I want to talk about social-ness and how it relates to social change–mostly because it’s been on my mind lately. So much so, that after Chief Cheeto entered office, I started a big project that was basically me documenting my life — including my social network life — during this crazyass time. I meant to post it. To do it every week. But then I was sick. Work was crazy. Shit got tiring. Some days, I was just wiped out from overwhelm. Sometimes, I wondered why I was bothering. Shouldn’t I be fighting the evil that existed in this world instead of wasting time on here–on social–even?
To be honest, I often feel that way about social networks. About blogging. I cringe at those words and phrases. At the way our language has evolved into some inane shorthand. At how our relationships are mediated by screens and are akin to things you’d find at McDonald’s. In my heart, I’m an old school kind of girl. I like books–real books. And records and CDs. Tangible things. But, at the same time, no one has more digital everything than me. I guarantee you that.
I struggle with virtual and digital even as I benefit from it. My job is completely virtual. I can work from anywhere, anytime–as long as my boss is okay with it. And heck–she wouldn’t even know if I logged on from some resort. I am immensely grateful for that–and worked hard to achieve that flexibility and freedom. But I am also constantly in search of the genuine–the real–the embodied. My self-care routine is very sensual–not ooh, sexy–but grounded. I use plush wash cloths, bath items infused with aromatherapy…things that will remind me to get out of my head and into my body. Because it’s far too easy to disconnect instinct and emotion when that brain is running things.
So, I feel like I’m always in this battle with myself over social media–trying desperately to make it meaningful and tangible. Really being a curator. Really being selective about what I share and what I give my energy to. Really using it as just another way to love my people.
But some mediums are harder than others. Some lend themselves to venting. Some have to have more boundaries. And when life is as universally crazy as it has been lately, sometimes, lots of breaks need to happen.
Personally, I struggle with socializing. I believe I inherited a lot of anti-social behaviors from my family–especially my parents. As a baby, my mother was working usually while my father “cared” for me and drank his way through life–often resulting in neglect. It was so bad, child services almost took me away. I still have scars on my body from that. After that, Mama had our neighbors look after me, but often came home to me at the top of the stairs with mashed potatoes and vomit in my hair. I’m pretty sure they were alcoholics and probably other bad things, too, since that building wasn’t the best. My Mama–God love her–saw the best in everyone–and trusted those she shouldn’t pretty often. So, I was often exposed to people who I couldn’t trust. I don’t, of course, remember most of this, but doing work with my therapist and piecing together shit my mom told me about my early life–I’m pretty sure that’s where all my social anxiety and trust issues come from.
It got better, but my mother never socialized me to be with other kids. It was always these adults that needed someone to fix them or help them. So, I was never socialized to have fun or just relax. I always had to be on-guard for the next crisis. When I finally did get to school, it’s no wonder that I was the protector of everyone. If someone was being bullied, I got into the middle of it–even though I was extremely shy. And I got into trouble, often, for it. So, I was also taught early on that my genuine concern and need to help was bad. Over the years, I discovered that I was just really different from everyone else. I had all these secrets, and at some point, I realized my family was not like everyone else’s. We were abnormal. I was this alien. I could do great things and be valued for them, but who I was? That wasn’t okay. That was different. And even in this world that I lived in where different was good, I was the wrong type of different.
I gravitated toward kids who were bullied, who then treated me terribly because they could and they needed to feel powerful. School, for me, was a very lonely thing. So, while I was always an introverted kid, it became kind of malignant as I learned that I was bad and that what other people had just wasn’t meant for me.
In high school, my high achieving ways got me out and into things–because that’s how you got scholarships. I was on a mission to get the fuck out, so I joined all the things. I got out of my shell and showed people who I was far more than I ever had. But–still–I was known to be an enigma. Some of the people I considered good friends wrote essays about this in my yearbooks. College was where things started changing for me. I took on things that scared my little introverted heart–looking for new challenges and buoyed by other people and their belief in me. So, it’s kind of not so surprising that I ended up in this profession where every single day, I’m talking to someone–often intimidating someones. Few people know I’m even an introvert. A coworker was actually shocked because I am the first person to welcome people–the first to try to help.
I’ve come a long way. I’m more me than I ever have been, but I am still not good at genuine socialization. While I am genuine in all my interactions–I work hard at it–and it’s something I don’t just do. At work, I’m forced to do it. In a way, I’m grateful for that because my tendency is to retract. To stay a closed little bud. To keep everything to myself. And I get lonely and depressed when that happens.
I still have a lot of social anxiety. My introversion also means that I really have to choose carefully as I wear out easily. I still think everyone hates me. Sometimes, these things can be endearing. If I’m around the right people, I’ll feel comfortable enough to be myself. But in situations where I know no one or don’t like people, I freeze up and can get panic attacks if it’s really triggering. It’s easier now that I know that–hey–that’s a fucking panic attack. But, when I was in TFA–and people were forcing me to be vulnerable with people I didn’t remotely trust–well–that wasn’t pretty. Back then, I would seek out support from those I did trust–only to be unable to describe what happened adequately. Only to be let down–which meant I stopped trusting those people, too.
I do think socializing is a good thing for me. That it’s important and necessary for me to regularly connect with people–even if it’s just a wave from a neighbor walking her dog. But it has to be measured, genuine, and meaningful–or else it’s just more noise.
This translates to social networks and this blog, too. So, years ago, I had a very open policy when it came to social. I accepted all friend requests and followed almost everyone back. If you commented on my blog, I commented on yours. But back then, my social experience got to be very negative. I attracted a lot of people who had different agendas. Because of how I learned to be in the world, for me, it doesn’t matter how I met someone or if I’ve met them in person. A friend is a friend is a friend. And I often sought out strangers to be friends. For a long time, I was searching for friends. I didn’t have many. I still can count my good friends on one hand. I have a lot of acquaintances–people I like who support me superficially.
And, well, my brain can’t handle the tit for tat…the disbalance. I get triggered and aggravated by such things. So eventually, I had to do some heavy boundary work. And now, I mostly enjoy my time online. Or did. Until the election. Then, I was in a state of overwhelm.
Right now, I won’t say his name. If I bitch about things, it’s on Twitter. I am very careful about what I share. I try to focus on actionable items that are meaningful. I share more about my life. I share my struggles. I am there for my friends. But I refuse to argue with people. And mostly, it’s worked for me. I have far less anxiety and fear. At the same time, I’m still informed and still fighting–just not online so much. It worked out for me.
But there is a part of me that feels like our experience of each other during this time of crazy is really important to document and share. And I feel like social networks connect us with so many people we can learn from. I’ve been using Facebook heavily these days to find poets that inspire me, for example. I’ve tried really hard to seek out artists so my feed isn’t full of orange faced babies. Garbage in, garbage out. In a weird way, this time in history is forcing me to learn healthy ways of socializing. It’s making me more resilient too–far more resilient than most people I know–though of course I am a privileged person and that’s part of it too. And I’m pretty damn resilient to begin with.
I do feel that–if I hadn’t had these outlets during this time–especially when my own dark night of the soul period showed up this month–I would have gone down a pretty terrible path. But instead, I’m finding support in my complex ptsd groups and in the Bloggess tribe. And I finally don’t feel like I’m an alien. But I am also reminded that this is all pretty cerebral and maybe I need to go for a walk and wave at a stranger soon.