I wrote most of this in the third person because I can separate myself from it just a bit that way. And in a lifetime of writing personal posts this might be the most personal. Or the scariest to me.
I read about “high functioning anxiety” and other such problems. The people who write these articles are young or young enough to have known the lingo for all or most of their adult lives, maybe even their youth.
If their high functioning anxiety was the result or comorbid or…with another disorder such as NLD (nonverbal learning disorder) it’s even more difficult.
Let me tell you what it’s like for us older people; the ones who half-seamlessly fit in everywhere. The ones who have had ulcers–if we’re lucky, substance abuse problems (and apparently even taking prescribed meds at the prescribed dosage is a substance abuse problem these days), bad or no marriages let alone long-term relationships, and so much more.
We no longer appear needy. Perhaps we never did. Because we didn’t know that we had “high-functioning anxiety” we learned to cut the worst of our “problems.”
“Don’t talk with your hands.”
“Stop playing with your hair. It’s gross.” That one we learned never to do at work or on a date or so many other places. We apologize to our best friends and family if we grossed them out.
We learned to smile often and as wide as we could.
“Just do it!”
“Join the gym. Of course, you can learn everything”
“Why weren’t you at that lecture. So many people to meet.”
“You should have applied for that incredible position. You have the skills; the talent; people love you.”
“Oh, thirteen employers in a row rejected you. Too bad. Keep trying. The job you have now isn’t up to your abilities. You must know that. You must know how much you have to offer.”
Our conversational skills are often superb; much better than most people’s. But then we meet the smug people, the ones who feel superior though they have absolutely nothing to feel superior about. If we’re at our highest comfort level–with trusted friends and family–we ignore them or use our finely honed sarcasm–so honed most of the time people don’t even get it. The ones who do think we’re brilliant.
But if we’re uncomfortable we lose the ability to speak. Or the words that come out of our mouths have nothing to do with the words we planned to say. (I admit I had to dig deep for this one. It’s a long time since I’ve been that uncomfortable).
It’s not routine we crave or even function best in–people have that one wrong. “People” being the psychologists that decide what symptoms fit what disorder.
We crave comfort.
Yet at the same time, being so high functioning and all, we crave the unknown. We crave adventure, travel, moving to other places.
“Oh but you can’t. You’ll get lost. No way could you function normally.”
Nobody told us this even just ten or fifteen years ago so many of us went off on adventures. I’m not talking about tours though those sometimes are wonderful or sometimes a special kind of hell. Or the wonderful road or other trips with friends or family. But trips abroad or even to different states, alone.
We made friends despite our inability to speak to people who didn’t speak to us first. Fortunately, we had learned to have that welcoming smile. And if we lost that smile for the remainder of the trip, there were always things to see. Restaurants to walk into alone.
You know how hard it is for anyone to walk into a restaurant alone? Now think about how hard it is for a person with high functioning anxiety. We do it in Cancun despite the snarky maitre-de who tries to seat us in the back next to the womens room and the kitchen.
“No, I don’t want that table.”
“Sorry, it’s the best we can give you.”
We watch the waiters being oh so solicitous to all the couples, giving them extra food and drink. We get our appetizer exactly an hour after we ordered it. And the main course….and so on….
We must admit that this doesn’t happen most places. Most places the maitre-de and waiters go out of their way. But we always have the memories of the bad times.
And when we were young and by every standard beautiful, the wait staff would do anything for us. Only we were so anxious we couldn’t appreciate the extra service. The Venetian maitre-de who wanted to introduce us to a single man.
We shook outwardly.
We tried covering our face with our hair.
We didn’t smile.
We didn’t answer when spoken to or answered in monosyllables.
Still, we went on.
Because we knew that more than anything we wanted a good full life. And we were lucky. People wanted to know us. We were inexplicably unbelievably “popular.”
How could our friends and family understand problems that we ourselves didn’t understand?
We were so extroverted. We could make almost anybody laugh until they peed.
So why did we shake? Why did our hands tremble? Why did we sometimes have panic attacks that were so bad our doctor would have thought it a heart attack but for the fact that we were 35 and our heart wasm perfect? Been broken a lot but hey that doesn’t count.
Why did we want to blend into the wallpaper when we went to a conference, yet we stood up and told people they were acting like babies and exactly why? We got a standing ovation for that one, and an invitation to apply for a PHD program at the best school for psychology in Manhattan (wink, wink*), but we made up some excuse, ran home, and was so angry we hadn’t gone out to dinner, as asked, with the conference organizers, and the person who invited us…..
We hated ourselves for that one. We couldn’t stop telling ourselves how horrible we were. How we deserved nothing. How somebody should shoot us, and put us out of our misery. No scratch that one, tomorrow was another day, and we had to wake up to see what that day brought.
*Letting fear rule our life, though few people if any realized it, meant that we missed out on so much.
We denied ourselves true success. We denied ourselves true pleasure.
All because we had some stupid neurological problem and high functioning anxiety.
Then the Internet came along, and once more we were popular beyond our wildest dreams. Yet people who couldn’t write as well; people who weren’t as popular went onto “super Internet stardom”, and made money.
We do what we do best. We freeze. We feel like the world’s biggest joke.
We feel like the world’s biggest joke. Because it wasn’t as if we weren’t trying. It wasn’t as if we didn’t have incredible support–we did and we do.
How do we unfreeze? How do we convince ourselves we’re just as talent as the hordes of middle-aged women who claim expertise on subjects, and actually publish books?
We know because so many people have said this, that the content doesn’t matter. It’s finishing and publishing the book that does.
Only to us, it matters greatly.
Is that high functioning anxiety speaking?
Or is it an excuse not to finish?
Sometimes we’re not sure what’s what anymore. We’re getting older. We’ve reached an age where nobody’s opinions should matter but our own.
As we make our way through life we try believing that. But….