start the connecting process. I can forgive, despite how little I enjoy being told what to do by a prepubescent twit.

Next time, as I headed back to the grocery store, I was being checked out by a female clerk and thought, “Okay! No hitting on this time!” I smiled, confidently said hello, to which she responded by staring at my chest and saying, “I wish I had small boobs!”

And people say anxiety is irrational.

As I research methods into overcoming my fear—re: Google it—I find the answers lacking. Sites advising us how to become more social give tips like being a good listener, but any shy person knows listening, not interrupting, and not talking about ourselves is not the issue. I can sit and absorb what I’m being told like a brainwashed college student who just wants to belong to something bigger than herself. The problem is, getting people to start talking in the first place.

In fact, if you are shy or introverted and want to learn how to be better at socializing, I would make the opposite recommendation. Sure, listen, but you need to be willing to talk about yourself. When asked a question, don’t just answer it in the most perfunctory manner—give details. Be personal. The more you talk and are willing to talk about yourself, the more you inspire ideas in your conversational partner—and encourage them to open up as well. If you seem guarded and unwilling to share, people aren’t going to feel safe being personal back.

Same thing goes for anxiety. As I read up on suggestions to overcome it, it was clear the writer had no idea where I (at least) was coming from, what I was anxious about, or how my brain works.

One thing it encouraged was to live in the present and stop thinking so much about the future. True enough, except that it ignored why I tend to live in the future.

One, the present is boring. A benefit in how my brain takes in information is I pick up on patterns and settings fairly quickly. Once I’ve learned about the “rules” of my situation, there’s not much else to think about. My mind is constantly blathering, and if I don’t have a problem to solve or something to keep it busy, I get truly, agonizingly bored, so I start working on issues that aren’t at hand. Conversation can help, but only true discussion, not bullshit about the weather or something neither of us care about.

But not only that, I’m in chronic pain. Partially from the anxiety itself, of course—fear and constant vigilance is stressful and exhausting and can manifest in physical problems. Yet, it’s not just anxiety because I experience headaches, queasiness, constant need to urinate, and a multitude of other issues even when I’m by myself, happily doing something entertaining, freeing, and without a care in the world. If I stop for a minute, I’m suddenly reminded that my eyes hurt, my neck is stiff, I have to pee… again. It’s been this way for years now. I’m not always in pain, but I’m in pain enough, and when I’m stressed, it’s going to be a lot worse. Sitting back and smelling the roses just remind me, oh, that’s right, I have a migraine.

Most importantly, is the consequences of how my brain works. I say that I pick up on the rules of a situation quickly, but prior to understanding it, I’m a drooling incompetent. When introduced to a new setting in which there are little familiar social cues that I’ve already established, I’ll have moment of complete, unadulterated confusion—and with that, panic. See, I am observant to social rules because they don’t inherently make sense to me. My mind does not take in new visual stimulation based on a need-to-know basis; it strives to take in all the information at once, then throw out what it doesn’t need, and it is very bad at guessing what it needs. So while I’m more observant than most, I am simultaneously absent-minded. I’ll see and remember things that no one else will, yet discard “information” that common sense—the kind that I don’t have—would dictate is important. Routine and building open previous experience allows me to function, come to certain conclusions, yet it takes time. When I’m in a new social setting, I’m very, very disordered and stressed despite it being an every day, non-threatening time.

“Hi! How are you doing?” says the new stranger, stretching out a hand.


By the time you run through all of the options of what he might be doing, he’s been standing there with his arm out for an uncomfortable amount of time. It wouldn’t have been awkward before, but you’ve made it that way.

Unfortunately, it’s not completely irrational. Most people with anxiety are described to be overly sensitive to embarrassment—true enough—and doing the “wrong” thing by shaking is hand when he really wanted you to hand him his coffee, despite being no big deal, can cause deep emotional pain. For days, sometimes. And the truth is, people who, for whatever reason, don’t naturally understand the rules of their own culture tend to do “the wrong thing.” We second guess ourselves frequently, and it's not easy to knock it off.

It’s not that abnormal, but we take it very seriously.

The solution to this? Planning ahead. The reason we spend the time prior to a social situation antagonizing over it is that the earlier we begin to think about the possible “rules” and events, the quicker we can be on our feet. If it occurs to us that he might try to shake our hands before he sticks his out, we’re far, far more likely to respond like a normal human being.

Sunday was my 27th birthday. Par the usual, I made decisions to get the most out of my life, this year especially, and I deeply considered what my life was lacking.

I’ve spent the last few years stressed and upset, succumbing to my anxiety by hiding away and refusing to interact with others. I didn’t lament it. Despite the hurt my ex caused, I never felt lonely when I was with him, having him next to me took away my insomnia, eased a great deal of the need for external acceptance—despite him never accepting me. A year ago, I don’t think I would be willing or happy with the decision to actively pursue a social life. But now, as I reflect on why I so rarely feel crushes, attraction, or a desire to be with someone romantically, I came to a pretty obvious conclusion: I don’t know that many people.

Wyoming is not a state known for its great diversity. It barely has people period. My fifth grade class had six students.

I lived in Los Angeles for five years, but even then I had a limited number of people I interacted with, many of whom I had little choice in being around. Being generally introverted, refusing to leave my house, rejecting invitations to social outings or exploring the world, I didn’t meet new people, I was restricted to the ones I was coincidentally exposed to. I’ve met some of the loveliest individuals in the world this way, and successfully avoided the some of the more awful, but it was still a select sampling. In Australia, I stayed inside most times, and, in truth, there’s less than 25 million in the entire continent; it was pretty much a small town with crocodiles instead of cows in between neighbors. Well, cows too, to be fair.

People ask me why I’m going to New York City. Telling my plans has been very similar to telling them I’m a writer.

“Are you now?” they say. “Well, I hope things go as planned.”

What plans?

Certainly derision may be imagined by my overly sensitive mind, but I think any author has had a moment in which, explaining their career or their aspiration for one, someone took a satisfying moment to judge them for it. There is definitely a vindictive glee in seeing someone pursue a dream and fail, and it makes writers not want to discuss their plans with strangers.

What am I doing in New York? Meeting people. Gaining options. Living in a town where I can find a spool of thread and a paint brush within a 50-mile radius.

Two weeks ago, I attended a memorial to a man taken far too soon. He was a vibrant personality, a fearlessness to him. He made me, and many others, feel welcomed, comfortable, and cared about. The speeches at the funeral discussed the hardships he experienced in being himself, but his refusal to stop and adhere to certain social expectations that others imposed on him was one of his greater traits.

Ever since I moved to Australia, I had to consider things I was willing to give up. It is a truly isolated landmass, costing thousands of dollars for a plane ticket out. Fifteen hours to return to America. I had never seen the Grand Canyon. I would never live in New York City. I couldn’t buy a motorcycle and tour bookstores across the U.S, go to New Orleans at Mardi Gras, see Niagra Falls, or Disney World. Not without costing an arm and a leg. As I knew being with him would mean sacrificing things I craved from a relationship too.

This summer, I skipped going to a stage-combat class due to being tired, a movie night because I was afraid of the awkward silences. I thought I would have the opportunity to do it again… but then, the man who invited me passed away unexpectedly. I thought I had all the time in the world to see him again… and I just didn’t.

The potential loss of these things combined. After breaking up with my ex and returning to America, I feared time wasted. It had only been two years, and I don’t know of anyone that I would have preferred to be with. But it took me so long to know who he truly was, to tell the difference between getting to know someone and having them drag in their feet, I grew scared about time. To meet someone, fall in love, be confident in who they are, plan for the future and make that future happen, it all took time.

And when I’m upset, I work on solving future problems. But I didn’t know what the future held for me. Where would I be, where would I work, who would I know? So I turned to Fate and asked it to give me a sign. I said, “At one o’clock tomorrow, show me what I should do.”

I planned on taking a few hour road trip to visit a friend. My mother—who I had sold my car to when I moved to Australia—had occupied the vehicle to do some errands. In a pure moment of stress, I raced to help her finish what she needed so I could leave. When I finally got into the driver’s seat, I looked at the clock—“1:03”—and thought, “I still have plenty of time.”

I didn’t make the connection until six hours later when I tried to remember what occurred at my designated sign.

As I turn 27—which less be honest, is pretty much thirty—I begin to think about using my time most wisely. Not on Facebook, letting myself be enraged by hatred and helplessness, but creating, living life, and exposing myself to new people. I’m sick of being afraid. It’s a waste of time.

So I finally leave to NYC like I had been wanting for five years now, with a violin, sewing machine, and temporary plans, asking myself the same question everyone else wants to know. Why New York?

Well, why not?

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