I’ve been thinking about my social life a lot this week, not just the way it currently stands but the whole messy history of it. It started in my session with my therapist on Monday, when I mentioned being an introvert and he expressed mild surprise, because I evidently come across as exceptionally sociable in our sessions. As I talked about it a bit, I realized that I have gotten a lot more outgoing in the past few years, which I think has a lot to do with finally coming into an identity that fits. As I told my therapist: it’s hard to put yourself out there when you don’t really know who you are.
When I was a kid, I was pretty painfully shy. I didn’t have a ton of friends at school, and while I was friendly with basically everyone at my church, I only had a few close friends. I had panic attacks pretty frequently in high school, which were due in part to the sheer number of people crowding the halls. I didn’t do crowds well. I still often don’t, but now I recognize it as a reflection of how much mental cutlery I have at my disposal – when I’ve had time to recharge and my body is behaving, crowds aren’t the horror they are when I’ve had a long week and everything hurts.
In the past, when I was outgoing, it was likely either because I was manic, or because I’d found a compelling reason to fake it, or some combination of those two factors. Getting up on a stage made my knees shake, my palms sweat, and my voice jump an octave in pitch. The idea of performing anything I’d written for just about anyone ever was completely mortifying.
I’ve always been interested in people, though. I like one-on-one conversations. I like hearing people’s stories. I majored in psychology in college, thinking I’d go on to get a master’s and become a social worker, because I thought people were such fascinating, wonderful beings…until I realized that I was pretty shit at enforcing emotional boundaries, and would probably crash and burn with spectacular speed.
Over the past few years, I’ve slowly learned to step out of my comfort zone and be more outgoing. Some of that was moving to Chicago – while my partner had friends here (who immediately adopted me as one of their own and who I count as my own very dear friends now as well), when we first arrived I really didn’t know anyone. It was a fresh start. It was my first chance to be Alyx full time, so I set to work exploring what that meant.
As I’ve grown and explored and found an identity and means of expression that feel genuine, more than any others in my life ever have, I’ve found it’s a lot easier to put myself out there. But I think I missed part of the picture when I told my therapist that it’s hard to put yourself out there when you don’t know who you are: it’s also hard when you don’t like who you are.
So much of my life was marked by a deep, dark self-loathing, a belief that I was broken and worthless and wrong. But I’ve finally, after many years of work on reframing irrational and destructive self-talk, come to a place where, honestly? I like who I am. I’m a good person. I’m not perfect, and there will always be things I can work to improve. And I still have days when I feel broken and worthless and wrong. But for the most part, I have learned to appreciate that I am, as a person, just as fascinating and wonderful a being as any of the other people I find so interesting. That is what gives me the confidence to put myself out there and resist the impulse to believe that everyone is going to hate me.
Some days, when my brain is behaving badly, it feels like I still have so far to go. But I’m hoping to be better at remembering how far I’ve already come.