Archive

Posts Tagged ‘freakishness’

Forgiveness? Never!

Someone sent me a link to this. Apparently the author of that piece actually died last weekend. It’s very sad: he’s the kind of person who the world needs more of. Someone honest, someone who’s not afraid to take responsibility for his own errors, someone who’s not afraid to speak up, even when what he has to say isn’t going to be well received by mane people. I would have liked to have the opportunity to talk to him – it sounds like we had a lot in common.

He said a lot of things that I’ve tried to express, and failed. It’s so hard to try to explain just what it’s like to still be upset about what people did to you twenty or thirty years ago. And yet, it still has an effect; it still hurts; it still influences you.

One of the places where I disagree strongly with him is the issue of forgiveness. When I talk about the fact that I’m still angry over the abusethat I went through, that I’m still angry at the people who did it, and the people who allowed it, I get lectures about forgiveness: They’re not the samepeople they were back them! Can’t you get over it, and give them a chance? Why hold that anger? It’s bad for you, you need to forgive. blah, blah, blah.

Here’s the thing: the people that abused me? They’re not sorry that they did it it. They never apologized. They never expressed the least bit of remorse or regret. On the rare occasions that I’ve bumped into one of them – either online, or when I’m in back in my old home-town visiting my parents – they remember it as good old fun times: “Hey, dude, remember that time I slammed you against the flagpole? Wasn’t that fun? Man, the look on your face while you rolled on the ground and cried, the way you couldn’t open your right eye the rest of the day because it was so swollen! It was great!”

They don’t deserve to be forgiven. And forgiving them would be a betrayal of myself. These were people who harmed me, profoundly, for their own pleasure. To forgive them without any remorse or regret on their part would be a way of saying that what they did was OK with me. That while I was upset at the time, it doesn’t matter anymore. But it does matter. It matters a lot. It may have been a long time ago… but the fact remains that I can’t have a friend say “Hey, dude, long time no see” without reacting with absolute terror. I’m still a freak who reacts instinctively tonormal, everyday, friendly gestures with fear and anger – because of the abuse that was inflicted on me.

How can I forgive that?

Worse, how can I forgive the people who enabled it? As angry as I am at the people who abused me, like the author of the thing I linked to up above, I’m more angry at the adults.

I was abused at school. It almost entirely a school thing; encounters off the school grounds happened once in a while, but they were extremely rare – I was smart enough to avoid anyplace that my tormentors frequented when we weren’t at school.

And the thing about this stuff going on at school was that it could only happen with the tacit OK of the adults at the school. A kid can’t be beaten upat school every day without teachers, principals, and counselors knowing about it. It’s their job, their responsibility to make the school a safe place where children can learn. They didn’t do their job. It’s not that they couldn’t have stopped stuff like that from happening.

Kids aren’t stupid. In many ways, kids are perfect examples of abstract economics. There’s a certain amount of benefit (pleasure) to be had from certain activities; and those activities have some cost. If the cost of the activity is less than the benefit, then the activity will continue; if thecost exceeds the benefit, then they’ll stop.

How do you stop bullying? You attach a significant cost to it. It’s that simple. If the cost exceeds the benefit, then it stops.

In my school, there was no cost. The principal of the school was a former nun, who believed that children needed to work out their problems on their own, and so she refused to get involved. Whatever happened between children on school grounds, well, it happened. That’s just the way children are.

The flagpole incident mentioned above, that’s real. Both the original event, and the encounter several years later. I did, literally, have my face slammed into a flagpole. I did have an eye swollen closed. And guess what happened to the guy who did it? Not a god-damned bloody thing. Absolutely nothing.

That’s inexcusable, unforgivable. It’s a betrayal of her responsibility, of her obligations to the students under her care, of her obligations as a human being. That principal? There is no power on earth or in heaven that can ever make me forgive her. I hope that there’s a hell, and that she’s rotting in it.

With the recent attention that’s being paid to bullying, I’ve seen a lot of people coming forward against “bullying the bullies”. Their argument is, roughly, that when you punish a bully, you’re doing the same thing to themthat they do to their victims. You’re a person in a position of power relative to them. You’re bigger and stronger, and when you punish the bully, you’re using the fact that you’re bigger and stronger to hurt them.

Fuck that. If punishing a bully for abusing other children is bullying? Fine, bully the bullies! The only way to stop children from abusing other children is to make it clear to them that there is a cost. That the cost outweighs whatever pleasure they get from committing the abuse. And that they will need to pay that cost each and every time they attack or abuse another child, without exception. Do that? Bullying ends. Don’t do that? It will continue.

In my case, the bullying stopped during my senior year in high school. Why? Two things happened. First of all, I grew over ten inches between the beginning of junior and senior years in high school. So I got a lot bigger. And second, I discovered that a knapsack containing a physics book, a chemistry book, and a calculus book made a great weapon: it really hurt to get hit by it, and it required virtually no skill on my part to use it. As soon as abusing me had a cost – that the abuser could take 10 pounds of textbooks in the face for doing it, it stopped.

Advertisements

Working with Social Anxiety

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m going to try to stop being quite so whiny here.

Working through therapy for social anxiety is really difficult. And it seems like it gets worse before it gets better. Part of the therapy is just becoming aware of the fear, and how it affects me in my daily life. The bad side of that is that it forces me to recognize just how much it’s affected pretty much every aspect of my life. There’s virtually nothing that I do, from the time I get up in the morning, until I go to sleep at night that isn’t affected. In fact, even sleep isn’t immune: even in my dreams, the anxiety affects me. I knew that my anxiety had a huge effect on my life – but even I wasn’t really aware of just how huge that effect was. And now, I’m becoming conscious of it – and feelings of anxiety that were bubbling beneath the surface are now getting my attention – and my attention makes me feel them more intensely.

A big part of the reason that I’ve been freaking out so much lately is, as I said, it seems like things get worse before they get better. That’s difficult. But it’s had a serious effect on my work – which just adds an additional stressor.

I’ve always tended to work by myself. In my last job, I ended up gravitating towards projects where I could mostly do things by myself. I always blamed that on the fact that my area of specialization was something that was very highly valued by management, but wasn’t particularly well-respected by my coworkers. That’s true, but I think that I also was finding ways of being even more withdrawn and solitary than can be explained by that.

In my current job, being solitary isn’t an option. It’s just not the way that we do things in my company.

I was the technical lead of my last project, and it crashed and burned. I don’t think that that was my fault: there were problems in the project that pre-dated my involvement, and I don’t think that even if I had the best social skills in the world, that there’s anything I could have done to salvage it. But I think that my lack of social skills did have an effect on the aftermath. I think I wound up catching a lot of the blame, simply because my side of the story never got heard. People didn’t know what I did; they weren’t aware of how hard I worked to try to fix things – because I never talked to anyone except my immediate coworkers.

In the aftermath of that, my manager’s manager basically said that my performance was lousy, and that he couldn’t justify asking any other project to take me on. This was a total shock to me, because up until then, I thought that I had a pretty decent track record. Sure, the last project was a mess: but I’d done some great, important, valuable work on my previous projects! Except that, once again, no one knew that I’d done it. I built a tool that was used by hundreds of other engineers. But the tool had been promoted by my coworker, who’d been mentoring me on the project – and so this manager had assumed that he did it.

So I was very lucky to get the chance to move into my current project, and I came on board under a shadow. And it’s a very tough job. We’ve got a huge and critically important codebase, which we took over from another group. We need to refactor it – to take what is currently one large, highly interconnected system, and split it into two smaller, independent systems with a well-defined interface. And we don’t have time to understand all of the details of how it works! So we need to treat parts of it as black boxes, and do the refactoring around the edges of those boxes. It’s the kind of software development and maintenance task that gets very little attention, no glamour, but which is incredibly important and highly challenging. (And, frankly, it’s actually fun, precisely because it’s so challenging.)

Alas, nothing is ever simple when you’ve got severe anxiety trouble. I tend to spend a lot of time puzzling through things where just asking a coworker for help would be much, much faster. We each know parts of the system pretty well – when I get caught dealing with one of the parts I know less well, what I should do is just talk to the guy in the next desk over. But to do that, I’d have to interrupt him and ask him a question. And for me, that’s terrifying. Even though I know him; even though most days I eat lunch with him; even though we talk comfortably when he initiates a conversation; when I need to ask something, I’m crippled by fear.

And so, I don’t ask. I just take three times as long to do anything as I should.

Frankly, this is the biggest thing that I need to work on. It’s a lot more important than talking to clerks in a store. And it should be easier, because it’s someone I know. But it isn’t, and I think I need to understand why that is.

What if I can’t?

September 17, 2010 1 comment

The further I get into my therapy, the more hopeless I feel. I want to get past this horrible fear that’s dominated so much of my life. But I can’t do it. The things that my therapist is asking me to do are so simple, so trivial – and yet, I’m absolutely paralyzed at the thought of doing them.

It’s not that she’s pushing me too hard. We spent a total of a couple of hours over the span of multiple sessions working out a ladder – that is, a list, from easy to hard, of the different kinds of situation that trigger my fears. And we’re starting with the easiest one that I could come up with. There’s no easier first step. And yet, I can’t do it.

In my last post, one commenter asked something about what kind of example I’d be setting for my children if I give up.

I don’t know. I don’t want to teach my kids to give up when things get hard. But I also really believe that there are some things that we can change, and some things that we can’t. No matter what happens with my therapy, I’m never going to stop being shy or introverted. Those are just basic parts of how I’m put together as a person. I can’t decide to stop being introverted. It’s a fact, not a choice.

I want my children to understand that we don’t get everything we want. That to got through life, you need to be able to be realistic, set realistic goals, and be happy with what you can achieve.

I’m not arguing against being ambitious. But we don’t always get to decide how things will turn out. We don’t gain anything by denying the existence of the limits that reality puts on us. If my son were to decide that he wants to be a professional linebacker in the NFL, he’s going to be disappointed. It doesn’t matter how much he wants to do it – he doesn’t have the right sort of body for it.

I don’t want to teach my children that they need to aspire to some kind of arbitrary goal, and torture themselves if they can’t get there.

All that my therapist is asking me to do is to find an excuse to walk into a couple of stores on my way to work, and ask someone who works there a question. Just a simple question, like “where can I find the toothpaste?”

And I’m absolutely sick at the thought of doing that every day. I can’t face it. It’s pathetic, but I can’t. And when I say sick, I’m not being figurative. I’m giving myself migraines every day from the stress of it.

And if I can’t even do something that small, that simple – how is it remotely possible that I’ll ever defeat this wretched anxiety?

Is this just an inescapable part of who I am? How long do I keep doing this to myself before I can conclude that it’s not going to work?

Why fight?

September 12, 2010 2 comments

Right now, I’m sitting inside my house hiding, while the neighborhood block party happens on the street in front.

I hear the children shouting. I hear the adults talking and laughing. I smell the food cooking. And I would love, so much to be a part of that.

But I can’t. I can’t even walk out the door. And so I sit here, writing a blog that no one reads, missing something I’ve never really had. How pathetic is that?

Human beings are social animals. We’re wired by evolution to need to be part of a group. We build communities, not just because we want them, but because we need them. But what about someone like me, who doesn’t know how to join a community? Who’s afraid of it?

I’ve spent almost my entire life on the outside looking in. I’m jealous, so very jealous, of virtually everyone else. It seems like everyone but me knows how to find a community, to find friends, to find people that they can connect with. I just sit and watch, and feel horribly jealous.

Am I ever going to get better than this? I really doubt it. I can’t even imagine it. And after a couple of months of therapy, what progress have I made? None that I can see. I’m fighting, but it seems like I’m losing the battle. Why keep pissing away time money and pain on fighting this? It’s not going to change. I’m not going to change. Maybe it’s just time to give up fighting, and accept that this is what I am. I hate it, but if it’s the truth, what good is fighting it? What can it possibly bring  me except even more pain?

Pain? No, it’s just a joke.

There’s a lot to hate about being me. But ignore that for the moment. Let me focus on my big problem – this wretched social anxiety thing.

I’ve said before that I hate the term social anxiety. I hate more than the term. I hate the problem. I hate how people look at it. I hate how it’s a joke.

Any kind of psychological or psychiatric illness suffers from a huge stigma. If you’ve got something in that family, it’s because you’re weak, or foolish, or stupid.

Social anxiety suffers from that in spades.

People hear “social anxiety”, and… they see it, at best, as a manufactured illness. It’s just shyness. It’s not a real illness. It was invented by drug companies to sell happy pills!

No matter where you turn, if you hear a mention of social anxiety, it’s always either a joke, or a rant about how pathetic people are nowadays  – they can’t even cope with being shy without needing to see a doctor!

Even among geeks… there are a lot of people with social anxiety among geeks. But no one will actually admit it. I’m hiding behind a pseudonym here! But even in this community where so many of us suffer from it… Look at artists who come from the community. Take Jonathan Coulton. He’s got a song about pill popping, and yup, social anxiety is one of the punchlines.

I’m struggling to try to overcome this illness. And it’s so damned hard, and it hurts so damned much. And to nearly everyone else, to nearly everyone who hasn’t been in a miserable pit of despair like this, to people who’ve never been trapped in this cage, it’s just a joke.

Self-Loathing

Deep down, I don’t really believe that I’m ever going to get better.

The hell of it is that I’ve internalized so much of the pain and so much of the blame for the pain, that I blame myself for everything wrong with me. I really genuinely hate the person that I am. Every time something bad happens, it’s like there’s a little voice in my head saying “Ha! You deserved that, you rotten bastard!”

Intellectually, I can say that that’s ridiculous. I can say that I try to be a good person; that I’m loyal and kind to my friends; that I’m smart and successful at work. But that’s all intellectual. On an emotional level, I don’t really believe that.

I think that that’s a big part of my problem. I hate me. I see myself as some sort of monstrous freak. And so I expect everyone else to. I’m terrified of every encounter with people, because I’m scared that they’re going to figure out what I really am.

I know that that’s stupid. But knowing that it’s stupid doesn’t change its reality.

If that’s really what’s going on – if that self-hatred is really the root of the problem – then how can I get better?

And I wonder where it came from. I was abused, terribly, in high school. Beaten, mocked, humiliated, on a daily basis. Every day, year in, year out. Did I learn to accept the mockery and humiliation as truth? I didn’t think so at the time, but now I wonder. That’s how it seems. The things that I blame myself for, the bits of myself that I hate, the things I do, the things I think, the things I see that trigger the worst of that self-hatred – they’re all things that I was tormented about in those terrible times.

How do I go about getting that out of my brain? I wish I knew. I wish I believed that I could.

But I’m a geek. And the way I understand this whole phenomenon is in terms of debugging. We’re trying to debug my mind. But as a geek, I know that some programs are so screwed up that they can’t be debugged. When you’ve got one of those, you either have to live with it and all of its bugs, or you have to throw it away and start from scratch to replace it. I can’t throw away my mind.

A Subway Thought Study

August 24, 2010 1 comment
One of the main things that I’m doing as a part of my therapy right now is an exercise. I’m learning to analyze my own reactions to the social situations that make me uncomfortable. My doctor has a worksheet that I’m supposed to fill out as soon as possible after an incident. I don’t try to do it every time I feel any kind of anxiety; I’d be spending all of my time doing nothing but filling them out! But I try to do at least one each day.
The form has four sections:
Feelings
A set of checkboxes. I’m supposed to say what
I’m feeling (anxious, sad, guilty, angry, …), and how intensely I feel it.
Situation
A quick in-the-moment description of the situation. No judgements here:
just the facts.
Automatic Thought
Exactly what was I thinking? Here I’m supposed to start by just
writing, in the moment, what I was feeling. Then I’m supposed to pick
it apart: how much did I really believe what I was thinking at the time,
and now, looking back at it after, how much do I believe it?
Behaviors
What did I do? What were the results of what I did?
We’re very early in the process, so that’s all we’re doing now. I assume that we’ll eventually get into something like attempting to think about alternative things I could have done, or something like that.

For example, yesterday, I was riding the subway on my way home from work. I was wearing a very geeky shirt. It said /(bb|[^b]^{2})/. That’s a geek joke; it’s “To be or not to be” written in a programming language. Some guy on the subway saw my shirt, and complimented me on the shirt, and said something about “I bet not many people outside of your office understand that!” He was being friendly. There was nothing mocking about it – just another geek sharing the joke.

  • So how did I feel?
The main thing? fear; not terribly severe fear, but definitely frightened. On a 1-100 scale, probably between 30 and 40. After the fact, sadness; again, somewhere in the mid thirties in intensity. After all, this guy was trying to be friendly, and I didn’t know how to respond in a way that would show that I appreciated the gesture.
  • What was I thinking?
How am I supposed to answer? What am I supposed to say? What does he expect from me? Should I just say “yeah, true”? Is that enough? If I say the wrong thing, what will he think of me? If I say anything, I <em>know</em> it will be the wrong thing. Anything I do is going to be the wrong thing. I’m absolutely, 100% sure that I’m going to do the wrong thing.
  • What did I do?
Initially, I froze. All of those thoughts were running through my head, and that took up pretty much all of my brainpower at the time. So I froze, with a blank stare on my face for a couple of seconds. He definitely noticed that weird blank stare – he had a sort-of concerned look on his face. And then I sort of nodded my head and smiled, said I was OK, and then turned away in embarrassment. Basically, I made myself look like an idiot. Not really because of anything I actually chose to do, but because of the way that I didn’t react because my mind was so busy racing with panic about needing to decide how to react. I created a self-fulfilling prediction about my own behavior.