A Panic Attack Makes the Difference
After Wednesday’s post I had a panic attack and felt very frustrated with myself. On the one hand, I was happy that I followed through on the personal challenge to socialize, be friendly, and show all parts of myself to everyone I met. On the other hand, I felt upset and overwhelmed because the cultural and social norms are so different than anything I am used to dealing with. Talking feels so frustrating sometimes. And the discomfort of when to speak or not to speak and how much or little gets confusing. But I wasn’t upset with anyone on the outside – my friends and family, the people in my neighborhood – because they are who they are and speak/behave as they will.
No I was upset with myself for falling into the pit again. I gave myself a year to experiment with “fitting in” in this new place. I would observe and follow the local customs as best as possible while also staying true to myself and letting people really “see” me. Not an easy task, but something that did happen over time. Without the cloud of my past hanging over my head, I learned to separate different kinds of triggers and how to cope with some better than others.
Hence the panic attack. People and environmental triggers still send me into flashbacks that distort my perceptions of reality. Sometimes I am aware of this, and sometimes I am not. When I am aware, I usually stay inside and avoid people/circumstances that will make things worse. When I am not aware, I use the complicated experiences as teachable moments to help for next time and hope that whatever happened did not destroy any budding positive relationships. This time though, I still went out and interacted with people I thought were safe – i.e. friends who knew about my past and accepted the differences in my worldview as I did theirs – in different social situations.
Ever hear of the phrase “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”?
Well that’s kind of how I feel right now.
I chose to open up and see what would happen. I chose to believe people when they said that I could be all of myself around them – including asking for help when I felt panic, anxiety, or triggering in public/social situations – without judgement. I chose to take these people up on their offers to help me with issues of perception and understanding social situations.
And I chose to ask them for help when something like this did happen.
So why do I feel so shamed and upset with myself for other people’s inability to accept that my perceptions and worldview are different?
And why do I continue to try to explain a situation to a close minded individual who holds up past examples of why she or he is correct and only hears what supports that belief?
Why get myself into these traps with people?
- Because I care.
- Because those traps are triggering and remind me of the convoluted, crazy-making conversations from my past even though they are not the same.
- Because even though arguing hurts, sometimes it has to be done. The consequences coped with like any other trigger or anxiety situation.
- And because I don’t want these people thinking something wrong about me – they are friends or acquaintances close to becoming friends – because of something I didn’t understand or a social faux pas.
Questioning My Beliefs
Arguing always upsets me. Asserting myself makes me feel queasy and shaky for days. But I’d rather feel upset, queasy, shaky, etc. than helpless, hopeless, powerless, and without choices because I didn’t stand up for myself. And I’d rather challenge someone and feel good about using open, direct communication than letting stuff fester until it explodes.
So while I may not be a “traditional” or “typical” person who epitomizes an empath, I am one. I am also a new to being an empath – the memories of past experiences and mistakes from this extra perception have been flooding my mind lately – and freely admit this to anyone who asks. It does get confusing sometimes because I have alter personalities with their own feelings & memories. Some of them share the empathic senses while others do not. And when one of them senses danger from a trigger, I am more than happy to help test reality and see if this perception is true or not.
This “reality testing” coping technique is often part of what makes talking with people challenging. I will ask question or make comments and ask for their perspective.
- If the person knows me really well, she or he understands I am feeling anxious or triggered and responds with reassurance and acceptance.
- If the person is aware of my past, but doesn’t truly understand me, he or she will call me “dramatic” or “over-sensitive” or “paranoid” and lecture me about looking for the worst in people and situations.
- If the person is aware of my past and gets triggered by my comment or question, she or he will attack or accuse me of “making assumptions” or “being rude & arrogant” or “reading too much into something” and then try to “help” me by pointing out my flaws (with examples) and try to “change my behavior”.
What happens next?
- Option 1: I express gratitude, let go of the triggered perception, relax and move on.
- Option 2: I feel triggered, try to explain again & again without getting through to the person who’s mind is made up and end up feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself
- Option 3: I get mad and start mirroring the other persons actions until we have time apart. Then I use self-reflection and talk with someone objective to figure out a solution. Eventually, I assert myself and the miscommunication gets cleared up – sometimes with a positive ending; other times with a negative ending. If lucky, with a neutral ending that we can build on in the future.
AS you can see, I’m not perfect. I get mad. I lose my temper. I say or do things I don’t mean when angry or upset.
BUT I don’t lash out on purpose. I don’t hurt people on purpose. I don’t blame others on purpose. And I work really hard to listen, respect, and accept what the other person is saying no matter my personal opinions or beliefs.
In the end, I question whether or not I:
- Can interact with lots of people in positive ways
- Can make new friends or develop more relationships
- Can go back to school or pursue group activities
- Can ever talk and make sense to outside people (not victims or survivors or professionals who work with both)
- Can be a good friend or partner or cousin, etc.
- Have changed for the better and can pursue my goals in spite of my challenges
ACCEPTANCE helps me realize that while I can do all of these things, it’s not going to change the other people’s beliefs and reactions. They will believe what they want and stick to those opinions no matter how much of my words make sense. So I can continue making myself crazy or I can understand that these people are not going to change their opinions of me and let it go.
The answer is YES as long as I can accept myself and feel good about my choices.
I put myself out in the world. I let many people see my vulnerabilities and challenges. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed. I met a few people whose opinions matter; we are slowly working to build a friendship. I met a few people who will make good acquaintances instead of friends. I met old friends and colleagues after a year away and realized that change comes to us all; how we cope with change defines what happens next.
I realized that no matter what I say, sometimes the words fall on closed minds and deaf ears. These people can’t or won’t accept my words because it challenges their self-perceptions and worldviews too much. Instead, I have to be wrong. And our relationship can’t change. Who are they, what role do they play when they realize I am self-aware and not in need of their mentoring/guidance etc. or willing to play their games anymore? Where does that leave our relationship?
Where it leaves the other people, I don’t know. And honestly, as long as it doesn’t cause major harm, illness, or death in their world, I don’t care.
For myself, it gave me choices. And helped me understand certain realities.
Like the fact that I feel more comfortable with myself now than I have before. That I have changed and opened up for the better and want to continue. This opening up and internal change has brought out visible external changes too. One external change being self-assurance and security in who I am. Not so much self-confidence which is part of assurance, but acceptance of self with the goal to continue changing and improving.
Like the fact that parts of me will always feel and act upon the negative self-perceptions from Wednesday’s post, but those perceptions will not inform thoughts, feelings, or behavior as much anymore. Or like the fact that positive for me tends to sound negative to everyone else. And positive to everyone else often sounds unrealistic or rosy to me.
So I can accept that these people who might or might not continue to be friends, but will always be friendly acquaintances, view me in a somewhat negative light even if they admire my strength and resilience. And I can accept that it’s time for me to let them go. I wrote them an email thanking them for their honesty and friendship and sent a link to the post explaining my communication issues.
What happens next is up to them. Because I am finished. Finished letting my fear of sounding funny or not making sense stand in my way. Finished trying to be something I am not. Finished trying to “have friends’ and “be social” on acceptable levels. Who’s idea of “acceptable” is it anyways?
I am grateful for the wonderful friendships that already exist. I am grateful for the limited but fulfilling family relationships that exist. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet lots of people and have interactions that always teach me something.
Now it’s time to go back to being my happy, solitary self.
Thanks for reading