The Turtle Wars

Okay, so I’ve posted about social anxiety before, but not since it was still a major issue for me.

I spent a good chunk of my adulthood with.. to some extent, the mind, mannerisms, neuroticisms of a woman. Was I trans? No, not at all. Just markedly effeminate. As I narrated in 10 lessons from 2015, my testosterone levels were below baseline, though. No-one really took note for me, and pointed out the potential health issues and the need for it to be rectified before last year.

Coming out of that to experience the world as I can only presume the typical male does, has been a huge change. It was annoying at first.. it was profoundly irritating having my eye drawn to measure the desirability of any woman with a pulse. Including my friends – of which most have always been girls! Suddenly any person gets an automatic, cursory check and if I’m intrigued, plenty of eye contact. My first response was to hate it: I always derided machismo and wanted my humanity back!

The benefits however, have been profound: If there’s a question of taking action, of speaking to somebody, I can dismiss my hesitation out of hand, much of the time. I don’t walk or run like a mouse, head down, underfoot in public. Fear isn’t relevant to some extent. But I still do have remnants of social anxiety, and I’d like to share how it affects me and hopefully prompt some ideas or suggestions to help all of us.

In my previous post, GASP! Elwick Bay I mentioned meeting a fisherman on the shores of the Derwent River. He was eager to introduce himself to anyone passing, sharing his measure of success or lack of it at the time, and explaining his reasoning for fishing from a polluted river. He admitted having Aspergers and ADHD, a sister with autism, and I lingered from intrigue and some degree of empathy and a sense of familiar territory when he mentioned a bad childhood. Issues aside, there’s something to be learned from a person who can pursue conversation and carry it effectively. (To which you may be thinking: he had Asperger’s and could communicate effectively? Well, to be honest, I didn’t accept his words as guaranteed truth, simply for his being a stranger..)

I paused on the trail home and remembered that I’d been hoping to start shooting portraits. This guy was a viable candidate: standing on scenic shoreline, rod in hand, catching fish. I could take a casual shot of him, just to capture a slice of life. After mulling over the issue, and preparing how I’d present the idea I fought off my fear of rejection and headed back to ask. He was more than happy to be in a photo. I only wish I’d taken some close-ups.

I explained social anxiety recently on social media as follows:

Anxiety: making simple shit difficult since sentient life evolved.

It’s like having a bunch of illogical, transient, sporadic, situational phobias.

Every encounter with fellow human beings becomes complicated inside your mind, an endless array of ‘What if..’ and compounding self-doubt that strip away initiative. I could never find an ‘off’ button, and fought it in frustration and self-loathing, for years.

Once, I never could have approached this guy at all, and probably would have left the initial conversation much sooner out of a simple fear of some potential negative outcome I’d imagined.

There’s a learned behaviour here you’ve probably heard of, and it’s known as catastrophizing. We envision the potential outcomes of an action before taking it, but some of us tend to come up with more negative ideas than positive, and our fear, our belief in the likelihood of those negative outcomes causes them to become reality. It’s something we can challenge.
When you notice you’re freaking out over an imagined situation: cut off your imagination, stop reacting to it, it is more or less just a dream! Now imagine that situation working out perfectly. Imagine yourself doing it right. If you can imagine it, you can do it! But you have to make a habit of this 🙂

My suggestion today would be to open your mouth and let words fall out. Voice the thoughts you’re having but filtering. Just let your brain take care of the talking! I often find that I don’t like to tender ‘incomplete’ thoughts because they lead to misunderstandings. But then, if you can just start on a subject, and there’s a misunderstanding, you only need to say: ‘That’s not what I meant’ and explain.
In a conversation, you have the bat. Take the time you need to hit the ball correctly. If your conversational partner is impatient, that really is their problem. If there is a negative reaction to something you’ve said, you aren’t beyond handling it.

On the day I met the fisherman, I’d decided to catch a bus home rather than make the return walk. Sitting in a bus mall, there was a blonde girl wearing shorts, a loose t-shirt, casual jewellery, sunglasses. I dismissed her as not ‘my type’ on first glance, but as I waited, she rose to her feet to check the bus timetable, and returned to sit closer to me than before. I thought of the fisherman and his effortless conversation with passersby. I hesitated, fearing embarrassment, feeling the awkwardness, envisioning the notion of a negative reaction before opening my mouth… and then I commented: for the most used bus stop among 8 or so, it seemed absurd that ours was the only one without a shelter. She smiled, and agreed.

Simple words. One at a time. Make it a habit to try.

I will admit, that when it came to the idea of asking her name and continuing the conversation, simply to learn more about her, I my feared interest would be taken as more serious than intended. Fear and capitulation won, and I never learned her name. That’s where overthinking gets you 😉
But if this was you, dear reader, I would be telling you to take the risk. Because so what? There’s every chance you’ll find common interests, make friends and thank yourself forever. We live with uncertainty every day, you can’t always know the outcome before you make the decision.

If you’ve reached the end, you’re probably wondering about the title.

A turtle is a creature who lives in a shell and responds to perceived danger by hiding, because they have learned that this is the only useful and effective response in dealing with conflict. It’s a coping mechanism developed as a consequence to mistreatment by others. Today I can tell you that there’s always a yellow brick road, a positive, sensible path for you to take, the steps for which are already laid out in your head. You just need to give yourself a chance to follow it towards a better, happier life.

I believe in you.


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