Sunday, February 28, 2016

Joe Omundson

working on anxiety

Something that’s come to my attention in the last year or so is a pattern of social anxiety in my life. I wrote about it in some detail in this post. When I notice themes like this, I’ll sometimes describe it as something I’m “working on.” I wanted to explore what that means for me, because people “work on” their issues in different ways.

I know some people who realized they had social anxiety, and their response was to confront that fear head-on; they put themselves in positions where they were required to be outgoing, learned how to act in ways that appeared extroverted, and found other practical techniques for managing their fears and converting them into confidence. I am impressed and fascinated and completely mystified by these people. It is wonderful that they have found methods that work for them, but I seem to operate very differently.

When I notice that some part of me is out of sync, my goal is not to “fix” it by reversing my actions and enforcing different ones; instead I simply try to notice the details of what is going on with my mind and body when the dysfunctional thing happens. I try to become aware of my subconscious patterns, and it seems like once I notice and understand them, I am more able to catch them early on and remind myself of what I know to be true. By practicing this, I can reverse habits that no longer serve me. The downside of this is that it probably doesn’t produce results as reliably, or as fast. The benefit is that the changes I do make come from a place of genuine growth, and I have a sense that my nature has changed, not just my actions. The changes feel more integrated and efficient.

Of course, the above paragraph is a hugely idealized version of how I handle my dysfunctional patterns. I certainly haven’t found good ways to work through all my problems simply by noticing them. The main point is that I am more interested in understanding root causes than I am in attaining specific results. I don’t think my ways are better, they are just more natural to me.

Recently I visited some friends for a get-together they were having. We had dinner and it was great. It was also an opportunity to work on my social anxiety. I do pretty well in 1-on-1 settings, or in small groups, but this was a larger group than I’m used to hanging out with, and I feel like most of their personalities are not very much like mine. Also, I got pretty high when I arrived there, and that tends to focus my attention on any social discomfort I’m experiencing. So it is not surprising to me that I felt anxiety as a result of these things. If this all that’s making me anxious, I can generally recognize that my tension is unfounded, and find a way to shake it off without forming the opinion that something is wrong with my environment.

On top of that, there were 2 other aspects that upset me. The first is that a couple of these people in particular tended to talk a lot about things related to career, money, and appearance. At one point they were talking about someone they know and how they think he is gross. They passed around a picture of him on one of their phones and everyone laughed as they saw it; when it reached me, I saw a picture of a guy who I felt looked very similar to me, and I felt hurt by that. I know that I’m lazy with my appearance and not the most hygienic person, and I don’t expect that people are going to think I look sharp. But I found this example disheartening because I know it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much certain people are judged based on appearance and status. When I try to understand what would motivate a person to care so much about that kind of shit, it takes me to a dark place.

The second thing was the subtle sexism I felt in the dynamic, mostly from the same people. It never came across as something that was intentional. It flowed out as some percentage of their words by default, as part of the built-in narrative that they exist in every day. I know it is a very common theme in our world and it’s picked up unintentionally, but it frustrates me that it goes unchecked even by these people who have no reason not to know better. I can’t provide many concrete examples of what they said that bothered me, I just remember feeling like there were a lot of comments made that reinforced gender roles and stereotypes.

By that point I felt very uncomfortable. As dinner ended, it felt like everyone had a place but me. Several of them cleaned up in the kitchen, a couple did other things, but I kind of walked around awkwardly looking at things around the house, feeling guilty for not helping to clean and also feeling like I lacked the ability to seek a niche for myself amid their loud chaos. Nothing is more bewildering to me than a bubbly group of extroverts.

Recognizing how antsy I was getting, I decided to regroup by going out to my car for a while. I lay down on my mattress and pulled my down quilt over me. The tense muscles in my face, neck, shoulders, chest, and back quivered and relaxed as I recovered my mental space. I realized it probably wasn’t helpful to get really high in social situations that might trigger my anxiety. I decided that I would go back inside, hang out for a little bit longer, and then say goodnight and go to bed in my car.

I realized something else as I rested there: misogyny bothers me not because it isn’t “PC”, and not because I have the ability to empathize with someone else’s oppression. It bothers me because part of me is female. It affects me personally; my own self, my own expression is under attack. I think to some extent, everyone has masculine and feminine qualities. A man who has misogynistic tendencies is actually self-destructive. There’s a delusion that it’s possible to be “entirely masculine”, and that therefore, a rift in privilege between men and women is something beneficial for men. The reality is that if we crush femininity with domination, mockery, and objectification, everyone loses. The feminine spirit is not weak. It is actually a great wisdom that our species needs especially now in this time of exploding population, dwindling resources, and strife all around the world.

I did go back inside, this time more calmly and with a clearer picture of what I had to give to the interaction. I talked for a while and eventually said that I was going out to bed. I felt like I did it awkwardly and I feared that I didn’t seem grateful enough for the delicious meal that had been provided to me, and which I had not helped to prepare or clean up. I brought beer, maybe that was my contribution. I tend to worry a lot that my actions left people disappointed, but as I walked out to my car I said to myself -- fuck it, I did the best I could tonight, I’m done feeling crappy about this. And I rested peacefully.

So, that is what I mean when I say that I am working on my social anxiety. I’m not forcing myself to give public speeches and I haven’t hosted any parties. But I am noticing it. I am trying to figure it out like a puzzle. I use it to learn other things about myself, like why sexism bothers me so much. I learn to identify the triggers, and I find ways to go through those situations without reacting so strongly. For me, if I were to try to simply force my actions to be more functional, I feel like I would miss out on the opportunity to notice myself objectively. The harsh judgments have to be suspended in order to pay attention to something subtler.

Joe Omundson

About Joe Omundson -

Joe Omundson is working to piece together a cohesive philosophy of lifestyle, spirituality, society, and the natural world.

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4 comments

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truerootyoga
AUTHOR
March 8, 2016 at 4:08 PM delete

I can relate with so much of this! It's so interesting/being around people whose world view/behavior you fundamentally disagree with. Lately, I've been trying to stay in the realization that there are like-minded people out there for all of us. It just takes some dedication and patience... discernment... to find them.

And I think you're right that all changes must begin with noticing. Just being willing to go into the line of inquiry is what helps us to get free of things that bind us up.

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Joe Omundson
AUTHOR
March 13, 2016 at 5:47 PM delete

Yes, there are certainly like-minded people for all of us! And I think the more we express our individuality and seek activities that align closely with our interests, the more we naturally encounter those people. There's just a huge spectrum, I find that most people are quite lovable but only some small percentage moves on to become my closest, most trusted, like-minded friends.

I still think of your line from yoga classes, "what would happen if..." and how that curiosity, simply wondering about it first, opens up a whole different world than simply saying "stretch farther!"

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Kasey Stewart
AUTHOR
March 24, 2016 at 9:08 AM delete

I'm glad that was a helpful aspect of my classes for you. Curiosity always, I believe! It's about that, and I was just having a conversation with a student last night about setting an intention each time we come to the mat. It's like planting a seed for a whatever you want to make manifest.

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Joe Omundson
AUTHOR
March 24, 2016 at 2:17 PM delete

That's interesting. I am not in the habit of setting a specific intention; often I like to approach class with my mind as empty and goal-less as possible, to be more sensitive to whatever comes up, rather than directing the experience. Maybe it's a personality difference, or maybe I'm missing out.

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