10 Years

(I wrote this on September 27, 2016, and I liked it enough to share here. =3)

Ten years ago today, I woke up and decided whether or not I would play hookie from school. Yes, it was only September…yes, I was already feeling lazy about going to school. It was my senior year, give me a break. xD But even though we were going to do a bunch of lame stuff, I did want to participate in Drama class and see my boyfriend. So, I decided to go to school after all.

The sun was blazing in the sky that morning; it was a bright blood-red. I had never seen the sun be so beautiful before. I decided in that moment that if nothing else, I’d be glad I went to school and not back to sleep just because I got to see that gorgeous sunrise.

I didn’t know that this day would change my life until sometime during my morning English class, when a haggard-looking stranger whispered something to my teacher, sent her out, and closed the door. I won’t give a lot of details, but I will say two things: it was the first time in my life that I ever heard a gunshot, and later on, it was the first time that I really thought about the possibility of death.

When you’re 17, you think you’re invincible, but it was a very sobering day. I was weirdly calm through most of the day, and acutely aware that I was resigning myself to whatever would happen in the moments to come, accepting it and coming to terms with it. I did not cry a single drop thinking of my own mortality, but what I did think was “I wonder if my parents know how much I love them? I wonder if my friends know?” I regretted not sharing my feelings more. I regretted being so moody and aloof all the time like teenagers were. I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit of a douche when I was a teenager, and I thought about myself (read: agonized about myself) constantly. I rarely ever told my parents or my close friends how appreciative I was that they were in my life; I just kind of assumed that they knew it, and that I didn’t have to try very hard to remind them of that. But when I made it out of there, something profound had changed in me.

I didn’t cry at all that day–not as we waited in the ambulance in trepidation for updates on what was happening in the building nearby, not when I finally got to call my mom and have her pick me up, hearing her start to lose it as I told her what had happened (I do tear up thinking about it now though)–not until I watched the evening news and saw that Emily didn’t make it. I was at my boyfriend’s house for a little while (it seemed like he needed me the most at the time), but after that, I lost it. It was soul-crushing; it wasn’t fair. I remember that I kept repeating, “It’s not fair.” I went home and hugged my parents, and it was the first time I’d seen my dad look scared.

Even to this day, remembering those events and the ones that followed makes it feel like it just happened. For years, I avoided talking about it, mostly because my boyfriend at the time seemed more unnerved about bringing it up than I did, and I didn’t want to cause him pain. Unfortunately, this made it take a lot longer for me to actually start talking to people about it and start to move past it. To this day, I sometimes curse the side effects of this particular event–mild PTSD and anxiety (I never had panic attacks until after this happened), and occasionally I feel guilty about it. That’s right–because as tough as that experience was, I didn’t have to lose a sibling, or a best friend, or a daughter. Millions of people in this country, and millions more across the world, experience heartache and trauma on a much larger scale, and sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve for it to still affect me, ten years later.

Last year, I met a beautiful man who I shared some of this experience with, and he told me that I should never be ashamed of struggles I’ve faced or how they affect me, because good or bad, these experiences shaped me into who I am today (and according to him, I was pretty great). Most of the time, I still try not to talk about it. I feel mad at myself sometimes and ask myself why I can’t just get over it, why I can’t just talk about it without my throat tightening and my voice shaking. I remind myself again that other people (such as the one who gave me this advice) have experienced war, watched people die firsthand…but you can’t really compare things like that. We each face our own struggles, and they affect us profoundly.

And he’s right–that experience is now part of who I am; I can’t imagine what I might be like if I had decided to stay home. And there is always a silver lining; that day, I started being more open with my feelings. I watched a community reach out to each other, and strangers gave me all sorts of things–many bibles, a scarf, an envious collection of blankets, handwritten notes of well-wishes–out of the kindness of their hearts, caring about me when I had never even met most of them. And that was dumfounding to me. I began to be more empathetic to people’s situations. I didn’t make fun of people as much (in my mind I mean–I was never a bully. xD), and instead I try to imagine what they might be facing in their own lives. I try to find a good quality in everybody, even if I can’t stand them.

I have come face to face with my mortality, and I realized that life is extremely short, and it should be lived to the fullest, without fear of the future or messing up. Just go for it, do what you think is right, and always allow kindness to be in your heart.

If you made it through this whole thing, thank you for reading! I love you guys.

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The Struggles of Being an Anxious Introvert

I know I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll say it again: it is hard as fuck making friends as an adult. I used to think maybe it was just me, that there was something I was doing wrong that was making me unable to authentically share myself with other people outside of a relationship setting or with the exception of my childhood friends, but after consulting almighty Google, it turns out that I’m not the only one who has problems with it.

I blame the fact that as we get older and ‘wiser,’ our naivety disappears and we begin to see the potential people have to not only be good–but to be bad. Negative past experiences have shown us that rejection hurts a lot more than we’d like, and the best way to protect ourselves from that is to only allow others to wade around in the more shallow pools of our psyche. If someone rejects us based on what they see on the surface, it isn’t as painful because they aren’t rejecting our real selves. For some, a large number of rejections or one or two very home-hitting incidents damages their trust to the point that they anticipate rejection or being taken advantage of right out of the gate, before a new person can even get a chance to want to know you.

Introverts have it even a little tougher, because it’s difficult for them to want to go out into the world and meet people in the first place, which is of course, the obvious first step needed to make friends. Yes, unfortunately, you have to actually be AROUND people. Extroverts enjoy talking to other people and being the center of attention; it energizes them, where an introvert is drained by such experiences. The effort an introvert must expel just to establish enough of a baseline with a stranger to see whether or not they’d ever be compatible as friends at all is uncomfortable at best, and downright exhausting at worst. Introverts are careful about selecting who they spend their energy on, and sometimes this makes for a very picky initial process, increasing the struggle to find good “friend material.”

But let’s say you do somehow find other humans that you like to be around, who like to be around you as well, and you decide to cultivate the friendship. You thought finding people was the hard part?

Making friends as an adult has many similarities to cultivating a romantic relationship, without all the sexy bits–you get to know someone, find common interests, slowly let down your guard and let them know more about you, hoping that they’ll do the same. Trust slowly grows as this person proves themselves reliable and authentic, and a real connection is forged. Unfortunately, some of the same pitfalls exist in friendships as they do in relationships–people staying in bad ones because they fear being alone or because they’ve invested so much time and effort already, lack of communication out of fear of hurting the other person’s feelings, jealousy and entitlement, taking or being taken for granted. We all know relationships take hard work, and so do really good friendships. THAT SHIT BE HARD, YO.

But it gets even better…oh yes, for some out there, the obstacle course of navigating true friendship is placed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with stupid, unpredictable icebergs fucking EVERYWHERE, and your skills as a captain of social ability will truly be tested. Welcome to the bonus round: anxiety!

Picture this. You and a few friends are all hanging out together, eating lunch, when one of them announces that they are planning to see a concert, and everyone should go! It’ll be really fun, the tickets are cheap, we don’t often all get together at the same time…also the band sounds pretty awesome!

Hmm, that sounds really fun! I spend so much time at home because of my weird introverty nature, so going out and having a good time is long overdue! Count me in!

Granted, there will be a LOT of people there…and I do hate crowds. Loud noise…hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t go.

Anxiety: But if you don’t, your friends will probably think you’re lame. You’re going to feel really guilty if you don’t go…they’re all counting on you to join them. You’ll probably be the only one in the group who doesn’t make it and they won’t forget it. Maybe they’ll think you don’t like hanging out with them and they’ll stop inviting you to things.

…you’re right, that would suck. Plus, part of me really does want to go! I love hanging out with my friends! I hate people in general, but I like them, and I like music. So it’s settled, I’ll brave the crowds and have fun with my friends.

Anxiety: I wonder if they only invited you because they knew you didn’t like big, noisy events and they knew you’d tap out.

Anxiety: They don’t even like you that much, they might have just invited you because they feel sorry for you. Because they’re your only friends and all. But hey, it’ll be fun! Enjoy the side of shame while you pretend to fit in at the concert!

You’re a dick.

This is somewhat exaggerated, but you get the point…if you’re an anxious person like me, I’m sure you’re no stranger to the little voice of self-doubt that tries to sabotage your efforts to connect to other people. This little voice is also responsible for convincing anxious people that they’ve done something wrong when one of their friends is upset (not at them), that they are incapable of having meaningful relationships, that something is wrong with them, etc.

This insecurity manifests itself in our interactions with other people once we start to leave the surface area and wade into deeper waters–the stakes get higher after we have established that a person has value to us, and anxious people are less sneaky about hiding their fear of messing it up. Hello weird need for validation that pushes people away! Hello inappropriate and random shame for needing validation that shoves you into your house for days as you cope with your anxiety to keep it from irreparably ruining your relationships! Ugh…I’m telling you, so much hard work involved here.

So imagine wanting desperately to make friends, but disliking going out to meet people and being fearful that you’ll mess it up somehow regardless of the circumstances. This is the struggle of the anxious introvert…but do you try it anyway?

Hmmm, be alone for the rest of my life and talk to my cats and watch Game Grumps, or allow myself to be emotionally vulnerable and risk rejection, but potentially gain valuable connections with other human beings? Who maybe also like Game Grumps and cats? Decisions, decisions. xD