Where Expressing Yourself and Flipping Your Lid Diverge
"Just be yourself," they told me.
My concerns were growing by the minute. I couldn't get one laugh during a three hour social interaction. I didn't try. Nothing even occurred to me. My impulses were buried deep in the ground, farther than the shallow grave my grandfather was plopped in. It wasn't that I felt fear or restricted; I felt nothing. No inspiration, no compulsions, no personality. I wasn't me. Depression made me not me.
"Okay," I said, hands on my knees. I looked around. "Nothing's happening."
Because the truth is that many of us don't wear masks, rather hormones, experiences, and circumstance shape who we are. Those things constantly change, even moment to moment. I claim over and over that if you get me in a room filled with people, I'm going to be paying attention to them. Their needs. How am I coming across? Whose feelings am I hurting? Are they okay? Is there something I can do? What would be interesting to them? What's the guy in the corner going to do? Oh, please God don't come over here. What is he doing with his hand? Oh, a handshake. Right. That's a thing normal people do.
You can rightfully chalk it up to social anxiety, but that's somewhat my point. Your personality changes because of fear - or any mood you're experiencing at that time. Even if you have a pretty healthy relationship with the external world, the stimuli you witness is going to change your reaction. It doesn't matter if that reaction is an excited share of energy or fear induced chills. You get into a room by yourself and you may, like me, change your thoughts from the people around you to, "How do I paint things to be shinier? Do I need a gloss? Or do I just need to paint better." Or you might say, "Remember that time in fifth grade I made Julie Burgess cry?"
People's thoughts change based on their location, even if there's not a considerable difference in population. Pay any attention and it just seems obvious it would. Colors, ambiance, food, lack of food, entertainment, noise, etc. we all seek out new environments because of how they change our inner life.
To say that we hide who we are assumes that we know who we are, we are always able to act in a consistent manner regardless of fatigue or mood, and, finally, that we know how to express ourselves.
I'm not much for emoting. It drives people nuts, to be sure, and drives me nuts in multiple ways. Not only do I find living my own life in my introverted, socially anxious way can come off as rejection to those who I don't know, but communication becomes extremely difficult. As an adult, I've learned to feign facial expressions and tones because my default reads as angry. Yes, great skills to grow, but it requires me to think through most of my reactions. How can they be the real me?
"Nothing's happening," is not just a reference to how my instinctive thoughts lost their sense of humor in my darkest hour, but that if I were to behave how I wanted to, I wouldn't be communicating anything at all. Words are hard. Body language is hard. Tone is hard. If I were being me, I wouldn't have forced myself to go out in public. Best case scenario, I'd be home with my imaginary friends, talking to myself in the guise of writing. More likely, I'd be succumbing to the void that is mental illness and not forcing myself to get out of bed at all. Instead of my impulses telling me to say or do a thing, they're telling me DON'T DO ANYTHING EVER.
Over the past year, I've been doing a lot to overcome this chronic weight of apathy, and I'm thrilled to say that it seems to be succeeding. Not necessarily at first - never does, does it? - yet now I'm in the best shape I've been since I was 23 (Almost seven years ago.) One thing I must do, especially when I am in the throes of it, is to try and control my emotions. I'm afraid, I admit, of the disfunctional side of me who comes out every so often. I believe that if I am not on the top of my game at all times, everything goes to hell. A prime example is how easily the results of self-advertising disappear. Gone for a few months, geez, a few unreliable posting, and you lose many of your constants. As someone with a chronic illness, it is terrifying how easy it is to lose momentum and reputation because you are too exhausted to even watch T.V.
Yet, what happens? A friend pulls me aside to give me some "kindly advice" on how he doesn't like me anymore. All because I'm feeling more vocal. All because I'm looking to actually connect with and entertain people rather than just existing alongside them. Obviously, what he didn't like was how I wasn't as submissive to his ideas (as I didn't care about anything), which was disturbing to me.
I got into more drama over these last few months than I ever had before. In each case, I expressed my concerns and solutions as much as I could until something sent me over the edge. And the two times I've blown up in 2019, no one could understand why such a nice, level-headed girl could get so angry... there must be something going on with me.
Which there is, but there always is. And it begs the question, why am I always the one who has to control my emotions?
The answer is (and here's the rub), I don't. Truth is, the ones who don't control their emotions, the ones who have blown up at those around them over and over again until someone lashes back do face the ramifications. They lose jobs left and right, their names being shot down for opportunities they didn't even know they'd been suggested for. They alienate their friends, they have a bad reputation, get fired or chased out, and they create their own ceiling in both social and professional circles. It's actually hard to remember that the low expectations others have for these provokers is actually undesirable. Thinking something must be going on with me in order to break me... Pretty fair to me, actually, even if I don't feel like they're on my side.
My reactions are understandable, damn it!
I struggle with this self-expression on many levels. Not trusting others to find my tastes interesting, not trusting myself to be interesting on my own accord, not knowing what other people prioritize, not knowing how something comes off? Plus, the added bonus we all have to face is that negativity sells. That obnoxious blowhards are interesting. That mean-spirited jokes are ballsy. That a strong opinion is going to contradict someone else's, and that fights are an excellent form of entertainment. Ask any inciting incident.
But, I've gotten better. What I've learned from this experience, I think can tie into everyone else's inability to feel heard: You can't always flip your lid and expect people to respond well, but you can't keep your mouth shut because they won't. Yes, you're going to have to control your emotions. Even the hot-tempered rant that sells needs a cool-minded edit. But you write because you want to bond with others, and you will never do that if you don't indulge who you truly are. It may not come naturally, so take advantage when it does.