soul searching

Poster of a Girl

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Things I Want To Achieve in life, you know, the big stuff. What I want my profession to be in ten or fifteen years. Which things I want to conquer, and why. What I’m going to do to make a difference in the world. This was all brought about on Friday, when I took my biggest step yet in getting over my anxiety, something that’s socially crippled me for a larger chunk of my life than I’d like to admit.

I taught my very first class. And after a week leading up to it full of restless nights, I actually did it, and left the room slightly shaky – but entirely overwhelmed, with a sense of accomplishment I haven’t felt in a very long time. And I have to thank my newfound faith, and the prayers and encouragement of people close to me who’ve reminded me that I wasn’t put on this earth to be afraid and held back by fear, and if I wanted to make a different in people’s lives, however small, I was bloody well going to do it. So I did, and now I get to continue to push myself, continue to grow, and continue to get better at it, all the while hopefully passing on some kind of knowledge to those who may not have it, who may use something I said to feel like they can do something too. Which is pretty cool.

I also had a really cool lunch with one of my coworkers on Friday, where we sat cross-legged at little tables, eating sushi and debating the different thought processes people have. I did a brief stint studying psychology in university, and though I never finished, I never lost my fascination for everything encompassing it, and in the office we often talk about different personality types and how they relate to careers, hobbies, etc. I’ve taken the Myers-Brigg several times, always with the same result – an INFJ, making up a whopping 1% of the population. INFJ’s are known as “Protectors” or “Counsellors” with an emphasis on heightened emotional sensitivity, introversion, creativity and caring. Which is all very accurate. So then why, in my coworker’s words, “why do you want to prove you can be in the spotlight?” Why do I want to be able to be comfortable in front of people?

“Because I used to be”, I answered. Which wasn’t a lie; go back ten years and you’ll find a girl heavily invested in performing; a girl who went to stage school every week, put on talent shows, organised fundraisers and sang her heart out in shows and bands. Go back fifteen and you’ll find a child who was always first to volunteer to take the solo part of the chorus in school musicals, always the first to narrate when reading stories. My childhood formative years were full of extraversion, creativity and a love of the limelight. But fastforward to those “adult” formative years, between 18 and 23, and you see a different story. Those were the years my anxiety grew progressively worse, and I always looked back and blamed the series of dysfunctional, slightly abusive relationships I kept getting myself into. How could a girl ever believe in herself when everyone she ever loved treated her terribly? Looking back, all I can say is it was a huge learning experience, but it definitely left me feeling pretty rubbish about myself, and knocked my confidence completely.

So why DID I want to push myself out of my comfort zone so badly? When being in front of people made me feel physically sick, my head was full of fear and my body started shaking, why did I so badly want to push myself into this situation? I wish I knew my Intraversion/Extraversion scores numerically; maybe, as my coworker suggested, I was on the borderline. 51% Introvert, 49% Extrovert, though if you only came into my life in that period, you’d never know it. I asked myself why, if I was naturally an introvert, I felt so uncomfortable being alone – felt the need for company, to be out and about and doing things. But then if I was so close to being an extrovert, why being in the spotlight made me want to run for the hills. It’s a very interesting time in my life, and I don’t have the answers yet.

But I do know that I can do it. I can put myself out there and be absolutely fine in front of other people, because there’s evidence to show that I’ve done it before. Sure, I might be quiet by nature, and a pretty tough period in my life may have led me to believe I didn’t have anything worth giving to the outside world. But things have become clear to me, in the last year. I used to let the fear of other people’s judgment control my life. And it’s a REALLY tough thought pattern to let go of. But if I don’t, I’m never going to be all I can be. And whose opinion about me really matters? The people I love, and the people I’m putting myself out there for – people I want to help. I was lucky enough to get a pretty good education, and I’ve had opportunities in life that now allow me to be in a position to share some of that education with people who may never have had the chance. Seeing someone at 10:00 on Friday looking at me so lost, and then two hours later fully engaged and asking questions and looking a whole lot more confident left me feeling pretty good.

So I’m going to keep working at it. I may never be back dancing on stage, or fronting a rock band again. But I can keep pushing myself to be in front of people, with the goal of getting back to who I was meant to be, and hopefully helping other people out a little bit. As for performing in front of anybody again – well, isn’t that what cats are for?

Find yourself

I’ve been struggling a bit lot for the last little while with a lot of personal issues, and while I’ve been exceptionally grateful for the people who’ve offered words of advice and encouragement, I can’t seem to shake what’s going on. 

I count myself so lucky to be blessed with wonderful friends, a wonderful partner, a bright, sunny city that embraces culture, diversity and the arts, to live in a beautiful house and never have to worry about things that affect so many people in other parts of the world… these are the things I try to keep at the forefront of my mind, but I find so often they find themselves in the back seat, while my personal insecurities and anxieties take over. 

I worry so much about everything it’s affecting – well, everything.  I worry I’m not fun to be around, that nobody would ever want to hang out with me if I didn’t make the first move.  I worry about what other people will think of me if I open my mouth and offer an opinion.  I worry that they’ll see me turning red and shaking, and then I’ll get upset because I’ll convince myself they think I made a bigger fool of myself than I do.  I worry the past will repeat itself and I’ll be left for something… better, more exciting.  I worry about people judging me, thinking I’m incompetent, tactless, ugly, weird.  Even when I’m around people I love dearly, I worry about what they really think of me.  Do they secretly see me as the socially awkward, funny looking, too quiet, unexciting girl I do? 

I have so many dreams… if I could get over this constant fear, I’d be able to do so much more.  I love to sing, but I’ll only do it alone when all the windows are shut tight.  I love to dance… and I’ll throw myself into it, when I’m sure nobody’s home.  I love to write and create… but I’ve stopped trying, for fear it’s all rubbish anyway.  I’d love to write a play but the fear of it being judged horribly scares me away.  I love to share, to educate others on the issues of the world… but I’ll make my contribution in the form of a monthly donation, or a sponsored event where I don’t have to be in front of anybody.  I love to play games and throw dinner parties… something I haven’t done in years.  I gave up on my dreams of being a teacher two years into my post-secondary education when I realised I’d never be able to stand in front of anyone for a living.  I’m passionate about so many things… and I just feel trapped by my own insecurities, and I don’t know how to get past it.

I saw a play last night, a good friend of mine was in it, and one of her lines said something along the lines of “I don’t get embarrassed.  I just made the decision not to a long time ago.”  If only it were that easy, I thought.  If only I could make the decision to believe what other people tell me, believe in myself, and not be so sure everyone else in the world thinks I’m an idiot. 

I spoke to someone about it all a few weeks ago, and she said it was all about finding who you are, where you fit in in the world.  I’ve always kind of turned my nose up whenever people say they went off “to find themselves”, but maybe there’s something in it after all.  Right now there’s the person I think I am, and the person I want to be.  The stress, I guess, is caused by the discrepancy.  I want to be able to be fun, exciting, talented, confident, someone who can inspire others and someone people want to be around.  But maybe I’m just better off by myself? Maybe I need to realise that I do better alone, when I’m at home with my cat reading or singing or watching TV.  Maybe if I didn’t feel such a need to be reassured all the time I’d actually feel more okay about myself, and not worry so much about being judged.  I don’t know what the issue is, but I wish I could just go take a week and spend it somewhere remote, figure it all out, and come back ready to face the world.  I think it’s my turn to find myself, and maybe when I do, things will be a whole lot better.