Open and Honest

One area in my life that I’ve been pushing myself to improve is my total lack of social skills. I am an introvert almost to the extreme, and often find myself content with no other company than my few closest friends. Building new relationships is excessively difficult for me.

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I think one of the reasons I find it so hard is that I kind of hate myself. I see myself as a whiney and annoying person with nothing intelligent to add to a conversation and a waste of space in the room. I labor under the assumption that pretty much everyone else secretly agrees with my self assessment, but are too kind to tell me they’d rather I left. So I leave without being asked. I slip away to be by myself where I’ll read or write or knit or whatever.

Most of this self abasement was encouraged in my upbringing by the way the household was run, and during the darkest periods of my struggle with Depression have led me to some very ugly thoughts. Today, the people closest to me often tell me that I hate myself more than anyone else in the room. I question the complete validity of this statement, but I see what they mean anyway. It would seriously be hard for anyone to dislike me more than I do.

Building relationships with the mental handicaps of Anxiety and Depression, along with my severe introversion, is a steep upward climb, but I recently had a breakthrough that I hope will become a new pattern.

My husband and I have changed churches. Again. These past two years have been the most up, down and unsettled period of my life. Though Timothy keeps telling me that now it’s safe to settle for at least the next three years, I haven’t seen enough in writing to convince me to unpack my emotional suitcase. So when kind and friendly faces in our new church body opened their arms to welcome me, I wanted to walk into them, but also wondered what was going to happen to their presence in my life come September. How much do I open up to these people? How much do I fight against my fears of rejection, only to meet with loss on the other end? Because one thing I’ve noticed in the last few churches we’ve gone to, is that once you’re no longer a member, the people who seemed to care don’t care anymore. It’s like you’ve switched from the goth click to the cheerleaders and you’re dead to all that’s past. All the trying, all the fighting against myself to get close to strangers becomes another example of people not actually caring about me, another example of my not being worth anyone’s time.

But what I’m now realizing is that I’m half the problem, maybe even more than half. My fear of rejection keeps my relationships shallow. Why should anyone miss me when I leave the room? They don’t know me, because I fear being known.

And here I am, standing in front of a woman who wants to get to know me, and I’m stuck. Yes, I’d love to go for coffee with you. It would be good for me in so many ways, and you’re being so loving and kind, but how do I tell you that, despite my being an adult, I don’t often drive places on my own? How do I tell you that I have such crippling anxiety disorder, that I’m afraid to schedule coffee with you on a day when I can’t rely on my husband to be around to prevent me coming home to an empty house?

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My new solution. I just do. I just say it, and hope that, if you really want to get to know me, you’ll help me think of another way. So instead of just telling her the easy bit about not having access to a car, I hear myself admit to her, “I have anxiety disorder, and driving is one of my triggers. I don’t really drive more than 20 minutes by myself right now.” And she says, “I’ll pick you up.” And she says, “I can drive you to the church where your husband is.”

Another falsehood I was taught as a child was that I was never supposed to talk about my mental health issues. It’s a secret that I’m ill, meant for just me and my doctors. So the worse my condition got, the more my relationships withered, the less I wanted to try. People don’t understand, I thought. I’m in the way. They must hate me. I’m such a nuisance. I wish I wasn’t me.

The thing I’m learning, a lesson I can take with me even if we do switch to another church in six months, is that a lot people are willing to help and want to understand, but they can’t do either if I’m not willing to be honest.

Honesty. It makes sense, really. Isn’t honesty a foundational pillar of any lasting relationship?

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Mani/Pedi

Ahhhhhhhh…pedicures…where to begin? How about a cold winters day with a good friend?

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Tara: You know what? We need some ME time. Do you like pedicures?
Me: Sure
Tara: Want to go next week?
Me: Sure

Now I wasn’t lying, I DO like pedicures. I usually splurge and go once or twice a year during the summer when my feet come out to play. I enjoy them about as much as I find them incredibly uncomfortable.

I know I’m paying to have my feet rubbed and painted, so obviously I want it done, but I never seem to go to the same place twice. This means a stranger and I are about to get uncomfortably close for at LEAST a half hour. During this time, said stranger will be washing my feet, clipping my toenails, and rubbing lotion on my legs. Perhaps it’s better to always have a stranger. Then I can mentally trick myself into thinking that I never have to see this person again, like an impromptu drunk make-out session that you regret in the morning with a vehemence equal to that in which you participated in it the night before. If you see the person at work the next afternoon it compounds the discomfort.

(“Hello Tanya! I’m here for my monthly wash-my-grubby-feet-and-message-my-hairy-legs session.” (Okay, I did shave the night before, and I am a regular bather. I’m talking worst case scenario.))

Everyone has hobbies. One of mine is to make everyday social situations awkward. We show up at the place and walk in. A bunch of women smile at us and say, “Yes?”

“Mani Pedi,” Tara says, whipping her coat off with a self confident flourish. Then turns to me.

My eyes widen and I whisper. “What do I do?”

She cocks her head. “Tell em what you want.”

I look like a doe in the headlights for a moment then blurt out too loudly “Mani Pedi?” They’ve already moved to the pedicure station to run the water. I guess they read minds.

Time to pick out nail polish. I decide to jump out of my box and pick neon yellow for my toes and black for my fingernails. Tara tells me I’m going to be a bumblebee. I cock my head then laugh two minutes later.

I walk towards the chair. The stranger about to rub my feet turns to me and smiles. She has a pleasant pretty face, so why is my stomach turning? I realize it’s not her face that matters, if she looked like Quasimodo I would be just as apprehensive. I peal off my shoes and socks, feeling like I’m beginning a striptease. I can barely remember how to climb into the chair. I can almost hear her asking, “Is this your first time? I’ll take it slow.”

She dips my feet into the water. It’s warm. I tell myself to relax.

“The seat massages.” Tara says.

“Oh yeah?” I reach for the doohickey in the pocket. The loose arm of the chair drops down like a guillotine, blocking any plans I had for escape. The remote falls to the floor with a clatter about as subtle as opening a cough drop in church. I manage to draw it up by its tail and look at the buttons.

I pick one at random and lean back. Preprogramed mechanical hands with ball baring knuckles try to push me out of my seat. They start just above my head and roll down towards my shoulders. WRENCH WRENCH WRENCH I’m sliding down the leather chair. My date pauses mid-toenail clip to share a laugh with the woman beside her.

Okay, maybe they aren’t laughing at me while I fumble with the remote, desperate to avoid any further nerve impingement to my neck and spine, but how should I know? They spoke perfect english, both of them, but they also spoke perfect Spanish. I would love to be bilingual. I envy anyone who is. But it’s disconcerting when they turn to each other and chatter away. Is it egotistical to think they’re talking about me? I prefer the term “Self-conscious”. I had a boyfriend who once told me that I have freakishly long toes. I’ve never forgotten that. (How do you say, “would you look at her freakishly long toes” in Spanish?)

She brings out a holster thing and places my ankle inside it. Then, with a loud sigh, she vigorously files the bottom of my feet. This part is almost as bad as when they run that little picker thing under your toenails to clean them. One makes me feel like I’m a grubby little street urchin, the other makes me feel like a scullery maid being cleaned up to dance with prince charming. I love going barefoot so my feet are…tough? Call em tough. She rubs with abandon, not as long as most of them do, perhaps she saw it was futile and gave up quicker than the rest. She dropped my hobbit foot back into the water.

I tried to relax during the massage. This feels good, I told myself. My mind wandered. I lost my mantra and began to wonder if I had missed any spots when I shaved.

The foot ordeal ended. The manicure followed. These are relatively painless, except I find it difficult to stare into the eyes of the person who just seconds earlier massaged my feet. Plus there’s the whole hand holding thing and…meh maybe I’m overthinking this. Just like when I get my hair washed at the hairdressers. (If I close my eyes does it look like I’m enjoying this TOO much? Should I leave them open? Okay I’ll open them. Oh GOSH! Armpit!)

I paid before she painted my nails. Good system. Then you don’t have to screw up the new paint job digging through your purse. I sat down with my nails under the dryer and realized I didn’t tip the woman. I tapped my freshly blackened nails, contemplating how to accomplish this. In the end, I gingerly unzipped my bag, nuzzled the mouth open with my nose, then extricated my wallet with my teeth. I’m sure they’ve had plenty of freaks like me in there. I was nothing o write home about.

I hope.

The next morning I hopped out of the shower and noticed I missed a spot on my knee when I shaved the night before. I yelled aloud, “Oh Crap! Did she notice?”

I’ll bet she did. That’s probably why she never called.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015