Pretending Gives me Anxiety

Prickly pear_feistyharriet_april 2016

Some days it is almost all I can do to just be myself. I feel like I don’t fit in my skin, my brain and my heart are not on the same page, and sometimes panic attacks that come out of nowhere send me spiraling down to the fetal position where I hug my knees and try and remember how to breathe.

Real talk, ya’ll. Sometimes being Harriet is just hard.

I am thirty-three, and it’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve realized something: it’s actually much easier to be myself than to try and be anyone else. The general discomfort and lack of self-confidence most often come when I am trying to pretend I’m someone I’m not. Did you catch that? Pretending to be someone else ultimately increases my anxiety: pretending builds a beautiful but completely unstable house of cards, impressive, but ready to crash at any moment.

I don’t get far trying to pretend that I’m cool; I’m not. I can talk to someone for hours, but I very much prefer conversations about things that matter over Small Talk. Small Talk is boring. I am a nerd. I get excited about volcanoes and elephant psychology and North Korean history/politics. I will always love reading dense-ish non-fiction over watching some fluffy Netflix crap or devouring the latest YA series. I don’t like most popular TV shows because I get irritated at the messages that are being sent about how we should probably live our lives, I don’t like the social commentary that most often uses minorities or those who are somehow “other” as a jokey subplot linked with the laugh track. I think, more often than not, it sustains or increases prejudice against already marginalized groups instead of generating critical thought or inciting social change.

I don’t get (or even really care (anymore)) about what makes someone popular in the real world or online. I was sooo not popular in school, or in my 20’s, and doubt I ever will be. I do try to be kind, but sometimes when people are assholes basic kindness is impossible, and I don’t feel that badly about treating assholes with a hefty dose of their own snarky medicine.

Clearly, I am a barrel of laughs. I often have to force myself to not be so serious, to lighten up, to not pick apart every little thing. But, the truth is, I am serious-minded, and all the fluffy unicorn memes in the world can’t undo that part of my personality.

A few months ago I read, and mostly disagreed with, Marie Kondo’s Tidying-Up Magic. However, thinking about her ideas in the context of my online presence and blog (and not the physical objects in my home), perhaps she was on to something. What are the pieces of Harriet that truly bring me joy? It’s not a bright and shiny, well-lit and well-curated “lifestyle” social media feed. It’s not a styled online presence at all, actually. Every time I think I should post about X, Y, or Z to attract more traffic or get a few likes or a few shares, I feel like I stumble and fall flat on my face. I’m not a lifestyle blogger, and probably never will be. And…that’s okay. At this point (and I do give myself permission to change my mind), I don’t want to employ SEO tactics to increase traffic, I don’t feel any need to link up with sponsors to get my foot in the door (the door to what?) or to gain better visibility to brands or campaigns. Am I jealous of the fancy big blogs that bring in a livable wage? Sure. But I’m not a lifestyle blogger, I’m a writer. Or at least trying to be. I’m trying to figure out how to write down the stuff in my head.

I am feisty, I am a feminist, I will talk your ear off about social injustice for minority groups or whatever geeky book I’ve read lately. I cannot pretend that world events don’t affect me; they do. I critique advertising much more than I follow it’s not-at-all subtle nudges towards consumption-based buying behavior, and will quickly make mental notes of the pieces that feel disingenuous. I don’t care about being popular, but I do care about fostering individual relationships–meaningful relationships–with people both IRL and online. I do not have time for disingenuous, give me your real self, your authentic self, even just a small part of it. I don’t know what to do with the shiny and the pretend, but give me something ragged around the edges, I’ll take extra care with it. Give me something a little broken and I’ll bust out my Scotch Tape and a cup of tea and something to snuggle with and if I can’t fix it I’ll just employ gentle hair pats and the occassional one-liner to break the tension or make you smile.

And maybe, ultimately, that is more what I am than who I am. Perhaps I am the rough edges, the broken one, the lonely one, held together with non-decorative Scotch Tape and a hope for compassion. Maybe I’m just trying to fit in, knowing for damn sure that I’ll never make it as a Styled, Curated, Shiny Harriet because Harriet The Feisty Nerd will always get in the way, say something candid and honest and decidedly not “on brand” or “campaign approved.”

Remember how I said that it’s much easier to be yourself than to pretend to be someone or something you are not? Yeah. This is me. Messy and feisty, opinionated and sometimes jealous, unfiltered and sometimes a little sweary or ranty and almost always ready to fight for the underdog. Sometimes I’m selfish and sometimes I’m kind. Sometimes I’m forgiving and sometimes I guard that grudge to somehow protect my own hurt feelings, and sometimes I keep it just out of spite. Sometime I have my shit together and sometimes I eat raw cookie dough right out of it’s store-bought plastic-wrapped tube–not vegan, not gluten free, not free-range, not responsibly sourced. Just a tube of sugary trans fats.

I am a work in progress, and it’s easier to admit that than it is to pretend that things are great and everything is fine. Is it scary? Yes. Is doing something scary easier than sustaining something fake? For me? A million times easier, there is no house of cards that I must build and/or maintain, no illusions to feed, no shareholders to please.

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write, edit, rewrite, delete, write, rewrite, delete, write, edit, rewrite, delete.

San Francisco2_feistyharriet

[write, write, write] there! a post about anxiety.

….hm….nope, too vulnerable, can’t do it. [delete, delete, delete.]

…..[think…think…think…] !!!!!

[write, write, write!] there! a post about not feeling so alone!

…. except…no. not working. at all. [delete, delete, delete.]

….. [think…think] a ha! a new idea!

…. [writey-write-write-tappity-tap-tap…. delete, delete, delete.] all my ideas are terrible.

……hmmmm….what if….?

[writewriteEDITwrite!!] ok! a post about doing it for the process! perfect!

[review]…..meh….no….nope, nope, nope.

[delete, delete, delete, delete, DELETE!]

…..[think…… think….. THINK DAMMIT! THINK!….]

….nope. no thoughts.

sigh. why is this sometimes so easy, and sometimes so ridiculously hard?!

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All about baseball (translation: not at all about baseball)

Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd…

Once upon a time, it feels like a million years ago, I loved baseball. Well, that may be a little bit of an exaggeration, I liked baseball…which really means I didn’t mind watching a game, contingent upon appropriate snacks. And I prefer my baseball games outside, not watching from the couch. And they have to be evening games, not too hot, with east-facing seats, because, my sun-fearing skin. And my game-watching companions must either care enough about the game to know what is going on, and be able to talk about it without being a jackass, or care nothing for the game and be present only for the atmosphere and overpriced stadium food. So…maybe I didn’t really like baseball all that much, but I sure as hell knew a lot about it for a little while.

My x-husband, who I don’t talk about very often, was a baseball fanatic. He grew up in Chicago and was a hardcore Chicago Cubs fan, he and his Dad and his brothers had been on the waiting list for Chicago Cubs tickets for years by the time I met him (I just checked, the current wait list is 65,000 people long). In addition to watching almost every single televised game, he played on a local team, and we often went to the minor league games in Salt Lake; our team is the AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.

Because he loved baseball so much I asked him to explain the game to me, and his analytical brain spent HOURS detailing strategy, and players, and history, and blah blah blah. I mean, kudos to him for providing the extensive information, and triple kudos to me for a) listening and b) actually being somewhat interested. I picked a favorite player based solely on looks–Derrek Lee, a first baseman who had just started with the Cubs–and settled in for a long summer of cracker jack and bratwurst. I learned enough about actual strategy to be able to comment occasionally on a play, or whatever, and my X and his baseball buddies (brothers & friend) playfully dubbed me The Rookie. I distinctly recall the day I questioned a play that was not jiving with Good Baseball Strategy and all four of those dudes turned to stare at me, dumbfounded, “Well, she’s not the rookie anymore!” It was a compliment, and one I was kind of proud to earn. Honestly, in those early days, it was fun to watch part of a game, be able to follow what was going on and understand a little about the outbursts of joy or rage coming from the Baseball Groupies.

The X and I got engaged towards the end of that first baseball season, and married before it started again. Shockingly, the second time around his obsession became kind of tedious. Then a lot tedious. Prior to living together I had no idea how much televised sports he really watched, upwards of 14 or 15 hours a day, any given day, sometimes more. In lieu of season tickets, and actually living in Chicago, X splurged for the Every Televised Baseball Game cable package and then set up two TVs in the basement, both with picture-in-picture capabilities (do you even remember that super fancy technology?!) and proceeded to watch 4 games at a time, all the time, all season long. As the season progressed the summer evening AAA games at our local stadium were fewer and fewer, then non-existent, and the marathon sessions of televised MLB games and sports talk TV about the games intensified.

While we were dating and engaged I was in school and working two jobs and when we went out in the evenings I didn’t realize that he’d simply set the last part of the last games to record and would watch them later. Once we got married he quit the record-watch-later charade, and I was at first charmingly surprised (2 minutes), then irritated (15 minutes), then full on annoyed that this dumb game was more important than anything else (the next 14 months). Baseball was more important than dinners with family, birthday parties for my nieces and nephews, or even regular not-sports-related date nights or quality time together as a couple. I was a baseball widow before we even had a chance, and I resented it, big time. Now, there were a lot of other major factors that contributed to the deterioration of our marriage, obviously. But for me the last straw was during a conversation prior to Baseball Season: Round Three when he told me, in a moment of complete seriousness, that if he had to choose between watching baseball and working to improve our marriage, he would pick baseball. Every time. He actually said that to me, not in a moment of anger or frustration, but in a matter-of-fact conversation about what was and what wasn’t working in our relationship. When I questioned it, wondering if he was just exaggerating for twisted-comedic effect, he doubled down on his stance. I moved out a not long after that; again, a much bigger catalyst led to that decision, but the baseball thing was always there, lurking, reminding me that I didn’t matter nearly as much as a bunch of dudes in pinstripes standing around for hours and occasionally doing something to/with a ball.

I don’t watch baseball anymore, I haven’t paid attention to a game for over a decade. I don’t even really care who makes it to the World Series, or if a home run record is broken. Every year or two a group of friends would go to a minor league game, but we are definitely, solidly, in the camp of “here for the atmosphere and the snacks and the post-game fireworks” and very far away from arguing baseball strategy and comparing stats on the players.

I passed a billboard the other day with a countdown to the beginning of baseball spring training season; I had forgotten all about the Cactus League and the 5 or 6 weeks of intense Baseball Everything¬† in Arizona. I probably won’t go to a game, just passing the billboard brings up enough unpleasant memories as is, but maybe next year, or the year after, I’ll have a couple of friends here who wouldn’t mind spending a warm evening eating overpriced bratwurst and laughing about completely unrelated events while a baseball game goes on in the background.

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The best of times, the worst of times: I'm there

Have you ever been hit with a sudden, overwhelming sense of happiness? Can you pinpoint what person or event triggered the rush of endorphins? For me, it seems that it takes hitting a super rock-bottom low with ugly sobs followed by a few days of increasing positivity for me to really hit the natural high of so-happy-you’re-crying.

I’m there. And yes, I cry a lot. Whatever.

This all started about a week ago when I started packing up some boxes for Mr. Blue Eyes to take to our new house in Arizona. The idea of leaving this place, my home, was suddenly very very real. And it was heartbreaking. I sat on the floor and cried. And cried. And cried.

Home_FeistyHarriet_June2015

Now, I am not rejecting the idea of actually living with my spouse, that all sounds lovely. But I am in deep mourning for leaving this place; the city that sheltered me after a really terrible divorce, the neighborhood that has been a tangible comfort to me when I’m stressed, the friends who are my people, and the physical walls of an apartment where I became an adult. I am far more attached and invested in this little space of mine than I am in the house of my childhood. FAR more. Often times the idea of driving away from this oasis of happy and comfort leaves a physical ache in my heart.

Packing and labeling boxes, stacking them up and seeing that tangible tower of “you are leaving this place” sent me into a tailspin. A million thanks to my sweet friend D for stopping in to check on me (you know, after I didn’t answer phone calls or texts for a day and a half; see: tailspin). She invited me to go on a hike, and that was the beginning of my upswing.

Canyon Creek_feistyharriet_June 2015

Hiking a pretty low-key trail with two dear friends and their chattering 3-month old was so good for my soul. The sights and smells of my beloved mountains calmed and soothed my aching heart and watching the sun streak my sky in orange and magenta and gold felt like God was giving me gentle hair pats, telling me it would all be okay.

Desolation Trail Sunset_feistyharriet_June 2015

A day or two later, several hours spent with my oil paints and an audiobook brought me back to my happy place.

Sunday evening was spent with family, not my own siblings, but close enough. I have the same hands as my aunt, the same eyes as one cousin, the same feet as another, and my uncle called me by my childhood nickname the entire evening. There was no anxiety, no passive-aggressive comments, lots of laughing and giggling and jokes, and as much cookie dough as I wanted.

Mr. Blue Eyes will be here this weekend to remove the packed-up-boxes situation and I’m sure a few days snuggling him and laughing with him and just being together. I feel like so much of my life is in this extended period of uncomfortable limbo. Part of me wishes I could just quit my job and move next week, just rip off the band-aid. The other part of me is so grateful for these last few months of savoring my life and friends and experiences here, slowly saying goodbye. The truth is, both are hard, and I’m sure I will continue to have these emotional swings, both until and after I leave.

But, hopefully, I won’t have to pack up any more boxes until December when I actually move.

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Complaints

Ya’ll, I have complaints. In fact, on any given day I have a list of complaints as long as my arm. Ok, that’s actually not really true. For the most part I’m not really a super complainer, not really. But sometimes…man, sometimes I just need to get it out. And that means you’ll get an ear-full or a feed-full of my rantiness in all it’s glory. Here is at least a small attempt to curb some of that ranting, at least the kind that doesn’t do any good.

What I want to stop complaining about:

1. Moving. I haven’t said much about it here (or really anything about it), but at the end of this year I am packing up my apartment, my beloved home I’ve lived in for 10 years, and moving 700 miles south to a city where I know exactly 6 people, 3 of whom are family and one who is only tangentially related (and a monster). I’m emotionally torn, but I also feel selfish for feeling that way. It’s my decision and after looking at all the pros and cons I know it is the best choice. However, for me the “pro” list only slightly outweighs the “con” list–and that makes the decision an emotionally difficult one.

2. A certain mico-managing colleague. And, in accordance with the wise law of dooce, I’ll just leave it at that.

3. My intolerable lady parts: graphic, bloody, TMI. Enough said.

4. My weight. This is 99% an internal complaint, and also a fairly recent development. I want to stop complaining and just fix the damn problem, all 40 pounds of it. I know how to do this (fewer cookies/boxes of pity-party macaroni and cheese, more exercise), but I somehow continue to eat the cookies and the pity mac and cheese and complain about my more rounded bits.

5. Oversharers, especially those on social media. Dear Harriet, just unfollow them. Stop complaining and stop allowing their annoying-to-you updates to clutter your feed. Just walk away.

What I will not stop complaining ranting lecturing educating everyone I meet about:

1. Feminism and the radical notion that women are people to and should be treated with a basic level of respect, equality, and kindness. This includes respect of images of women, words said by women, ideas put forth by women, and laws set down by women. “No” means “no” and “stop it!” means “stop it!” and “stop treating me like a set of boobs and legs” means “PAY ATTENTION TO SOMETHING OTHER THAN MY BODY!” I will yell about this my entire life, or until women have equal rights and opportunities and are treated with equal respect world-wide. So, my entire life. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

2. Equal rights and lack of prejudice against people who have a different skin color, religion, ethnic background, sexual preference, or political views than you. Stop it. Seriously, stop.

3. My intolerable lady parts: exploding ovarian cysts, endometriosis (newly diagnosed), excruciating doctor’s visits with TEN MILLION BIOPSIES TAKEN FROM INSIDE MY VAGINA!, and the general lack of control over super painful experiences inside my own body. I know I said I’d stop complaining about this I wanted to stop complaining about this, but no. I can’t. It’s just too much and too unfair to keep to myself. You’re welcome.

4. My love of hefty non-fiction and, therefore, my somewhat devil-may-care attitude towards YA fiction. Sorry/not sorry, but I can only intake so much fluff before I start to mentally float away and need something grounding, like evolutionary theory, or conditions in North Korea, or neuroscience, or economic practice, or whatever. And then I can’t won’t stop blabbering about all the cool stuff I learn in these books. I’m like a walking, talking, probably super annoying personal podcast. Again. You’re welcome.

5. Every year for several weeks I am loathe to go outside and enjoy the glorious spring sunshine and blooming flowers/trees because all of the flower/tree jizz gets up in my sinuses and creates a biological Niagara Falls, complete with sneezy, itchy eyes and a ridiculously high-dollar allowance for Kleenex with Lotion. I just, no. Not okay. Hear that, Nature? NOT OKAY! KEEP IT IN YOUR DAMN PLANTS!

So. What do you complain about? And what will you continue to complain about, come hell or high water?

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Inspired by ROE’s post at Giggles and Laundry.