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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Just A Frustrated Genius

The real problem is that nobody appreciates genius when they read it!

Okay I lied, but I still said that to comfort myself when most people believed that the anonymous letter I sent them was from my 9-year-old sister-in-law, Bethany. Granted, the letter was completely random, but still, even though I purposely misspelled egregious, how many 9-year-olds can use that word properly in a sentence?

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It all started when I was writing to an old friend. She and I were inseparable during my teen years, but we lost touch when college, jobs, and marriage put hours worth of miles between us. I hadn’t written her in a while, but it felt silly to write another, “Dear Christie, How are you? I am doing well. Timothy is too. We just blahdy blahdy blahdy blah…” I mean, nowadays a letter is a letter. Since the advent of email, letters have died off a bit, so I know I’m not the only one who squees with glee when they get handwritten mail. But after all the hours spent on the phone, the shared heartaches, the stuffed carrot I made her that she named Sargon, and that weird movie we made with completely random disconnected scenes (one of which I wore a paper bag over my head and tried to eat goldfish crackers like cereal), two friends with history like that, should not be writing crusty ol’ letters to each other.

So I opened with the following line: HELLO SPARTACUS! THIS is your wakeup call!!!

I leaned back, a little daunted. A letter with an opening like that could not, nay should not have bland content, and my recent life had been rather bland. So I decided not to write about my life at all. I decided to concoct utter baloney. I sniggered the whole way through then ran to my husband to read it to him. He thought it was pure genius. High on his approval, I typed, printed, and sent out multiple copies of this letter to close friends and family. I even hand drew a little logo for my new company.

This is the letter:

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The only letter I signed with my real name was Christie’s, because it mattered to me that she knew it was me who sent it. Perhaps it would have been funnier to toy with her, since my new address is a mystery to her, but goshfriggindanggit I miss her, and really this whole shenanigan was her fault anyway. I’m sure that some of the others knew it was me, but the only one that told me so was Steve, who recognized my handwriting on the envelope from back when I used to write him soppy love letters (just kidding! I never did that. (Just kidding, I did…)). Everyone else recognized the address, but since the letter was typewritten, were apparently baffled. My mother-in-law started to get comments to the effect of: “Umm…yeah, and I also got Bethany’s writing assignment in the mail…” To which she bewilderedly responded, “What writing assignment?”

Really? A 9-year-old? Come on people! I was hurt, wounded, offended, and just plain…well honestly I tucked my tail between my legs and crawled under my covers. I thought it was funny. Tim thought it was funny. Jon and Steve thought it was funny. And I had already written a newsletter I intended to send out to the same gaggle of people. I pushed it away like putrid slime and said I would never touch it again.

Then I realized I had to.

I mean, I had already begun, and if I didn’t send the next one people would just assume I was utterly duck-up-a-tree potty. So, I sent it.

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Now be honest with me, perhaps it’s not as hilarious as SNL, but if you got this in the mail betwixt bills and adverts, wouldn’t it at LEAST make you smile?

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Newsletter used with permission from the Editor & Chief of “GOLDFISH WEEKLY” © GOLDFISH WEEKLY 2015 all rights reserved

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