26 July, 2011

Channeling the Cherry Bomb

Some people might wonder why I don't go out and interact with the world more, why I'm not more proactive in supporting my community, or why I don't have a strong motivation to be a productive member of society. But the reason is simple. The world is filled with squares and people who judge you even as they smile and shake your hand. I don't want to be the target of scrutiny and suspicion just because I'm bizarre and unique. I don't want people to be afraid of or disturbed by me because I don't behave, socially, like everyone else does.

And I know that while some part of that is the fact that I am different, and stuck in a world that thrives on conformity, there is also a part which is just me being insecure about myself and over-anxious of what others might be thinking. There are things I want to do, that I don't feel content not doing, yet don't feel comfortable doing, either. I must choose between being incontent or uncomfortable. Do people really care if I dress or act in unusual ways? I don't know, but it makes me feel very conspicuous; I can sense that I don't fit in. Or at the very least, that I draw attention - and attention makes me uncomfortable.

I wish I could just trap myself inside my own mind and do what I want without thinking at all about what anyone else might think, do, or say as a result. But it's rather ironic, that although I am incredibly introverted, I am incapable of blocking out my concern with what others are thinking. And I know the emphasis is more on my fear of what other people might think than on what any other person is actually thinking, which suggests that the problem really does still lie in my own head. Am I really concerned with what other people are thinking, or am I afraid to accept myself the way I am? Yet, it can't be that simple, because I can do things without thinking twice when I am alone, that make me uncomfortable while in the presence of others. The problem is in my own mind, but it is intimately related to (and dependent upon) the existence of other minds. It's as if I want to control the way other people think - about me. To force them to think nothing but positive thoughts about me.

Ultimately, I think I'm just afraid of somebody confronting me or contradicting me. I mean, most of the time that doesn't happen - most people are passive about things they don't like that aren't directly threatening them. But what would I do if that did happen? I could try to leave the situation, or end up getting beaten up, I suppose. On second thought, that's not the thing that bothers me the most. It's the idea of me sitting in a room, and causing other people to be uncomfortable, but not able to address the issue. I know what it's like to feel that way: to be uncomfortable, and feel like you don't have the power to speak up and change the thing that's bothering you - if for no other reason than in polite deference to the rights and freedoms of another's individual expression.

I'd rather be told I'm making someone uncomfortable so I can leave, or change my behavior, to stop making them uncomfortable, rather than sit there and keep bothering them because I don't know one way or another. Yet neither do I feel comfortable asking them outright - and besides, if they weren't bothered, they might begin to become bothered if I keep asking them out of the blue if I'm bothering them. Where to draw the line, and how to stop myself from worrying when I haven't even crossed that line? On the other hand, rationally speaking, it's their responsibility for letting me continue to bother them if they choose not to make it clear that I am bothering them. It's not my responsibility to ensure beyond a reasonable doubt that other people in my vicinity are comfortable. I have no ethical obligation to be liked or respected.

I don't want to make people feel uncomfortable, but being myself means embracing things - attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors - that I know have a potential to make others uncomfortable. How do I deal with that? Do I have to choose between living with the fact that I make others uncomfortable, or holing myself up in a cave, isolated from the rest of the world? Is there no other choice? That is, other than stifling the expression of my individual personality when I go out into the world, which I already do quite a bit of, and am not happy with? How do I learn to become comfortable being the odd one out, the one who challenges others' beliefs and values, the one who freaks out squares?

Actually, this is a theme that was touched on in Cherie Currie's memoir, when she adopted the Cherry Bomb persona, opening herself up to ridicule from her classmates for her new and outrageous visual and behavioral persona. She came to accept that her ability to bother other people, and make them feel insecure about her unconventional existence, was proof of her power, the power of her image. And she used that strength to front an aggressive, in-your-face rock n roll band. But to think of myself doing the same is really difficult. Can I be like that? As a shy, highly sensitive individual, do I have it in me? Is there any other choice?

History records those who have the courage to stand out from the crowd.

Addendum: When something is bothering me, I'm afraid to speak up. Perhaps I am projecting that onto other people. Maybe I want to avoid bothering people in any way possible, because I assume they won't be able to speak up either, and I don't want to subject them to the uncomfortability (and powerlessness) I frequently feel. Yet most people aren't like that. And most people aren't as sensitive as I am. They aren't as bothered by things as I am, and they aren't as powerless to affect the things that do bother them.

Maybe my feeling of powerlessness comes from when I was younger. My older brother would do things that annoyed me immensely, and no matter how I complained, or fought him, I couldn't stop him from doing those things. Nothing I did could make me control his behavior. Perhaps I was traumatized by being so profoundly annoyed, that I internalized a desire to avoid ever annoying someone else. And maybe I have subconsciously projected my own inability to affect my brother's behavior on other people, leading me to believe that if other people do get bothered, they are incapable of stopping the bothersome behavior - which is why I feel it's my responsibility to be cognizant of their feelings (despite this being impossible without their consulting me) so as to avoid ever doing anything to bother them in the first place - because they wouldn't be able to stop it, and they would feel as stuck and annoyed as I did when I was young, fighting with my brother.

But I am not my brother. I am not as stubborn (though I can be stubborn in some ways), and do not have a bullying nature. I am sensitive, not only to my feelings, but to the feelings of others. If somebody tells me I am bothering them, I am going to try to stop bothering them. So I really need not feel guilty about doing anything that might bother someone. I'm not doing it to annoy anyone, and I'll stop if asked. So I should at the very least be allowed to give it a try, in the case that it doesn't bother anyone. After all, most people aren't as easily bothered as I am.

I recall a time in the lower grades of elementary school when a kid screamed at me for bothering him by sniffling my nose a lot. The kid was like, "god, stop sniffling, you're driving me nuts, just go grab a tissue and blow your nose already." I didn't learn how to blow my nose until I was like 15, and even then, I didn't like it because it's messy. But I can see how a traumatic incident like that would reinforce my fear of bothering people with the smallest things, leading me to feel insecure and unconfident. Considering how sensitive I am to ridicule, and being the cause of other people's negative feelings.

Let's see, twenty years of debilitating anxiety - have I done my penance for causing various people minor small annoyances throughout my life? I think from now on, I'm gonna have to weigh anything I might do to bother another person against the many years of crippling fear and anxiety I've suffered. If some guy is uncomfortable for a few moments, then to hell with him. I've suffered my share already.

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