Gregg is asleep on the couch behind me, and Raymond is bed. I’m sitting here at my computer trying to clear my thoughts so I can write a little more before bed.
Some days are like today. My brain starts racing, filled with all the things I need and want to do, unable to focus on one thing. Unable to decide what the best course of action is to take. So I came here to talk a bit, and try to order my thoughts.
Gregg calls it my “Rapunzel syndrome.” (Don’t look that up, the actual Rapunzel syndrome isn’t pretty, and google has pictures. I made that mistake.)
He calls it that because for the majority of my life I was, for all intense and purposes, locked in a tower. As a child we lived thirty miles from town and I only had my siblings to hang out with. I chose not to spend time with them usually because we didn’t get along, so I would spend hours each day high up in a tree, or out wandering in the woods. At school I’d retreat to the library during every recess and break to read, or browse the books. Even in high school when I did have a few friends they were sure to point out when I made social fopas. I spent most of my teens not speaking because I knew if I asked a question, or said something it would revival how inept I was.
Then I got married and of the fifteen years I was married I spent the majority of it at home with the kids. I did go out much, and if I did it was usually with the husband and the kids to go shopping. I went to church for a year or two, but only to sit in a pew and listen to the sermon, then run back home to care for the children.
Want an example. In ninth grade I was sitting with my friends eating lunch when a girl came over to sit with us. I didn’t know her, no one seemed inclined to introduce us, so I just asked “what’s your name?” Everyone else was mortified. I just wanted to know the name of the girl I was talking to, but apparently I said it in the wrong way. Years later when my husband would take me places he NEVER introduced me to anyone, and I would mostly not say anything because I just didn’t know what I was suppose to say. How did you introduce yourself to someone you didn’t know? I would try now and then, but usually without success. One time he took me over to his sisters (a sister he hadn’t seen in a decade, and I never met) and sat there and talked with her for thirty minutes without acknowledging my existence. I finally said “You must be (name), I’m Crissy.” She gave me a cold look and said “No, my name is (X).” and she hated me ever since. The name I said was only slightly different than her actual name, but apparently some people get really offended if you get their name wrong. Or maybe she was just looking for a reason to hate me. Doesn’t matter. The point is I’m awkward, and I know it.
My social experience is…almost nonexistent. I didn’t start feeling like I could handle actual conversations, especially with strangers, until I got my first “real” job. I was 30 years old. And even then it took months for me to finally get to the point where I thought I could have a conversation without blushing, fumbling, or saying something completely stupid. (I still say stupid stuff now but I no longer care, so that’s a plus.)
So, basically locked in a tower for thirty years of my life. I didn’t grow up learning to deal with everyday things like other people. I don’t know basic social ques, or have the ability to filter out multiple imputes like other people. I don’t even understand half the things going on when I’m in a large crowd of people.
Gregg called it my Rapunzel Syndrome, and explained it beautifully to me a couple days ago.
When I get into a situation that has a lot of new input (a new store, lots of new people, a new event) my brain goes into sensory overload and I don’t know where to focus my attention, or what to do. Other people do this without thinking, and don’t understand my dilemma, so it causes some social awkwardness. The easiest solution for me to fix this is to focus on one thing. Usually that one thing is Gregg. I go to him, put my hand in his, lean against him, listen to the sound of his voice, and it usually calms the circuits in my brain that are on overload and I’m able to try again.
But Gregg isn’t always there. In fact this anxiety has made it difficult for me to do new things, go new places, try new experiences because I know with new things there comes the overwhelming anxiety that makes me want to run back to my car. My car is safe, familiar, and I can turn the music on and focus on it. But then I’m in the car and not in the event.
So two days ago Gregg tells me his new theory on why my brain short circuits when we go out some times and he says “take out your phone and start looking at Reddit.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to be on Reddit while I’m shopping.”
“Trust me,” he said.
So I did it. I pulled out my phone, slid open the screen, and tapped the Reddit app. Less than a minute later the racing thoughts in my head were dulled by the funny GIF, and the interesting news article on the front page of Reddit. I was safe, I was home.
And I felt a little sick of myself. After all, I was trying to have a nice outing with my boyfriend and there I was reading Reddit to keep my brain from overloading. Couldn’t I even go Christmas shopping without having a melt down? Horsefeathers!
But he was right. I needed something new to help order my thoughts, something that would give me a little freedom from the house so that I could go new places and try new things. And apparently my phone is it. It’s sad to say that I am more addicted to my phone than I ever was before, but at the same time my phone gives me freedom from my underdeveloped mind that I never had.
Anxiety sucks. Being the closest thing to a shut in without being a shut in SUCKS! For a few years all I did was go to work, go home, go to sleep, then go back to work. If it wasn’t for Gregg I’d probably still be doing that. But at least now I have a little adventure, and I try a little more each day.
Maybe that’s why I love to write fantasy so much. For those brief moments I get to go anywhere I want, and see anything I can imagine. I fly on the backs of Griffins, and dive deep into the sea with mermaids. There are airships, and castles floating above the clouds. And all of it is right in my mind.
I hope to keep growing, and be a little less like Rapunzel every day.
I make social faux pas all the time too, then agonise over then for decades. Especially anything involving girls/women in my past. I’m bad at picking up social cues and putting myself in someone else’s shoes. A few years later, when I’ve worked out the rules, I think about what I did and get anxious about it. Even though there’s nothing I can do to change something that happened 20 years ago.
Heck, the other people involved are unlikely to even remember it.
I’m still really bad at it all, which I notice when I’m out. People go out of their way to talk to my wife (since she’s chatty), but will pretend they haven’t seen me if I’m out alone.
I wish I was better at it. I read “The Game” by Neil Strauss and wanted there to be something similar, but for making friends. Some group that helped you improve your social skills until you’re comfortable in every social situation.
I’ve decided that the easiest way for me to make friends is to join groups that DO things, rather then just stand around talking, or some such. That’s why I started playing D&D and board games. That’s two nights a week where I get to spend time with people I like, chat over a game, and generally enjoy myself. I think it fits with my personality.
It’s a good idea. I should find something like that too.
I empathise. One of the first things my wife noticed about me is that I pay attention to everything: which is really good for having a little snippet of conversation or such to jazz up a scene five years later; but means I don’t have as strong an “ignore most things” filter as most people, so being in a room full of people feels like being shouted constantly.