I recently realised, when I like someone, I subconsciously raise them up in my esteem. Filling in the gaps in my knowledge of them with vague beliefs and assumptions.
For example, in talking to a personable acquaintance the other day, they told me they were building their self confidence so that they could teach. I was introduced to them at a dinner about two years ago. At the time and since, I have enjoyed their bright personality and cheerful disposition; reading in self assurance.
Reflecting on my presumption of their strengths, I realised how little I knew of them. Their pedestal and place on it was almost entirely a figment of my imagination.
It should come as no surprise, I am sometimes disappointed by others. I am expecting them to fill the roles of fictitious characters on the journey of my life.
Similarly I read reciprocal admiration into relationships. My importance in the life of another is not as significant as the ideal; tearing my heart, ever so slightly.
Afterwards, the Regional Director talked as he walked me out of the room, ‘about the hobbies, I recommend taking up rugby, builds character’, he said.
Earlier that day in 1988, while nervously picking at a bowl of All Bran, sliced banana, and skimmed milk, I decided to be authentic. It was time to be me, find my voice, and use it!
Being meek and mild, keeping secrets, and hiding in plain sight had carried me through the first 25 years of my life. Speaking up and out challenged every fibre of my being, even with improved self-confidence from spending four years in post college employment.
I am forever grateful for the jobs that freed me from the toxic family home. Escape from my stepfather’s episodes of psychotic rage, child abuse, and domestic violence directed at Mom. My only regret was leaving my youngest brother, by nine years, behind with his father.
The last time I saw my stepfather we had an altercation upstairs. I can’t remember the cause of the fight. What sticks in my mind is a split second decision that could have negatively impacted my life forever. Being slow to anger, my judgement is often compromised, when I’m enraged. In that moment, clarity of thought prevailed. I was faced with a choice, walk down the stairs and out of the house forever or punch my stepfather causing him to fall backwards down the stairs.
Images of him hitting my mother’s stair lift as he tumbled, followed by his mutilated form lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs, flashed through my mind. Choosing the former, I got on with my life.
Work roles provided purpose, financial independence, and an identity; a facade of societal compliance. Space, secrecy, safety, and nurturing friends facilitated the exploration of my likes and dislikes.
The appointments at this time, were largely humdrum. I sought out ways to release my creativity. The main barriers to self-expression were self-doubt and a perceived need to keep up appearances, shielding my true self.
Butterfly-like my ideas for a career in the arts were many and fleeting including, a teenage dream of becoming a dancer. In my twenties my friend and I attended ballet and tap, evening classes. Hence the questionable hobbies of a young man seen through the eyes of a conservative authoritarian.
My upbringing had instilled in me to respect and not to question authority. I am sure he thought the advice he was giving was intended to guide me. How was he to know about the inner turmoil raging in my mind.
This brief pep talk pushed me further into hiding.
Years ago I read a book titled “Are you Really Too Sensitive” by Marcy Calhoun. That was the beginning of my understanding through someone else’s words, what an empath is, why I felt that way I did, and how to take better care of myself. The dictionary describes empath as “a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual.” I will add “whose world is bombarded with feelings and thoughts, oversaturated with internal and external data, that which then, becomes understatedly overwhelming.” Am I speaking your language?
Having heightened senses and feeling thoughts and emotions around us can be confusing and draining. Empath’s can be viewed and labeled as over sensitive, reactionary, delusional, depressed, neurotic, paranoid, crazy, you get the point – and those labels become part of the arduous demands we face. Bottom line – there is nothing wrong…
I’m not sure how to write about anxiety without feeling the need to offer a glimmer of hope to the reader. This state of mind is all consuming at the time, however, as droplets of sunlight somehow find their way through the densest of branches to reach the forest floor, it is possible to gradually cast off the weights of worry that have brought you to a place of woe.
It makes sense to me that anxiety is part of an instinctual response towards danger. For me assumptions feed the mounting panic to a point when it is difficult to assess the scale of the threat or to use logic and reason to formulate a plan, to flee or fight. The result is a bunny rabbit dazzled by the headlights, unable to move one way or the other.
In the todays’ World, physical dangers are present, yet my period of anxiety was mostly internal. The unseen canker grew within, it fed on self doubt and self loathing. Conversations and events were replayed over and over in my mind. The facts and significance of incidents became warped and out of step with reality. I would go through the motions of day to day life. This was counterproductive at a time when my occupation demanded total engagement and a need to excel.
You would think that a break from it all and time to relax would help to redress the balance. Unfortunately for me the thought of a holiday involving travel would fill me with dread. The act of preparation, the fear of forgetting something, the panic of waiting for a taxi to the airport that may not arrive or cause us to miss the flight led me to build in unreasonably long lead times. The constant internal tension impacted on my potential to enjoy the trip. This was uncharacteristic of a person who had moved from England to Australia. I would go out for a meal and become stressed because there appeared to be people waiting for our table, shouldn’t we hurry our meal? It is time for us to leave!
Just when I thought that I had hit rock bottom and begun the slow climb out of the abyss, the sudden death of my mother resulted in a total loss of my grip on reality. I tumbled to a new depth of despair supplementing anxiety with depression.
Despondency is physically, mentally and emotionally draining. I quickly filled the resulting void with negative thoughts of paranoia, fear, anger and apathy. I spent hour upon hour of mindless meanderings of thought processes, the outcome of which was a downward spiral of my mood. All successes and achievements were forgotten. There was precious little left of confidence in my abilities. I feared failure, how I appeared to others, I avoided social situations and enjoyment of life seemed reserved only to those who were happy.
For me the only way out of this situation was to make changes to my life that reduced the self imposed pressures of money, status and unnecessary demands on my time. With the love and support of my partner who believed in me I was able to seek a new path. Together, we found the way through my ordeal.
Hindsight has miraculous properties; I am attempting to make sense of what happened and to put things into perspective. I look upon the years of descent and eventual re-ascent as a side trip on life’s journey. This opportunity to look within allowed me space to reevaluate what is important to me. The physical plane appears to be brighter than it did before. The path to enlightenment seems clearer. I attempt to navigate life’s foggy path with my destiny as my goal while keeping one eye on the weather and the the condition of my craft. The other is trained on the light that illuminates my way.