Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Sounds of Silence

I’m an introvert through-and-through. I don’t say it as if I’m proud, just more of as a matter-of-fact. People familiar with introvert/extrovert traits know how it goes: being around people or stimulating situations for too long is exhausting. I need a tremendous amount of downtime. I like being alone. I thrive in quiet and peaceful places. Though I love intimate gatherings of close people, I often make up excuses as to why I can’t go out and avoid being in social situations. I’ll regularly retreat back to my room to be by myself even if I’m just at home with family. It’s never really bothered me much. But then a weird thing started to happen. I started to become increasingly anxious when I was by myself.

I think this all started last year after my grandpa died. Except for a short two-month period after his stroke when he lived with us and a year spent living with my uncle and then in assisted-living when his dementia got bad, he lived the majority of the seven years after my grandma’s death by himself. I was always aware that he was by himself. I knew that he preferred to live in his own house and would talk about going “back home” while living with us and even during his stay in assisted-living. He liked his independence which I understood and respected. But not until after his funeral, when I really stopped and thought about it, did I realize how lonely it must be to be by yourself. He was always very social. He lived in a senior community and had many friends and was also involved in his church and had a close church family, so he wasn't completely alone. But at the age of 93, his funeral was small. It wasn't because his friends didn't care; it was because they were all gone.  And that’s when I started to dwell on the idea of what it must be like to outlive everyone you know. He had lived such a rich life. He knew so many people and went so many places and did so many things, and in the end, there were only a handful of people outside of his family that were there to see him off.

The more I thought about it, the more uneasy it made me. Maybe it's because I am the complete opposite of my grandpa. I am not very outgoing, I'm not very social, it takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to establish relationships with people. By my age, my grandpa had already fought a war overseas, praying in foxholes he wouldn't be killed. I was praying to God I didn't have a panic attack on my way to a massage appointment. When I realized that we not only had two different personalities, we had two different life experiences, it eased my mind to know that he had preferred to live by himself because he could handle it. It didn't ease my mind to think that one day I may be in the same situation, but not be able to handle it at all. 

I like being alone, but I don't like being physically alone. I like the choice of being alone. I like being by myself in my room knowing my family is down the hall if I needed them. I don't necessarily need the interaction (though I really do; I thrive on deep, meaningful conversation) I just need to know that they're there in case I ever do.  

One day last year I was home by myself in the middle of the afternoon laying on the floor in the family room, trying to fight off the crushing weight of solitude, and explain away every foreign noise that was coming from every corner of the house, when I started to hear some loud noises outside. I got up and looked out the window and saw some workers in my neighbor's backyard. I suddenly felt this relief come over me. I wasn't entirely alone, there were other people out there. Now I wasn't going to pop my head over the fence and start up a conversation-- I didn't need that, at least not then. I just needed to hear the noise of another person's presence. 

So I laid back down on the family room floor and started to think of Sarah Winchester. And I started to think that maybe she made up the story about the psychic and the ghosts. Maybe there were never any ghosts after her, she was just a widow who didn't want to be alone. Maybe the ghosts she was so afraid of were the ones inside her own head. So she hired builders to work on her house, around the clock, for years, so she never had to live in silence. There were always people around, making noise, keeping busy so she never had to be alone with her loneliness. She was smart enough to know that ghosts only ever seem to appear in quiet, dormant houses. They're not as threatening in houses alive with people and noise. So she did what she could-- she paid people to be around her, making an unrelenting amount of sound. If I was a lonely rich old lady, I would probably do the same thing. But then again, this is just a theory I came up with while in my own solitude. She was probably just a delusional woman made crazy by loneliness.

Regardless of why she did it, I came to the conclusion that I can't let myself be that lady. I don't want to wake up one day when I'm 75 and realize that I'm breaking things in my house just so I can call a repair guy to hang out with for 45 minutes because I spent my twenties isolating myself in my room, being more concerned with coping with my anxiety than I was about forming proper relationships with people. And the thing is, is you can't just form some relationships once and then you're good-- you have to continuously form meaningful relationships throughout your entire life so you're never not without people. Kurt Vonnegut said, "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." I know he's right, and I hate it. 

It's terrifying because this is the thing I'm the worst at, and I'm the worst at so many things. I'm always going to be that introvert who likes downtime, who prefers quiet gatherings over big parties, who relishes in a quiet life. And while I really enjoy being by myself now, I can't be that person who fails to form connections and relationships just because it might be uncomfortable and scary and even a bit exhausting. Because when I no longer have the novelty of always having my family down the hall, I at least want someone in the next room. And I'd prefer it not to be a hired worker building a doorway that goes into a wall.

photo via tumblr

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I've Been Published!

The thing that I thought would never happen has happened. I am a published writer! I was contacted last April to see if my blog post "Where Did Our Clothes Come From?" could be included into a college textbook called Sustainability: a Reader for Writers. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity. I was a couple months away from graduating with a degree in English with intentions of pursuing writing when they emailed me, and it could not have come at a more perfect time. It seemed the closer I got to getting out of college, the more self-doubt crept into my head telling me that I wasn't a good enough writer to pursue it seriously. So to have a college professor (of English, no less) find something I wrote and want to include it into his book, was such validation that I wasn't as bad as the voice in my head was telling me I was. The downside, though, is that I never wrote the post with the intentions of it being published anywhere other than my own blog and therefore wrote it very casually like I do most of my posts. After I gave permission for them to use the article I quickly went back and read it over trying to find and fix all the grammatical mistakes that were sprinkled throughout the article, in vain I'm sure, since they probably had the post already included 'as is' in the book before emailing me. Even since getting a copy of the book, I've never been able to actually read the article myself for fear that I'm going to be overly critical about something I wrote 4 years ago and then obsess about how differently I would have written it now, or how there is a comma where there should have been a semi-colon.

This is where I wish I had known about Grammarly, a website that's like spell check for grammar, sooner. I'm now going to use Grammarly to correct grammar in all my blog posts from here on out since having grammatical errors in your writing is like having food stuck in your teeth: everyone sees it, but nobody wants to be the one to point it out to you. Grammarly is like that friend who not only tells you it's there, but helps you get rid of it so people won't laugh at you behind your back.

The point is, is that I'm over-the-moon that something I wrote was deemed good enough to be in print, even if I am still a bit self-conscious about my writing abilities. The best part about being published in a textbook though, has to be the questions at the end where students have to discuss what I wrote (and even having to do an exercise of going to the mall!).

Sure, I've been self-publishing stuff I've written on this blog for years, but there really is an unexplainable feeling of seeing your name in print and the words you've written in ink on paper. I hope it's a feeling I'll have many more times.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Diluted Experiences

The other night on my way home from work I hit a dog. I was driving through my neighborhood like every other night when out of nowhere I see a ball of fur dart out in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and felt a thud under my right front tire followed by a blood-curdling cry. Oh my gosh, I killed it I thought to myself, frozen in shock. Immediately I looked out my passenger side window realizing the crying was moving away from my car, and I see the poor thing running back up its owner's driveway holding up its left front paw. Holy crap, it's still alive! I couldn't believe it. I thought for sure I had just killed it. I fumbled to get my car in park and get the keys out of the ignition before I was walking up the driveway to where the owner was now holding the dog in the garage. "I am so sorry, is she okay? Is it her paw? I didn't even see her; I am so sorry. I feel so bad." I kept saying over and over. The owner was extremely nice, telling me not to feel bad, that it wasn't my fault, that she ran out in front of me. Still, my heart felt heavy in my chest. Losing two of my own dogs last year, and knowing how awful it is, I did not want to be the reason for someone else losing theirs. The dog was no longer crying, but the owner was saying how he was going to take her in just in case. I kept apologizing until I felt like I may be annoying him, and when I felt like there was nothing more I could do, I got back in my car and went home.

I sat at the kitchen table in a daze, thinking about it, replaying it over and over in my head. I thought about it in the shower, while brushing my teeth, while laying in bed. I kept thinking of the dog's face in my headlights and the sound of the thud. And even though I knew I hadn't killed the dog, that I hadn't been speeding, that I didn't do anything wrong, and even the owner himself told me not, I still felt bad. I felt awful.

Suddenly, my thoughts turned to one of my old co-workers. A woman in her forties who was so nice and so pleasant and whom I liked so much; and how a few years ago she had struck and killed a twenty-year-old guy after he drunkenly ran into the street in front of her car.  Like me, she hadn't been speeding or drinking or doing anything wrong, but unlike me, it wasn't just an animal, it was a person. I had a whole new level of sympathy for her. Here I was beside myself because I accidentally ran over a dog's paw, and the level of guilt I felt must have been a mere fraction of what she went through.

I'm a strong believer in things happening for a reason. Sometimes that reason may just be that you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I believe that God will use these misfortunes for good. Whether they teach us lessons or better our character, I do not think he ever wastes our pain or experiences. I could drive myself crazy thinking how maybe if something were different I would have missed hitting that dog. If I had driven faster or slower, if I had lingered at a stop sign longer. But what if lingering at the stop sign meant that the dog would have been further out into the street and instead of just its paw, I ran over its whole body? The what-ifs are not only endless; they're worthless. It happened how it happened. And that's when I had the thought that maybe God gives me these serious, yet diluted experiences to teach me empathy towards others. That he wants to grow my ability to feel others' pain, even if only in little pieces. He knows that if that had been a person instead of a dog, it would have sent me to a mental hospital. So He handled me with kid gloves because I am a fragile person, but he also knows my ability to feel things deeply is also a gift. So he lets me feel the pain and guilt of hurting a dog so, not only am I more cautious, now I have a memory that I can draw from and tap into when I come across someone dealing with something similar. Because sometimes hearing someone else's story of how they went through what you're going through makes you feel a little less alone. And even more importantly, it makes you look at them differently, now understanding the pain they, too, hold inside.

photo via lomography

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Are Terms of Endearment Actually Endearing?

I asked some of my male co-workers the other day whether or not they use terms of endearment to people they don't know. You know, words like: sweetie, babe, hon, sweetheart. They seem nice enough, they mean nice things, so why do they bug me so much? They answered, "yeah, sometimes." Like it was no big deal and perfectly normal. Really? I asked in disbelief. Why?!

I have never in my life called someone "sweetheart" or "hon" that wasn't meant to be blatantly ridiculous. It feels weird and unnatural coming out of my mouth. Sure, I'll send my best friend an occasional "Hey, sugartits" text but that's besides the point. One of my biggest pet peeves is when anyone under 70, from either gender, refers to me as "sweetie" or "babe". I take it as extremely condescending, even though I know that they probably aren't trying to be. I see these words as something you call a child; so in my book, if you're not an elderly person, knock it off.

My hangup about this may have started when I was 14, and I was an office TA at my school. During my 3rd period, I would answer phones, deliver call slips and do other tasks for the school staff. There was one lady in particular that worked in the front office who I always hated being around because she was mean and acted very entitled. In the adult world, I would describe her as a customer who always complains about something and is never happy with anything. Every time she needed me to do something for her she would address me, "Hey, mija..." which I knew was a term of endearment but it always seemed so fake and condescending coming from her. From then on I always saw these types of words as something people used to sweet-talk you into doing something for them.

My co-workers, all males in their 20s, admitted that they usually say it in a flirtatious, yet harmless, way and are more likely to use it to a person they know they will never see again. Then what's the point? You're never going to see her again, therefore, butter her up nice and douchey? Do you wink at her after you say it, too? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the majority of people who use these words to perfect strangers do it to be nice, but I can't help but get the willies every time they're said to me. I can't be alone in this. Right, babe?

Here is an entertaining list of terms of endearment that people should start using. My favorites are big-daddy-yum-yum, honey-toast, and shabookadook.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Things From Around The Web

 Here are a few links to start off the week:

How to pass time on the train.

What your dog's really thinking.

For all of you who work in retail.

Zoo lets you have a tug-a-war with tigers.

Made me laugh.

What security cameras also catch (try not to tear up).

Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron was a topic of discussion among my co-workers and I this weekend. The story takes about 15 minutes to read, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

                                                       Have a wonderful week!

Photo via alkeemi

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Can't Relate

One of the things that I've asked myself many times while dealing with anxiety is why nobody else ever seems to be dealing with anything. Every time I go out somewhere I can't help but look around and notice how together everyone seems to be. People always seem like they're genuinely enjoying their lives, or if not enjoying it, they at least aren't bothered by it. I asked my mom this once, why everyone else seemed to go about their day without a problem and I could barely function outside of my home. She told me, "Everyone has a cross to bear, people just don't usually show it. Everyone is struggling, you just can't tell. Nobody would ever think you're struggling by looking at you just like you can't tell they're struggling by looking at them." It reminded me of that quote by Plato that says to be nice, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Edit: it has been brought to my attention that Plato never said this, it was actually Ian Maclaren.) I truly, truly believe this. We all have our issues. We all have our crosses. We shouldn't assume anything.

But, with that being said, I find it perfectly acceptable that I can acknowledge everyone is struggling without accepting that everyone understands what it's like to endure our particular struggle. For example, whenever I would confide in someone about my panic disorder, people would tell me about how they or someone they knew deal or have dealt with anxiety. I would feel a sense of relief, letting out an internal sigh and think, they get it, only to have them say something that made me realize that they kind of get it without actually getting it. When people tell you that they understand, they understand their version of your struggle, but they don't understand your uniquely-shaped struggle, and that is where lies the difference.

A lot of people know what it feels like to be nervous, so they understand what anxiety feels like and they use the term interchangeably, which is fine, they essentially mean the same thing, but at the same time it can also lessen the intensity of the meaning. I've heard people say they thought they "were going to have an anxiety attack" before a presentation when really they meant they had some very reasonable nervous jitters before standing in front of a large audience. This reminds me of  Louis CK's bit about over-using words like 'amazing' and 'hilarious'. When 'anxiety' and 'panic' are used to describe very healthy bouts of situational nerves, what word do you use when the feeling of impending doom overwhelms your mind and body to the point where you think you might be losing control of your sanity and it stops you from participating in everyday things? Unfortunately, there is no word for that.

But I digress. This isn't about the terminology surrounding anxiety. This is about when people say they understand what you're going through but don't really or when people try to make you feel better by saying EVERYONE feels like this. But you know that can't possibly be true because you're around people all the time and you watch them do stuff and they do things that you cannot fathom doing yourself and you look at them and think, if you feel like how I feel how can you be doing that? I started noticing this after some people at my work invited me to go to the movies. When I asked what movie they were seeing, they said whatever scary/paranormal/horror movie that was out at the time. I thought to myself, who would ever want to subject themselves to seeing that and purposely make your adrenaline go through the roof? My imagination is crazy enough without a movie lending suggestions of things I didn't even know I should be worried about. That's when I realized that not only could people not relate to me, as long as the Saw franchise was making hundreds of millions of dollars from people like my co-workers who willingly wanted to see stuff like that, I couldn't relate to the majority of people. Then I started to mentally list other people that I can't relate to:

People who read in cars.
People who drink venti frappuccinos with no stomach discomfort afterward.
People who drink any coffee before going somewhere for a long period of time, especially on an airplane or amusement park.
People who have no problem going to concerts and not feeling overwhelmed by the
vast amount of people and noise.
People who have no reservations about trying random ethnic foods.
People who can wear a bra for hours without feeling like they're suffocating.
People who have no problem having a phone conversation in public.
People who enjoy talking on the phone at all.
People who think going to Times Square on New Year's Eve sounds fun.
People who have numerous consecutive boyfriends/girlfriends, especially in a short period of time.
People who really look forward to traveling.
People who can drink alcohol without panicking about feeling lightheaded.
People who can watch horror films or look at disturbing images.
People who have no problem falling asleep while home alone.

But this doesn't mean I don't like these kinds of people, or even need these kinds of people, because I do. I need people who are okay doing the things I'm not because if everyone were like me, we'd all be up the creek and nothing would get done. What I'm saying is that not everyone feels like everyone else, and we shouldn't lie that we do. It's okay to admit you can't relate to what someone is going through. What bothers me might not bother someone else and vice versa. But just because we can't understand, or relate to, or even see a person's struggle doesn't make it any less real or any less valid. And just because someone does something that is our own anxiety trigger doesn't mean they don't struggle with something else that we can do without a problem.  The truth is: we will never fully understand someone else's hang-ups no matter how much we think we do, and nobody will fully understand ours no matter how much we wish they could. The key then is to be compassionate regardless, and to be patient both with people's struggles we don't understand and with those who don't understand ours. But one thing I know for sure: Someone who drinks a venti caramel frappuccino before boarding a plane clearly fears nothing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Film Styles: Frances Ha

How would I describe Frances Ha? Well, it's pretty much an 80 minute episode of Girls. Don't get me wrong, I like Girls and I liked Frances Ha, they just feel very similar. I liked Frances because she made me feel better about myself, like I'm not the only 20-something that isn't a real adult yet. She's a 27-year-old out-of-work dancer living in New York City, trying to figure her stuff out, but she does it in a way that still kind of makes me wish I was her. I loved how she was just so effortlessly herself, if that makes sense. Her hair's a mess and she looks like she just grabbed whatever was lying around and threw it on, but it works. I yearn to be that cool. To throw on a dress and a bomber jacket like I don't even care and people look at you like, yeah, that totally make sense. Here are some pieces that you could add to a Frances-esque wardrobe, but of course, in true Frances fashion all these pieces should probably be thrifted or hand-me-downs and a couple of sizes too big.

Current/Elliot button up, $248
Dorothy Perkins pencil skirt, $21
Bomber jacket, $35
High-top Converse, $55
Black leggings, $15
Topshop floral dress, $68
J. Crew cardigan, $50
Ballet flats, $19.99
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