I was repeatedly told by my boyfriend and a former “friend” that I am “always depressed” and “very negative and pessimistic” and “that’s why [I] don’t have any friends.” Nice, huh? (That last one is courtesy of my former friend, a narcissistic and generally terrible person who derives sick enjoyment from preying on the good-naturedness of others she considers weak).
These are not the only instances that I have heard these things; since I always spoke in a sort of monotone pitch, they were common themes while growing up. My friends started calling me Eeyore. More recently, my boyfriend started calling me Eeyore, though he had no prior knowledge of my old nickname and, for some reason, being reminded of the first times I was really misunderstood by my peers just really pissed me off and I yelled at him to NEVER, EVER CALL ME THAT!
Things I heard a lot of growing up: “Gees, don’t sound too excited about it” (sarcasm). “Why are you always depressed?” “Don’t be so negative.” “Why don’t you smile more?” And the biggest annoyance of all: “What’s wrong? Something’s wrong. No, not ‘nothing.’ Why won’t you tell me? I thought I was your friend and I want to help! Alright, fine. Go be sad by yourself then!” (The problem with this last one is that there was nothing wrong with me; I felt perfectly content in my surroundings, but by the end of such an irritating and untoward exchange, something became wrong because now someone was mad at me for purposely shutting them out by not telling them all about the “nothing” that was wrong with me)! So I started to fabricate “somethings” just to appease them and get them to shut up, thus furthering their perception of my depressed and negative state of mind.
Being a person who considers myself as generally content with life, an optimist by default, and not lonely or lacking in friends, these assumptions always come as a surprise. I guess if a person does not walk around wearing some sort of smile-mask, something is perceived to be emotionally amiss. If I am not eager to join in on a conversation with a group of people I don’t know well who are discussing the lives of other people I have never met, or work issues at a place I have never worked, I am “being antisocial,” “depressed,” or “too shy.” If I have nothing to say on the subject of handbags, I should “come out of my shell more.” If I am not dancing at a place where this is common behavior because I have less grace than a rhinoceros and prefer not to look ridiculous, I am “in a bad mood.” Finally, if I choose not to join in on the making fun of a total stranger for doing nothing wrong besides existing in their own perfectly acceptable way, I have “no sense of humor.”
In middle school, I went through a particularly awkward puberty and a lengthy stint where I was tormented by my peers on a daily basis. As a result, I was, understandably, a bit depressed and withdrawn. My mom sent me to a counselor who diagnosed me as “an adolescent girl,” gave me some pep talks about self-confidence, and sent me on my way. Some time passed and I was fine. Later, in high school, a lot of traumatizing things happened at practically the same time (including a friend’s suicide, my grandmother’s slow death from lung cancer, and my first “heartbreak”), that led me to a series of meltdowns that landed me in the office of a certain quack of a psychiatrist called Dr. Oh. This quack of a doctor spent about five minutes with me, and without any knowledge of the context that led me to his office in the first place (my mom forgot to mention the specific events that inevitably led to my irrational emotional and behavioral reactions, and I, being there against my will, defiantly said very little), told my mom I had bipolar disorder and needed, at the age of 14, to be placed on a dangerous mix of mood stabilizers and anti-seizure medications.
After a couple years of that nonsense (and after unexplainably gaining about 20 pounds—the absolute last thing an already awkward teenage girl needs to have happen her sophomore year of high school), I refused to take them anymore. In addition to the unappreciated, inexplicable weight gain, they had this bizarre side-effect of making me act extroverted in a way I did not like and that typically led to my feeling even more socially anxious. It was like the hypothetical filter separating the random thoughts in my head from my mouth had been removed, and I became this loose cannon who lacked the ability to stop talking about whatever nonsense popped into my head. It’s not that I was “shy” and afraid to express what I was thinking and feeling and the meds helped me to come out of my shell, it was that not all thoughts are supposed to be spoken out loud, I don’t like sounding stupid, and what the hell happened to my self-control?! My mom protested and tried to convince me I was thinking irrationally—that talking constantly is healthy and what normal people do and that I have this debilitating mental illness and need to take these to avoid the inevitable though yet-to-be-witnessed “manic episode.” To me, the closest thing I’d ever experienced that even resembled the clinical definition of a manic episode was the loss of control over suppressing my speech, which the medication seemed to be causing. I don’t know if she ever really believed what I was saying, but I’m hoping she finally read something about bipolar disorder and realized that none of those symptoms were ever present in me.
I refused to take the meds anymore and I was fine. I lost the 20 pounds within weeks over the summer before my senior year, which automatically gave me an enormous confidence boost, and did not succumb to any form of debilitating psychosis. I approached my senior year with newfound optimism, grew up, and was no longer “depressed” beyond the normal reactions to sad and stressful life events, such as breakups and finals week.
I do sometimes still experience meltdowns, but those are for another post.
The thing is, when people consistently tell you that you are one thing at a time when you do not yet understand how to decipher the inner workings of your own mind and can’t think of something better to come up with, your sense of self-awareness takes even longer to develop as you begin to just believe them over what your own instincts are trying to tell you. It required some serious introspection over a period of several years for me to realize that, if I step back and really try to assess my state of mind, which is often not an easy task, I will conclude that I am not depressed. I am perfectly fine and always have been, with the exception of an awkward and difficult adolescence. The idea of being depressed in any clinically concerning way never even entered my mind until other people put it there, and I don’t appreciate being told how I feel by someone who has no idea what it’s like to be inside my head in the first place. I am not lonely because I prefer to spend time alone; I know this because I know I enjoy doing whatever it is I’m doing while alone, I don’t feel lonely, and I have no desire to accumulate a huge circle of acquaintances I would have to worry about communicating with on a daily basis lest they start to think I hate them (how do people do that? It sounds exhausting)! Also, I do have friends—actual friends who know me and get me and don’t try to tell me I am things that I’m not—they just don’t live close by anymore, and that is also fine; we communicate just often enough to fulfill my social needs without causing overwhelm and exhaustion. Finally, I do not need to “smile more” to assure other people whose opinions I couldn’t frankly care less about that there’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need to try to convince these people of my happiness if I don’t feel like it, and I don’t need to fabricate some imaginary grievance just to appease them and get them to stop bothering me. It took a while, but the boyfriend has finally come to realize that that’s just my face and just my voice and no longer badgers me incessantly when I tell him nothing’s wrong.
So it turns out I started this blog almost three years ago (I just noticed I have previous posts). I just thought that was funny because I don’t even remember writing those.
Anyway, on to the topic indicated by the title: public speaking. It is my arch nemesis.
I was never good at class presentations. Recently, I read a study that ranked public speaking as one of the top 3 fears among Americans, many of whom stated they would rather go to the dentist than speak in public, so apparently I am not alone here (the only difference being that I actually have always enjoyed going to the dentist, so that is another thing that makes me weird, although I had also always been lucky enough to have never had dental problems that would’ve initiated any need to endure trauma).
In fourth grade, I gave my very first presentation on a mobile that I made for . . . I don’t remember because I probably repressed it. All I remember is that I had a vision, and my project was going to be amazing; certainly I was the most creative and capable mind in the room and everyone was going to be blown away after seeing what I could do! However, everything I’d planned went wrong and the thing I ended up bringing to class that day was the most pitiful, horrid-looking excuse for a mobile made out of those wooden sticks you use to stir paint and held together by fishing line. I’d spray-pained the sticks this awful, uneven brown color (whatever this project was, I’m pretty sure it was nature themed, because I can think of no other reason to choose brown), and because I was 8 and sucked at spray painting yet insisted I do everything all by myself despite that my more capable parents were more than willing to help me, the sticks were streaked and riddled with unsightly drip marks. The things hanging from the strings were these terrible drawings I did with marker on standard letter paper. The whole thing was just embarrassing, and by a mistake of my own making, I ended up having to go first. I was asked to pick a number, and the number I chose, 19 (I still remember the freakin’ number I picked, it was that traumatizing) turned out to be my number on the class roster. I tried to protest at first; I was not ready! but my pleas fell on deaf, unsympathetic ears. Mortified, I stood up, babbled and stuttered about what I was supposed to be presenting instead of the disaster I was holding, did not read the essay I wrote about it, and sat down as quickly as possible. I was then called to the teacher’s desk in the back of the class where she loudly graded me with a “C” because I was “nervous and fidgeting and forgot to read my essay.” No bitch, I didn’t forget; I just hate my project and you are the devil! (Yeah, I’m still a little bitter).
I have this nervous tic that causes me to laugh at pretty much everything I say. Sometimes, the tic is not even nervous; I just do it. Incidentally, this either makes me look perpetually cheerful when speaking to people or perpetually nervous. In 5th grade, I could not stop giggling during a presentation, and one particularly annoyed boy in the class finally exclaimed, “God, stop laughing at everything!” accompanied by a wild hand gesticulation for emphasis. I started talking and fast as I could to get through the rest of my speech and then immediately went back to my seat to stare at my desk for the remainder of class. I nearly relived this in 10th grade creative writing, when we had to stand in front of the class with a novel we were reading and talk about it—a sort of show-and-tell, bookworm edition. I walked up there with my copy of Interview with the Vampire I was reading for the second time in a row, said, “The book I’m reading now is Interview with the Vampire,” looked around at all the people staring at me, burst out laughing, said, “Nope,” and went back to my seat to put my head in my hands and stare at my desk.
Oddly enough, I am totally fine with group presentations. I’m not a fan of group projects in general, but when they involve a presentation, there is confidence in numbers, even to the point where I get excited about speaking. I think it’s because eyes are on the group, rather than on me specifically. In my advanced research methods class my senior year of college, we had to present a research project. I volunteered to explain the “results” section. Until statistics, I had never been a math person, but statistics involves words. It is applying logical knowledge to practical situations, and that I understand. I nailed it! I was even asked math-related follow-up questions that I also nailed. Even though our project was nothing groundbreaking or otherwise spectacular, I did not have to eat all the credit for a less-than-stellar research design; after all, I was in a group, which meant I had to compromise. And even though we found no significant results, I’d also nailed the part where we learned how to present the result in order to b.s. our way into making the research sound meaningful. (Remember this when you read research studies: if you are not well versed in statistics, you may be interpreting a bunch of strategically written b.s. as something significant, or worse, matter-of-factly presenting this b.s. to others to try to prove some point)(hey, at least I keep it real).
I don’t remember exactly when it was that I created this blog I have yet to actually use. I believe it was about a year ago, give or take. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—as a hyperlexic child with insatiable curiosity, I started a diary well before I understood the purpose of a diary (I found one of them a while back that I started when I was 5. It mostly contained reports of the weather and what I ate that day. If anyone would like to know the weather conditions most days back between 1990–1992 in Port Orange, FL, I can probably help you out). It was a pretty hilarious read. Why has it taken me so long to start a live blog? Well, it is intimidating, that’s why. I keep saying, “I want to write, I want to write,” primarily because I love typing so much. The steady motion of hitting the keys with the tips of my fingers is calming to me. But when I login and pull up a blank page, my mind goes blank. Where do I start? What do people want to read? Should I choose a topic or just write about myself—my day, my thoughts, my preferences? Recipes? I hear those are big. Inevitably, I would just end up staring at the blank screen in dumbfounded anticipation, my anxiety level increasing steadily until I log out and close the thing. Whew, glad that’s over; no more pressure. But now I feel ashamed. I love writing, so why can’t I just write? Alright, fine. I’ll write. It will be unstructured and mostly resemble stream of consciousness, but maybe I will eventually establish a theme, and this blog will become “good.” Here I go again…
Allow me to introduce myself officially. Well, I mean, I’m not giving anyone my real name or current location or anything (although I did just inform you of where I grew up). Okay, I’ll give you a first name. It’s Sarah, and I’m 30. I have a master’s degree in psychology, but I currently work as an editor—which, oddly enough, I knew from a very young age that was what I would inevitably end up doing, but I also loved the subject matter of psychology, enjoyed learning statistics, and wanted to know what was wrong with me. Psychology gave me insight. And yeah, I got to learn how to design social and behavioral experiments and use statistics in real-life situations, which was freakin’ awesome. As an undergraduate, I majored in psychology and minored in literature. I wanted to double-major, but after years and years (I’ll get to that later) in college, I just wanted to get the hell outta there, so when I realized I had enough credits for a degree AND a minor, I said, “Super. Great. Now get me out of here!”
I did not walk for graduation for either degree, for many reasons, the first of which being that I kept telling myself I will walk for the real accomplishment, which would be the PhD I had been planning on since childhood. I am currently NOT going for my PhD. Maybe because I am tired of spending the entirety of my adult life in institutional learning, but more likely because the application process is so long and intimidating that even thinking about how to get started causes almost too much anxiety for me to handle. I am getting anxious even now, just having typed that out.
After my master’s degree, I had no idea what to do with myself. I don’t get out much, and I need to learn. It’s my “thing.” One of the only things, in fact, that I can say I’m good at. Being a good student. Writing papers. Rote memorization. Repeating sections of the textbook verbatim. Pulling up my notes mentally during a test and writing the answers directly from them. Group projects? Not so much. I’d rather go it alone, thanks. I was unpopular in high school, being the only one in the class to enthusiastically shoot up my hand for the option of “write a paper” rather than “group assignment.”
Also, after my master’s degree, I was still working as a receptionist in a dental office (I’m a late bloomer), a job that caused me a great deal of nearly intolerable anxiety almost everyday, with its menial tasks and constant influx of patients I had to interact with. Sometimes, by lunch, I was ready to cry. No more phone! I wanted to shout. No more patients staring at me from the waiting area with expressions I can only to describe as “angry” or “annoyed” because we were running behind. Wandering off to hide in the unused consultation room was a daily practice for me whenever a patient got upset or sat too long in the waiting room, staring at me like it’s my fault. I also just could not do confrontation. Poor Cheryl (my co-worker up there); I felt so useless.
“Tell Dave when he comes in that we need to collect his balance before he goes back,” she says casually, as though this is a totally reasonable request for a 30-year-old woman working front desk to manage. I immediately start sweating. Dave walks in. I say, “Hi, Dave. It’ll be just a moment.” My throat is dry. I am delaying. As soon as I work up the courage, I tell myself, I’ll call Dave up to collect his balance. Cheryl has now noticed Dave’s arrival and is looking at me like, What the hell? Did you forget? and I know my eyes are huge and can feel my face is burning. What if he gets mad? What if he asks me what the balance is for and I can’t explain properly? There are other patients in here; what if he yells at me and I start stuttering like a moron (yes, this happens often)? “Um, Dave?” I say, “Could you come around?” I usher him over to Cheryl. She’s better at this stuff; I am a wimp. I need to go hide in the consultation room so I can pull on and twist my fingers while I wait for him to go away and disappear into an operatory. Then I need to apologize to Cheryl, again, because I suck at life.
Then, by some miracle, I stumbled upon this editing job and actually got it! I couldn’t be happier. It includes quite a substantial raise, as well as a dimly-lit cubicle area (no more insufferable fluorescent lights glaring down on me, causing headaches and making my skin look terrible) where I get to enjoy an iMac with enormous duel monitors, a phone that never rings, and a steady stream of educational material in which I get to correct grammar and rearrange sentences all day while I bounce and swing my legs, swivel in my chair, and rub my thumbs—all without an audience of patients.
I do have more to say, but I’m tired now, so this is where I stop.
Last night was my derby team’s last home bout of the season. I’m kid of sad I didn’t get to skate in it–I was working as a penalty tracker instead, due to my lack of uniform and swollen knee from a practice earlier in the week–but it was a proud game. We were playing our first WFTDA-ranked team (WFTDA = Women’s Flat Track Derby Association; teams in that ranking are recognized by the association as being teams that play by the rules, rather than teams that are just starting out or are in the sport more for the theatrics commonly associated with it than for the athleticism). I’m not entirely sure on the final score, but I know we won by almost 100 points! Granted, our team is not a WFTDA team, although that is our goal, so playing this team was a big step in that direction. As such, we were getting tossed into the penalty box left and right. All the hype about how good that team is and how hard they hit had some of our players pretty psyched out, but they all came together and stomped it! Although that was our last bout of the season, we will still be participating in scrimmages until the new season begins in February 2013.
I didn’t know about the scrimmages until last night. Given that I am relatively new to the sport, this excites me, because people I know have been bugging me ever since I started, wanting to know when I will be playing, and not understanding that, because I was “fresh meat”–and subsequently took a two-month-long leave of absence due to being inundated with work, trying to move, and update my skates and gear–I didn’t really have enough practices in me to qualify for bouting. Now that there will be scrimmages, I can finally play, and invite people to watch. Hopefully I won’t get horribly inured or something in my first scrimmage.
When I first joined the team back in February, my goal was to become a jammer. Finally, a few weeks ago, we were having practice and all but one of our jammers skipped that night, leaving only one exhausted jammer to do all the drills. Oh, in case you don’t know what a jammer is, it’s the skater everyone is “after.” In bouts, she wears a star on her helmet, and her job, along with the opposing jammer, is to “break through” the pack of skaters and make laps around skaters of the opposing team. The first jammer to break through the pack without being knocked out of bounds becomes “lead jammer,” which gives her the sole ability to “call off” the jam. After the initial lap around, the jammer gains a point for her team for every opposing teammate she passes, including ones who are sitting in the penalty box. Typically, jammers are relatively small girls; they have to be fast, and able to break through “walls” of big, tough chicks.
I went off on a tangent there. So, the practice where I became a jammer was one where only one of our team’s jammers showed up, and we were doing a drill that was basically leaving only her to jam every time (in bouts, jammers typically rotate, to avoid exhaustion). I was blocking for the first half of practice drills, and, after looking at our jammer and noticing the excessive amount of pink-faced huffing she was doing, said to our coach, “I wanna try to jam one round!”
“Well, I’m sure Slam would like a break, if you want; just ask her.”
I ended up getting to jam for the rest of practice–rotating with Slam, of course. It was a blast. For all subsequent practices, that has been my position. Now I just need to get my endurance up by running in my free time, but, since I’m such a wimp when it comes to heat, and since I live in Florida and we are nearing the end of a record-breaking hot summer, I will wait until it cools off a bit to try that, since there’s no way I’m motivated enough to wake up before the sun rises on my day off, when I have to be up at 5 AM for work al week.
Having grown up in the suburbs of Port Orange and subsequently moving to the bustling city of Orlando for college, I have always been fascinated by rural life, which is one of the many reasons I moved to the small redneck town I now occupy (another reason being that Orlando is expensive as all heck to live). My first month here, I had no idea where anything was. Although it is only a two-square-mile town, many would be amazed by my inability to find my way around a paper bag. This morning, I had some highly anticipated free time—most of which I spent sitting on my butt on the computer—until I realized I was hungry, and also, tragically, out of coffee. So I set out in search for nourishment, but found myself sidetracked by odd-looking houses, big empty fields, and pretty roads entirely shaded by trees and lined by historic plantation-style houses. Along my drive, I finally found the town grocery store. When I say grocery store, I mean this lightly; inside, it is smaller than most commercial 7-11 stores and sells pretty much the same things, minus the gas pumps, and it also contains a kitchen, where you can order a variety sandwiches, burgers, or fried things to dip in ranch dressing, and eat them at the picnic table on the front porch of the store (yes, the store has a front porch)! I ordered a cheeseburger and fried mushrooms with ranch from the skinny Italian-looking guy who kept smiling at me, and went to the porch to wait.
A few minutes later, an older woman came walking up and started chatting with me—another thing about small towns that I find fascinating. One minute, I am sitting alone in front of a convenience store, waiting for my food, and the next, some total stranger is talking to me like we’ve known each other for years. In Orlando, this type of thing is virtually unheard of.
So, she gets out of her car, starts walking towards the door, looks at me, smiles, and says, “Whoo! Hot out here today, huh?”
“It sure is,”I reply, awkwardly.
“Have you heard this July was the hottest ever? I mean, like, ever.”
“I did not; really?”
“Yep—broke all records,” she said.
“Wow. That’s kinda scary!”
“Eh,” she said. “Well, I’m gonna go in here now and get Mr. Cutie Pie to make me some onion rings.” This was clearly in reference to the Italian-looking guy who took my order.
I smiled. “Okay then.”
In the half hour that ensued, I learned the names of the two guys working at the store (Tony, for both), the owner’s name (also Tony, so if I forget any of their names, I am officially dumb), the old woman’s name (Pat), and the name of the “mean old wheelchair lady” (thus described by the Tony from behind the sales clerk counter, prior to being told that wheelchair lady, Chris, actually considers him a “nice young man”). Pat asked me if I had heard of “The City Observer,” their monthly circular paper, and when I said that I had, and that I had picked up a copy my first week in town as an attempt to get to know the area, she proudly announced that she is the editor and creator. As soon as I told her I like to write and edit myself, she began to hound me for stories, and asked me what kinds of lighthearted things I could write about.
After much thought, I told her that I play roller derby at the fairgrounds just a few minutes away. Her eyebrows raised in genuine surprise.
“What? Roller derby?”
“Yep; twice a week, we have practice.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Right over at the fairgrounds. I could write about that.”
“That would be great!” she said, “Oh, yeah; that’s definitely something people around here would find interesting and neat, and it’s so great that it’s local.”
A few minutes later, the Tonys came outside to smoke and join in on the conversation, so I told them about roller derby, too, and that we are having our last bout of the season tomorrow night at 7, and gave them directions to the fairgrounds. “It’s always a good time,” I said, “and, who doesn’t want to watch a bunch of chicks beat each other up on roller skates?” They said they might make it out there.
I guess what amazes me about the half hour I spent at the local grocery is that I went there, alone, intending to just grab something to eat to hold me over until I get to work at the restaurant later, and instead, ended up accomplishing both of those things, along with learning the names of some town people, all about the local businesses in the area and the people who run them—including the owner of the coffee and sandwich shop that had closed before I even had a chance to try a latte; she was apparently a former pole dancer who was inexplicably married to the city commissioner and, according to the old lady, “thinks her shit don’t stink”—and managed to pick up some free press for my derby team as well. Looks like next season might be getting more of a local following, albeit a slightly redneck following.