NaBlogWriMo 4: Social Anexitee

(Yes, I know it is spelled wrong.)

I was chatting with a friend (via Facebook) about my propensity for standing in the corner by myself at our social gatherings. She wanted to know why I didn’t interact with the people around me more often.

“Not really my thing,” I wrote back. “Really, Lor is the rock star in the family,” I told her.

” I really don’t perceive that about you”, she said.

“No one becomes a writer because they love being ‘on stage'” was the only response I could think of.

“Touche,” she replied.

The Pathetic Life of the Rock and Roll Singer

The funny thing is, once upon a time, I was the “rock star” in the family. No, really. I was the lead vocalist (!) in a local cover band. For years we played the local bars and casinos. I soaked up comments about my “amazing” voice. Middle-aged women stuck twenty-dollar bills down my shirt and tried to kiss me. For most of a decade, I was a medium-sized fish in a very small pond. So…why the shift in my personality? What happened? Can my personality these days be blamed entirely on my broken brain?

Well, not really. See, here’s the secret – I’ve always suffered from social anxiety. Even when performing for dozens (and, in one notable case, thousands) of people. My wife and my former bandmates will happily regale you with tales of waiting for me to finish throwing up before every single gig for years. Once I was done puking, the show, as they say, could go on.

Even though I eventually got past my audience-fueled nauseau, I never really got any better. I had the coolest job in the world – fronting a rock and roll band. And I hated it. No, seriously. I didn’t hate the job itself, see. But, every night, I would find something to despise about our performance. My vocals were bad. The guitarist had flubbed a solo. The drummer was too loud. Our sound engineer had our PA set up all wrong.

I literally can’t remember a single performance where I came off stage and said: “Man, that was awesome!” I was still terrified of the audience and made sure I judged myself and my bandmates harshly before anyone else ever got a chance to.

It’s Quiet Here In The Corner

Today, I am really not much different. I am terrified that I am a horrible author. (What they call ‘Imposter’s Syndrome‘ in the writing business.) In social situations, I do my best to stay in the corner, to listen at least twice as much as I speak.  I am positive that I have nothing valuable to add to the conversation. After all, I know that no one is really interested in anything I have to say anyway.

I drive my friends and loved ones crazy. If you get a couple drinks in me, I suddenly become vivacious, witty, and humorous – I can be the life of the party. “Where,” my relations ask me, “are you hiding that person 99% of the time?”

In the corner. Over here. By the door. It’s quiet here in the corner.

I do my absolute best work one on one. For some reason, I am able to get past my neuroses when I am only dealing with a single person at a time. I find myself full of compassion, empathy, and insight.  I really feel like I am making a connection with the person I am speaking to.

Then you add a third person to the mix and it all goes to hell. I immediately retreat and try to listen to everyone else speak to one another. ‘Cause, you know, anxiety.

The Gamer’s Dilemma

So, why is this an issue worth addressing now, you might ask? After all, writing is a perfect outlet for someone like me, right? (And most of my fellow writers/introverts as well.) At the end of the day, I am really just telling myself stories, and writing them down. If I happen to share them with the world at large later, well, I don’t have to be there when they read them, right? (And you should have seen my melt-down when a good friend had me do a reading from Inheritance in front of maybe a dozen people. Hoo, boy.)

Here’s the problem: I happen to love other things beyond writing. And the main one is gaming.

Computer/console gaming is ok for me. Most of the time I simply remain in “Single Player Land.” No problem there, right?

But, as it happens, I am passionately interested in other kinds of gaming. Things like board games. Miniature-based games. Even Collectible Card Games. And those types of games require a very specific element…

Other people.

My brother (also an introvert) and I have begun discussing ways to jury-rig multiplayer games against one another. He lives a couple hundred miles away, so the logistics are challenging. Maybe leaving a game board set up somewhere 100% of the time then exchanging moves over the phone once a week. Or, possibly, doing miniatures-based games where we will take photos of the game boards and email them to one another, along with our “moves” for the turn.

All this to avoid doing something like heading down to our corner game stores and interacting with the groups of gamers already there. Or even (the horror) inviting other gamers into our homes to play, interacting with other human beings. Who might not like us or something.

The Pain Of Social Friction

Merriam-Webster defines “friction” quite simply as “the rubbing of one body against another.”

However, it then goes on to use the following example: “the friction of sandpaper on wood.”

So, really, friction isn’t about 2 bodies rubbing against one another. It is actually two bodies changing one another by their contact with one another. (Take a look at both the wood and the sandpaper after you’ve rubbed them together to get an idea what I am talking about.)

I think that social anxiety stems from a fear, not of coming into contact with other people, but a fear of being changed by our interactions with them.

What if these hypothetical gamers don’t like me? Will I be compelled to change who I am in order to be liked?

If I don’t change, does that mean that my interactions with other people are actually worthless? That I just glide across the surface of their lives, leaving no trace of myself and picking nothing up from them in return?

Heavy concepts to deal with just to manage to find some folks to play Warhammer or Munchkin with, right?

But they are important things to think about nonetheless. I personally can not interact with someone and be unchanged. And, am I willing to change, all in the name of a few hours of gaming?

So far, probably not. But I think the question is relevant for any interactions at all – whether at Tuesday night Canasta or around the Thanksgiving table. What are we willing to give up in order to socially interact? And what are we willing to accept in return?

We, as humans, are supposedly social above all else.

So why are there those of us, like me, who fear that social interchange more than we fear to be alone?

It bears some thinking about.

I’ll have to consider it right after I figure out how to play Settlers of Catan solo.

Catch you all tomorrow,

  • Jeremy

The Biggest Fire

The Biggest Fire

Yesterday, while surfing through unread Facebook entries, I came across an interesting post. My birthday is coming up later in the month, and apparently, I have the option of asking my Facebook followers to donate to a worthy non-profit in lieu of sending me gifts.

Now, mind you, I don’t think I normally receive birthday presents from 99.9% of the folks following me on FB. But, still, it seemed like a nifty idea, right? Get the folks who follow me on Facebook plugged into the cause that matters the most to me.

Just about then, a problem occurred to me: I didn’t know which cause mattered the most to me.

Which Fire Burns Brightest

Seems like it should be simple enough, right? Just identify which of the causes that I support and advocate for has had the most impact on me. But, how do I quantify the negative effect of the things I care about?

Epilepsy changed my life forever and placed me in the position of no longer being able to hold down a “real” job.

Chronic obesity crippled me to the point that I had to have 75% of a major organ removed to deal with it.

Depression is waging a war against my ability to actually accomplish much of anything in my day-to-day life. Many days, depression is winning that war.

So – which one has impacted me the most, exactly?

Or, put another way, if I had the ability to make only one of these issues vanish off the face of the planet, which one would I pick?

Suddenly, any answer seems fraught with peril.

Weighed In The Balance (And Found Wanting)

Epilepsy affects roughly one in every hundred of us. It takes us out of the driver’s seat of our own brain and turns the controls over to an internal electrical storm. In many cases (like mine) it requires a constant babysitter – tying up two lives instead of just one. It shortens our lives, kills us in our sleep, and ruins our quality of life. So, of course, I should focus on epilepsy, right? Seems like a no-brainer. (Hah!)

Except that obesity is killing us nationally.  Over 35% of Americans are obese. Some estimates suggest that, as a nation, we are spending upwards of 190 BILLION dollars on the societal costs of obesity annually. Do the math, folks: 325 Million people are spending 190 Billion dollars on obesity… That’s $584 per person, every year. Can you imagine what that money could do if it wasn’t being used on the societal costs of weight?

The U.S. trade deficit is 560 Billion, people. Just sayin’.

Yeah, but…depression.

It is killing us, slowly and silently. Around 7% of us are suffering from depression. Depression crushes our productivity and removes our enjoyment from life. And, in many cases, it takes our best and brightest from us too soon. It is stigmatized and misunderstood, And, yet, it is frequently successfully treatable. Getting us to sign up for the treatment in the first place is apparently the major hurdle. (I, for instance, have yet to make my initial appointment to see a counselor. Because reasons.)

So, yeah. Pick one. Go ahead.

I’ll wait.

Negative Paralysis

The problem is that the problems all look SO large, that it seems impossible to choose just one. And, in many cases, that means that we don’t pick one at all.

We go through life ignoring ALL of them, instead of taking a breath and getting to work on at least one of them. The paralysis of indecision keeps so many of us from doing anything about anything.

It is very easy to forget that we can’t solve all of these issues by ourselves. It takes collective action to tackle world-shattering problems. And if small groups of us can get motivated to each work on the issues that speak to us the most strongly, progress gets made on all of them.

The idea isn’t to fix the whole world. It is for each of us to leave the place a little better than the way we found it.

In that spirit, I am going to go ahead and select one. It may not have the highest societal cost, and it may not be the one with the clearest solution, but it is the one I’ve been dealing with for a decade and a half now: Epilepsy.

If you agree with me, awesome. Toss a buck or two in the plate for the folks at the Epilepsy Foundation. They remain one of the major distributors of funds to community groups, education, and epilepsy research.

If not, no hard feelings. But pick something, for goodness sake. The world needs your active involvement in tackling the problems facing it. This is no time to sit on the sidelines and just sort of hope that things will get better on their own. Because we all know how well THAT works in the long run.

Trying To Leave The World Better Than The Way I Found It,

  • Jeremy

Putting Down The Cheeseburger

(Mmmmm….food porn.)

Yesterday, Lor told me a delightful (/sarcasm) tale about a lunch date with two friends that hadn’t seen each other in quite a while. One party spent the majority of the luncheon complaining bitterly about her sister, who had recently had weight loss surgery because “she was a lazy ass who doesn’t want to put down the cheeseburger and exercise.” Towards the end of the meal, the complainer asked her friend how she was managing to stay so trim and fabulous looking.

“I had bariatric surgery, because I am a lazy ass who won’t put down my cheeseburger.” was the reply.

I would guess that lunch ended soon thereafter.

This story, paraphrased from a tale Lor found on a bariatric social web site, highlights the ongoing issues that we have relating socially after we have gone through bariatric surgery. The great misconception still exists that we have somehow created a trap door in our digestive system that allows us to eat whatever we want and suffer zero consequences from it.

Can I let you in on a little secret? I have to work twice as hard at maintaining my diet and exercise as a “normal” person. Every single thing I eat is analyzed, weighed, measured, and logged. My daily regimen is closer to that of a professional athlete than that of someone who just wants to stay fit. I live on supplements, protein shakes, and meals that would not pass muster as a salad on a child’s menu. And a single dietary mistake lands me locked in a bathroom for hours, expelling the material my rearranged digestive system didn’t agree with from both ends.

Those who choose bariatric surgery are accused of doing this because we want to be more attractive, as a sop to our poor self-esteem. But, the truth is, bariatric surgery did not turn Lor and I into Malibu Ken And Barbie.  I will admit, I no longer suffer from feeling unattractive due to my size. But I now feel unattractive due to the huge piles of deflated skin covering my body like flesh-colored Play-Doh. I don’t recognize my face in the mirror, which gives me some real existential crises. I had to shave my head due to hair loss, for goodness sake. (And, yes, the happy accident is that I actually like my shaved head. Thank goodness.)

And, through it all, I still deal with the lingering suspicion that I am somehow “not doing enough.” I should eat less, exercise more, hydrate better, sleep longer. Bariatric surgery has given me many of the symptoms that we would equate with an eating disorder.

Do I wish I hadn’t done it? Not for a moment. Societal mores had nothing to do with my decision. I took ownership of my own health, and control over my own body, by going through with surgery. But I still find it very frustrating that our society not only is focused on size as a metric for determining the worth of a person, but is even willing to judge those of us who strike out toward health via the method of bariatric surgery. In a nation where over 50% of the population suffers from obesity, calling those of us who required surgery “cheaters” is disingenuous at best, hypocritical at worst.

Yes, I “put down the cheeseburger”. Bariatric surgery was one of the tools I used to help me do so. The idea that this is somehow “cheating” is held by those who have not spend years (or decades) trying and failing to defeat obesity. To those who have not walked a mile in these shoes, I can only say the following:

Get Over Yourselves,

– Hawkwind