Tag: break it down

Uncomfortably rewarding: why I don’t hide the bad days online.

Uncomfortably rewarding: why I don’t hide the bad days online.

Over the past few months, I’ve come to alter the way that I blog and the way that I utilise my personal social media to show a more ‘balanced’ account of my experiences. We’re all guilty of posting only the best photos, of keeping our darkest moments to ourselves in an effort not to make those who follow us uncomfortable. I made the choice to break away from the ‘good-only’ approach to social media very consciously, but why?

When my experiences are good, I have the ultimate freedom to express them entirely. But when they’re bad? It’s a very public, and at times very uncomfortable, way to suffer.

Perhaps there are people who read this and think I’m utterly batshit for putting this material on the internet, where it can be found by people in my physical world (I link to each blog through my personal accounts, and there are other snippets of brutal honesty that go only to those accounts). What I post can be found by anyone who chooses to look: friends, family, potential employers, inter-dimensional beings from a future as yet undiscovered…

Am I mad for doing this? Probably. It’s a well certified fact that I am, in fact, delightfully weird. It’s not by chance though, it’s a decision I’ve made and followed through with after deciding the benefits significantly outweigh the potential for my writing to backfire on me.

First and foremost, I do it for me.

I would love to say that it’s based on some selfless desire to help others find their way through their own rough patches, but that would be a lie. The process of writing out and posting the good and bad in equal measure has become a method of self-care and healing.

Just writing out my experiences of the day takes the thoughts out of my head (where they are often whirling around in manic circles and refusing to find resolution) and into logical sentences. Once they’re out, I can begin letting them go.

Writing also forces me to think logically, to step back and analyse what happened and from that perspective I begin to see the alternate paths that weren’t immediately obvious at the time. Recognising those after the fact isn’t a bad thing–those choices are more evident the next time that situation rolls around, and I have avoided repeating situations because I know I have options. Writing also helps me cement information in my long term memory, so the lessons I learn are rarely forgotten.

It also provides an ongoing account of who I am at a given time, allowing me to look back and see the sort of progress that is invisible day-to-day.

The writing alone is only one part of the process. If it was, I could just as easily keep a diary and be done with it.

There’s a unique sense of responsibility that appears when I post something online. I have stated to the world that this is happening, and when the situation is an unpleasant one, it puts increased pressure on me to resolve the situation. Much like a writer might feel the need to resolve a plot point after a cliff hanger, even if no one reads a single word I write–the words are out there. The story must move on, must show progress, and it’s up to me to take actions that move toward a better point in the ‘plot’.

This is why you’ll often see a ‘balancing’ post after my less positive entries. I feel this weird drive to look deeper and find the better side of things, to share that reality alongside whatever self-indulgent misery I’ve put forth. While I do that as a responsibility to the ‘audience’, it balances my brain as well. If this was just a diary, there wouldn’t be that drive. In fact, without the public nature of social media, this would read more like a My Chemical Romance album.

It would be the opposite of the ‘only good’ social media view, it would be the ‘all bad’ private thoughts of depression. Neither is the whole person, and the latter is a mental trap too easy to fall into.

Social media also provides me with a platform through which I can explain myself in the best way I know how: through text.

I don’t give away a lot in my expressions. I especially don’t like to talk about how I’m feeling when how I feel isn’t good. The words don’t like to come together, I don’t like bringing the mood down, and if I’m in someone’s company I’d much rather be distracted and enjoying myself than talking about things I struggle with. I also have this horrible habit of breaking into tears whenever I feel ‘exposed’ in conversation. Text allows some distance and ability to craft explanations that are coherent.

This communicative impairment doesn’t discriminate. If I’m talking openly about these sorts of topics, it’s because I’ve either reached breaking point (with the accompanying emotional explosion), I’m drunk (I talk far too much when I’m drunk. Just ask my brother-in-law!), or I am pushing myself (or being pushed) well beyond my comfort zone. This is just a function of who I am, and finding ways to communicate around it has helped immensely. It’s unlikely I’ll ever be comfortable with direct conversation regarding myself.

But once I have written about something, and posted it publicly, the nature of the information changes. It goes from ‘innermost private thoughts’ (and I am an intensely private person) to ‘information in the public domain’. Everyone I meet theoretically could have read the material, and I should expect to discuss it. I am prepared to discuss it. I have considered it deeply, I have opinions and ideas and further solutions that occurred to me after the time of writing.

Posting publicly effectively releases the privacy of my own thoughts and puts them in reach of open discussion. The more I do it, the more I’ve begun to feel comfortable discussing content that I haven’t posted. That has been amazing.

Being brutally honest about how I feel and why has been an exercise in freedom.

The secondary benefit is in how others respond to my writing.

It may not be what I seek to get out of this process of honesty, but each comment or like  or mention I get from someone who identified with my writing is the best bonus I could ask for. I never set out to inspire people (and I find it ridiculously humbling when I’m told that I have provided inspiration. Who, me? I’m a wreck half the time!).

All I aim to do is provide an account of who and how I am, as I go from good to bad and back again. The idea is to demonstrate to myself that there is no situation so bad that I won’t come back out of it stronger, so if that is reaching others and helping them feel the same? I’m pretty pleased with that.

It is a terrifying thing to do sometimes, to expose the complex and often confused nature of my thoughts. On some level I do feel an obligation to do it. As someone who was given an ability to communicate in written word to not use that ability to describe my experience (especially the features of my Aspergers/Autism) seems like a gross waste of ability.

The rewards of this public honesty have been huge. Even on my worst days, I feel more my ‘authentic self’ than I have in too long. It’s my life and it won’t be sunshine and rainbows all day every day, there will be posts that come that are uncomfortable and miserable. That’s life, regardless of mental state.

What’s important is that a better post will always be coming, and I look forward to sharing those immensely. I never did this in the expectation that my posts would be actually read, either, but I appreciate everyone following along on this quirky journey. You make it extra worth the effort!

When even Milo doesn’t work.

When even Milo doesn’t work.

I’m exhausted. I’m always exhausted. How can I be this exhausted?

Sit down for ten quiet minutes and my eyes will start to close. Try to avoid it by standing up instead, and my knees begin to buckle with the weight of my body. Focus comes in fits and bursts, I’m writing things in increments. Doing small, bite-sized tasks that make the most of these energy bubbles before they burst.

You’d be forgiven for thinking poor routine is to blame. I do function better at night than I do in the morning, my natural inclination is to make the most of that time. That’s only an option if I don’t have to work the next day, if there’s a gap of less than eight hours between when I get into bed and the time I have to start work, I stress instead of sleep. Lately I’ve not been in bed later than 11pm, and I still feel like I’ve pulled an all-nighter.

Weekends I push it out a little more to feel more productive in the day. Otherwise it’s just an endless cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat. I hate that hamster wheel feeling. There has to be more, there has to be something more than just surviving.

Surviving is all I seem to have the energy for, though. I come home from work so tired I’d go to bed at 6pm if that wasn’t weird. I have put myself to bed that early–and consequently forgot to eat that night. I forget to eat a lot of nights. I’m too tired to care about food.

I’m over-sensitive, too. Everything is a threat, an annoyance, another reason to be stressed. My shoulders are aching from being so tense all the time. I take things personally before my more rational side kicks in to correct me. It’s not about me, but it feels like it is and it hurts. I don’t understand what people mean, and it hurts.

A harmless joke leads to hours of me beating myself up because I took it seriously at first, and why couldn’t I see it was obviously not real? I should have known the voice on the phone was a work colleague–I’m so dumb. They must be laughing so hard at how dumb I am. I’m too tired for these jokes.

I feel dumb for all the times I couldn’t determine whether someone was serious or not. I feel dumb for all the times I didn’t understand what I was being asked. I feel dumb for all the things I simply don’t think to say or do, that it is a conscious effort to remember that people like someone to say ‘Thank you, that was delicious’ at the end of a meal. For all the things that are expected between people and I just don’t get them.

Some things, like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.. even ‘happy birthday’ I struggle with. Even though I’ve been told that no one minds if it’s ‘not genuine’ (which makes no sense to me, why would anyone enjoy inauthentic gratitutde?), the terms feel so repetitive and cliche that I don’t know how to say them and still express the genuine gratitude behind them. I try to work around the words, to use expression, inflection and alternate phrasing to demonstrate that I value them enough to put thought into how I thank them.

But if I don’t say the ‘magic words’, all that thought is for nothing. People would rather hear a hollow and too-repeated ‘Thanks’ than ‘That looks amazing! You’re the best!’ Why is that? Why are people so hung up on the idea that only a few words can truly represent gratitude? I’m doing my best to remember to say the right words at the right times, but I don’t always and when I get pulled up for it I feel so stupid.

Come on, these are things I should know. I was raised better than this. It’s not that I don’t feel it, but I get caught either in trying to compose words that adequately express gratitude (which I hate to admit, can leave me unable to speak sometimes), or it just doesn’t occur to me that I should say anything. Again: how could I not know? Maybe I get caught up in what’s happening and my attention has shifted too fast, or I don’t know–either way, I have to consciously stop and ask myself: ‘Did you say please? Did you say thank you?’

The more tired I am, the more I slip. I’m slipping a lot lately. Really silly mistakes, confusing information, reading things wrong. Earlier today a colleague walked in and said ‘Good morning!’ and what did I say? I said ‘Good night!’

I’m trying to focus. My eyes keep wandering across my desk, squinting with the light, and even though there’s only a few of us here today everyone is noisy. The air vents are noisy. Scraps of conversations that I’m not part of, both upstairs and down, are distracting. I’m going to spend lunch in a dark room, which is what I do now. That period of quiet rest stops me from breaking the phone when it rings in the second half of the day.

I really hate talking on phones. My phone stays on silent because if it rings I might actually throw it. Phone conversations are for when you need to know something right now, otherwise a text will do.

I don’t really know what to do right now. How can I be so burned out when all I’m trying to do is function like a proper adult?

Sigh.

I’m doing my best to keep going. I seem to have less and less to work with every day. The more I force it, the more broken I feel.

Come on, you stupid girl. No one said it was going to be easy. If you’re not succeeding, you’re not trying hard enough. Everyone else gets by. Why the fuck can’t you?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m trying. I can’t keep up. I don’t know how people work through the week, do things after work and also on the weekends. I don’t know how anyone manages what they do without collapsing into a pile of shaking sobs on a regular basis. I don’t know how people remember to eat or do other regular tasks without someone (or an alarm) to remind them.

I’m trying so hard to be normal, to do normal things, to work and socialise the way I’m expected to. I’m trying to remember the rules and say the right things, to not break down, to keep my crazy out of everyone’s way.

I’m trying, and I’m failing.

Eye Spy

Eye Spy

I’ve got some questions, especially for people who know me relatively well. Also for those of you who are bizarrely not adverse to eye contact.

First: do I make eye contact when I’m speaking to people?

I’m honestly not sure. It came up in a text conversation with a friend overseas. Thinking about how to answer that made me extremely curious and aware of the things I do when holding a conversation.

I don’t like eye contact. Making eye contact requires a super-human level of effort that I’m not prepared to put in when the result makes me feel uncomfortable. When you’re making eye contact, are you supposed to look someone directly in the eyes? Is that where your focus is supposed to be?

joey-s-eye-contact-o

It’s possible that I am making eye contact in a normal and comfortable way, maybe I’m interpreting the idea of eye contact as a focused stare. It feels like a stare. No matter how many times I blink, the weirdness of it doesn’t go away.

Eye contact makes it harder to focus on other aspects of the conversation, too. Like–the actual conversation. If I’m making (what I think is?) proper eye contact, the rest of the world seems to fade out and all I can see is just eyes. Goodbye mouth, nose, and eyebrows… you are just a pair of eyes at the end of a big black tunnel. Feels like it’s almost physically sucking me in. It’s creepy.

I’ve never been told one way or the either that I make too much or too little eye contact. I’ve experimented with forcing it (all the guides on being successful mention eye contact) for the duration of a conversation, or letting myself be more comfortable and allowing my eyes to wander where they will.

No one has ever commented. That’s probably a politeness thing.

83810-eye-contact-gif-britta-communi-3zv6

When I force eye contact, I seem to be less aware of my surroundings. Is that the creation of interpersonal intimacy? If so, I really don’t enjoy that. Partly because I miss chunks of what’s being said. You know, the words–the point of having a conversation. Experts say that the eyes can communicate a lot, but I think all mine have to say when making eye contact is ‘GET ME OUTTA HERE!’

I’ve noticed that I watch lips a lot. I like the way they move. I like the way faces move in general. I like seeing where the light falls on the different planes of the face and how it shifts with different expressions.

Thanks to GIFs animated with subtitles, I’ve begun to decode lips as an information source. In GIFs that contain a person speaking, even without the dialogue subtitled, I can usually guess most of the words spoken and even the tone. I know, because I go back to find the same clip with sound. I sure can’t read someone’s lips across a room, but I can read the odd word or mood. I think that’s pretty cool.

So I guess it makes sense that if I don’t make much eye contact, it’s because lips are way more useful. I’m also still looking in the general area of the face, which could be mistaken for eye contact. Or maybe the flicker of my gaze up to the eyes and back to the lips is eye contact. Seriously, I want to know: is eye contact something you’re supposed hold for more than half a second?

175ce406bc94d09c688975f3ad769d7a_1465494717_cropped

Still, I prefer conversations where there’s no expectation to look at the other person at all. Talking in the car is my favourite. I prefer to sit beside people rather than opposite them, or to be in a situation where it’s acceptable (or even expected) to pay visual attention to something outside of the conversation partner. Dates where I’m sat across the table from someone are incredibly uncomfortable and I generally end up fidgeting with the salt shaker and staring at my hands.

As a kid, I remember being told by my peers that I needed to ‘open my eyes’ more. They made me practice sitting with my eyes as open as I could possibly force them as practice. Subtle bullying or a genuine attempt to help, who knows? I like to think that it was genuine. There were a lot of things they tried to ‘fix’ about me. Perhaps it started with pity, a genuine desire to rehabilitate my poor friendless self, and somewhere along the line it just went bad.

mean-girls-ms-norbury-awkward

I’ve wandered from my point… again. I don’t remember precisely where the half-open eyes thing came from, but I do remember it was a conscious decision on my part. I saw a lot of things on TV, or things my siblings did that I tried to imitate for the same effect. Things I felt would make me more sympathetic, more appealing to others. Things I thought would endear me to new friends that I could then keep for a happy lifetime.

It probably came from an advert. Some elegant supermodel. I remember one other facial expression I practiced, a positioning of mouth and tongue that made a baby on the TV look so cute I wanted to snatch him up for myself. It made me look moronic. In fairness, I was eight.

As far as I know, I now open my eyes properly. Or at least, it’s a strain to hold them open further. Sometimes I do that to try and make them look bigger and more round.

tumblr_lsv7dxbgui1qbmhvvo2_250_zpsf1a31e4d

For those of you who do make prolonged eye contact, I’ve been told it feels very rewarding. Like a long-distance hug. I have questions for you.

  1. Do you experience that same fade-out of the rest of the world?
  2. How long do you maintain contact before breaking away?
  3. When you break away, do you resume it almost immediately, or do you have to look at something else a bit before you return to more eye contact?
  4. What percentage of a conversation do you think you should be making direct eye contact?
  5. Do you get bothered by people who don’t?
  6. Do you feel uncomfortable not making eye contact?
  7. Is it really that nice making eye contact with people or is that some sort of myth?
  8. Is what I describe myself doing eye contact or not?

I’d love to hear experiences across the board, but especially from people who do seek out eye contact. You can leave your responses here in the comments, or on my Facebook page here!

Confessions: I need subtitles

Confessions: I need subtitles

This may or may not be a series of posts. It might just be a series of one.

I watch TV with subtitles where I can. I find it easier.

It doesn’t detract from the visual experience. Rather, it enhances it with more understanding. Sometimes I do find myself more absorbed in ‘reading’ the show than ‘watching’ it, but that isn’t less enjoyable.

Without subtitles, I tend to get lost. It’s hard to describe because my hearing is very good, but at the same time annoyingly bad. Where it gets particularly bad is in dialogue. Subtitles allow me to clearly understand dialogue without having the volume up at a ridiculous level. Low, deep toned speech seems hardest to understand.

I’m also terrible with accents, which makes me feel incredibly racist. I get especially anxious around foreign doctors, taxi drivers, bus drivers–anyone that I need to be able to communicate with that doesn’t speak the same variety of English as I do. I have less trouble with American and British accents, unless they’re particularly thick or a variation not common in media.

It’s embarrassing to have to ask someone to repeat themselves several times. Sometimes I say I’m deaf in one ear, because that feels nicer than admitting that I find their accent tricky to understand. I know that many people who speak English as a second language are already sensitive about whether they can be understood.

If I don’t understand them the third time, and it’s not critical… I just go with my best guess. Laugh, nod, give the right indicators that I understood.

I do avoid doctors with accents. How good the doctor is isn’t relevant, if I don’t feel I can understand and be understood I won’t book a second appointment. In that situation I need to be sure that communication is clear.

I skirt around the tricky business of communicating an address to a foreign taxi driver by using the iPhone application to book my ride. I can put my destination address in and the driver has that on-screen with a GPS map. They know exactly where I want to go–and with the critical details sorted we’re free to chat. I love chatting to my taxi drivers, even if I don’t always understand what they’re saying back to me.

It’s a bit like hearing a baby talk, actually. Sounds that you know are supposed to be words but all you hear is noise. Usually I can guess via context, but not always.

TV, at least, lets me read along with the dialogue and know what is being said. Drives me crazy when the speech and subtitles don’t match! Even in shows with clear accents I do understand better, I can pick up on subtle themes and stories much better if I’m reading the dialogue rather than listening.

So that’s why my Netflix profile is set to Subtitles: On. Now you know.

Asking ‘R U OK?’… and how to respond.

Asking ‘R U OK?’… and how to respond.

I love the concept behind ‘R U OK?’ Day. I know more people suffering from mental illness than I do who are free of it. They are wonderful, warm, generous people who fight their own minds every day to complete simple tasks like waking up, getting dressed, even just finding the motivation to feed themselves.

Yet somehow, most of them still hold down steady jobs and complex social lives. These people are my heroes. Some of them will read this and think, ‘Is she talking about me? I struggle with X, but–I’m not that special. She must mean someone else.’

No. I mean you. You, and the others like you who throw yourselves into the rush of every day when your body screams to stop. Who have once, twice, so many times ended up crying in front of doctors, desperately begging for help. Who have sat and wrestled with yourselves while thoughts of hate and self harm sprang up in your mind like unwanted pop-up adverts.

You, who have lost some battles, but won others. You’re everyday heroes.

In light of R U OK? Day, this is my guide for conversations starting with the sentence ‘Are you okay?’

  1. ‘Are you okay?’ 
    Ask without judgement. Be gentle, it’s a deeply personal question. Be light and casual, as if you’re asking about the weather. Don’t put them on the spot in front of others, try and keep it private.
  2. If they say yes–accept it.
    Even if you know there’s something they’re not telling you, move on. You might not be the person they feel comfortable talking to. If you know them well, you might ask if they’re sure and give them a second chance to speak.

    Don’t push if they keep resisting. Say you’re willing to listen if they ever want to talk, and leave it at that. Realising you’re not their preferred confidante sucks, but your interest and concern might be enough to push them to open up to someone else.

  3. If they say no–don’t freak out.
    Four simple words: ‘How can I help?’

    Truth is, you probably can’t. Or the ways that you can help out may seem stupid or insignificant. To a depressed person nothing is insignificant. The tiny things like bringing their favourite chocolate bar mean everything, because it demonstrates that they are important enough to not only be remembered, but that someone remembered what chocolate bar they love.

  4. Don’t try and solve them.
    Some people listen with half a brain while the other half is planning solutions. Don’t. Listen to the problem with your whole brain and brainstorm solutions with the person if they invite you to. They may already have a plan in place. Even if they don’t, it’s so important to address the person before the problem.

    If the first thing that comes out of your mouth is ‘Have you thought about…’ or similar, the person is likely to feel less like a human being and more like something broken to be fixed. It’s natural to want to help someone out of their hurt, but don’t start there.

  5. Don’t normalise (invalidate) their experience.
    There are some silly things that get said in these conversations that can be unintentionally hurtful. Anything that equates depression to a ‘normal’ feeling like sadness can stop someone from seeking further help. It can lead to them believing what they feel isn’t worthy of medical attention, that everyone suffers the same as they do.

    Unless you’re a medical professional trained to identify the difference between regular low mood and diagnosable depression, don’t normalise what they’re feeling. Some phrases that are unfortunately common:

    ‘Everyone feels like this sometimes.’
    ‘It’s a rough patch, you’ll get through!’
    ‘Chin up, it’s not as bad as you think.’
    ‘You’ve just got to be a bit more positive.’
    ‘It will pass, just keep trying!’

    Though the intention of the words is good, all of these carry the message that how the person feels is either not ‘real’ or just a part of everyday life. I’ve written a bit more below about the difference between depression and sadness.

  6. Do acknowledge their experience.
    There is one thing you can always do when someone expresses their struggles to you. No matter what the subject is or how complex the problem, you can say this: ‘That sounds horrible, I’m sorry you’re struggling with that.’

    People wrestling with mental illness frequently doubt the validity of their feelings, so having someone else acknowledge the struggle is powerful. It could be what they need to accept they need proper help and take those first steps. Even if they’ve already sought treatment, that acknowledgement means a lot.

  7. Accept and respect personal boundaries.
    Speaking up can be overwhelming and exhausting, and they may wish to be left alone after. If they seem uncomfortable, ask ‘Would you like me to stay?’ and respect the answer.

    If they are happy for you to stay, don’t expect to keep discussing their mental health. A lighter subject change may be in order, or even just sitting in comfortable silence. Conversely, they may wish to continue explaining their feelings to you. The conversation ends when it ends. Don’t push for more.

So what do I know about it?

Mental illness is a subject I feel very strongly about. I began my own mental illness ‘journey’ (I suppose you could call it that?) with an anxiety diagnosis at age 22. I’d always been that way, an extreme level of anxiety to me felt normal. Realising that not everyone lived in the shadow of dread was a revelation for me. I am still a highly anxious person, I probably always will be. Seven years on, I’m far better at managing the more damaging sides of panic disorder, social phobia, and generalised anxiety disorder.

Beneath the anxiety, depression began to make itself known. For the record–depression isn’t a mood, it’s not a sadness. Sadness is a symptom of depression. Sadness happens when you look outside to the things you used to love and feel nothing. Sadness happens when you know there are things you should be doing, but the drive to do anything is gone. Sadness happens when you go to sleep at night and don’t care if you wake up. Sadness happens when you have depression, but depression is not sadness!

Depression is a sense of inescapable emptiness and isolation. You’re a flat battery. The cycle of knowing you have to live –> having no motivation to do it –> self loathing for your inability to do anything is where the negativity comes in. Depression is frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. It feels like you’ve broken up with everything you used to love and now there’s nothing left in your life. Nothing that inspires you.

Depression is not the same as a bad week or a rough day. It’s not something you snap out of overnight. It’s not something that will be better if you just ‘get a good sleep’, or ‘relax and see some friends’. It’s something you fight every day to escape, some days harder than others. It’s feeling helpless and lonely, even when there’s nothing wrong in your life.

It’s not always brought about by big and dramatic events. Sometimes it just is. Sometimes it’s a sudden crash from coping to not coping, sometimes the slide into depression is so subtle that you don’t realise until you’re drowning. It’s waking up one morning and realising: I don’t remember the last time I felt good about something.

Depressed people do have good days. A laugh doesn’t mean they’re lying–about depression or what they see is funny–but it’s one bright distraction in a dark night. Some wear masks to hide the pain and stop dragging others in.

Talking helps, as long as the conversation acknowledges the true weight of the issue. The more we write off depression as ‘being really sad’ or something you can ‘smile through’, the more we turn people who truly need help away from seeking it.

Help them realise they are worthy of a doctor’s time and effort. All you have to do is say, ‘I’m sorry, that sucks’.

The articulate monkey dilemma

The articulate monkey dilemma

One of the compliments I often get is that I am ‘articulate’. It makes me laugh every time, the idea is so absurd to me. I’m not blind to my own strengths, but I don’t believe that being articulate is one of them. At least–not most of the time.

There are two situations in which I can be articulate. One is here, in writing. Writing gives me the ability to slow down, put the words out there in the order I want to present them. Ensure that nothing has been missed (and to go back and review, making sure nothing has been left out!).

There’s no ‘negotiated communication’ in writing, where what I want to say alters by the response of my audience. When I’m speaking, I’ll often gloss over things or even stop talking at all if I think the person I’m talking to isn’t interested. I’ll make heavier subjects lighter, pick and choose the parts I think people want to hear based on how they react.

True, people will read into this whatever they want to–but the actual message doesn’t change. Once written, I lose control over it. I no longer get to curb and polish on the fly, either people will read or they won’t. Either they will understand what I see, or see something else entirely.

The other situation is in ‘rehearsed’ or ‘performed’ speaking. Best example is always in class presentations or job interviews, which I do very well in. Odd, isn’t it? For someone who feels anxious and uncomfortable in social situations, I am bloody good at public speaking. I get nervous, but once I’m up there and get going, it’s a whole new me. A confident, expressive, informative and articulate me.

But that’s not me so much as it’s the result of so much rehearsal. Hours upon hours meditating on what to say, what order to say it, what words to use. How slow to speak, when to speed up, how to accentuate my points with gestures and facial expressions. Sometimes I’ll have a proper script, sometimes I’ll rehearse it out loud… but the majority of it is internal.

When I’m watching TV… rehearsing.

Listening to music… rehearsing.

At work… rehearsing.

Any moment where my brain isn’t completely consumed by another task at hand, I am rehearsing.

Sounds exhausting–and it is. Fortunate though, right, that those sorts of presentations are far and few between? Yes, but they’re only the obvious examples.

Need to talk to a friend about a complex and potentially hurtful matter? Oh, I definitely need to rehearse that. There’s no way I’m walking into that situation before I’ve thought out how the conversation might go (and its hundred variants), played them through my mind and assessed the merits of each approach.

Going somewhere that involves being around someone I don’t know well, or have that much in common with? I’ll make an arse of myself if I don’t rehearse. I also research. Facebook is a great way to covertly follow different topics and easily find tidbits of information that can be then worked into conversation. That’s how I do it. That’s how I keep up.

Putting in an order at McDonalds? Better rehearse while I’m waiting in line. Don’t forget to clearly express ‘no cheese’, somehow that always gets missed. And add ‘coke for the drink’ so they don’t have to ask. Oh and make sure you say ‘large meal’, that way they’ll have all the information they need and we won’t have to fluff around getting my order straight.

It literally applies to all conversations. Even conversations among the most trusted people in my world, especially group conversations, I am often largely silent. And then I will speak up, hoping to say my piece before the topic changes. By the time I speak, I’ll have rehearsed that one phrase 6-8 times in my head, questioning whether I should say it.

You should see how often I have to discard well-prepared statements because the conversation changed or (another issue I seem to have a lot) I wasn’t sure how to break in to speak. Or, I start speaking, and… realise no one cares and stop. I often try to break in to conversations at the wrong time, end up talking over people and backing off. The more people involved, the more complex it all gets and the more likely I am just to sit and listen.

Obviously, I should just stop rehearsing and learn to be ‘me’. Talk on-the-fly, don’t get so anxious about what you’re going to say that the chance to say it passes! I’m only hurting myself by holding back my contributions, right?

I really don’t know. My rehearsed, thought-out responses are at least that: thought-out. Like my writing, they are more capable of saying what I intend than any attempt to speak without script or rehearsal. Working in customer service, the communication exchange for that role was so repetitive that you could have replaced me with a robot and nothing would change. It was a script I could recite even on days where I felt completely empty.

Once I’m outside the scripts and the rehearsal, I’m lost. This is why I laugh when people call me ‘articulate’, even though almost all they get to see is actually quite articulate. They don’t see my inner debate on how to speak with someone, they don’t watch the sentences fall together until I like them enough to give them breath. They don’t feel my frustration in knowing I should have something to say, but not having anything available.

So what does happen when I’m unscripted? There’s a couple of reasons it can happen.

One, I’m in an extremely good mood and I’m with someone I trust. I get extremely chatty when I’m happy, and I desperately want to talk to people about everything that I think is wonderful or interesting. I still edit myself if I think what I’m saying isn’t going well, which usually means shutting up about whatever I’m rambling about and asking more about something the other person wants to talk about (I’m aware that not many people really want to hear about my fascinations… it bores them.)

Two, I’m drunk in a good way. When I’m drunk and happy, it’s much like me being happy only I won’t stop and spare you the details of whatever I’m ranting or raving about. In both cases, I often talk fast and I can jumble my words in the excitement to get them out. I want to tell you absolutely everything I can before I start censoring myself again. This is probably the purest form of me. Annoying… but I don’t give a shit. You can sit and listen to me.

Three, I’m overwhelmed.

If I’m overwhelmed, you’ll be lucky to get anything at all. In computer terms, all of my RAM is taken up trying to process what is going on around me and I literally don’t have the capacity to formulate an output. I’m basically that spinning wheel cursor, trying my hardest internally to get something happening–but it doesn’t. Sometimes that just means that I stay silent until I’ve worked through enough to bring other systems ‘online’ again. Note that I also struggle with carrying out other actions while overwhelmed, like… lifting a hand, or removing myself from a situation.

Not all situations give me the time and space to process and then speak. That’s where it can get ugly. Often I want to have a response, but don’t. Sometimes I am supposed to have a response, but I don’t have anything rehearsed and ready. It’s like the whole English language has vacated my brain and I’ve lost the ability to string coherent sentences together. The more pressing the situation, the harder it is to recover. I’d be a terrible journalist under pressure.

This isn’t one of those situations where if I just ‘try harder’ the words will come, or where I’m being silent out of guilt, or to aggravate another person. I literally, completely and absolutely, cannot speak. I can’t underline that enough. I don’t have access to the words to respond.

Occasionally I will manage a small nod and a ‘yep’/’nope’–this is the closest I have to a ‘script’. This is the closest I have to a rule for dealing with these situations. This is the only speech that I know is ‘acceptable’ in the situation. The only reason I can do that much is to make the conversation end. Placating the other person until I can retreat and process, and think up all the things I should have said.

That feeling when you think up a great comeback days too late? Me. All the time. Every conversation ever.

The last reason is that I want to break out of rehearsed conversation, or I feel a need to. No, I don’t like that almost every word out of my mouth is reviewed and edited and examined (before and after saying it). Sometimes I want to speak in situations I’m not ‘prepared’ for, or have what feels like ‘honest’ communication with someone. It’s almost always a train wreck.

Unless I’ve considered how a statement might play out among people, it usually gets taken the wrong way. People assume I’m talking about something else, have an opinion outside of the one I’m trying to communicate, or otherwise hear something that I don’t intend to be saying.

The words can come out jumbled, awkward, I have to stop and rephrase. I confuse things and definitely don’t say what I’m trying to say. There’s nothing articulate about it. A thousand monkeys on a thousand keyboards probably scripted what I have to say. It’s not that I’m speaking without thinking, but I’m not thinking enough. Like running a spell checker over a document and not seeing red lines, assuming it’s all good to go–where normally I’ll go through each line and painstakingly draw out all the grammatical errors. The words used wrong. Put things in a better order.

It’s usually closer to what I mean to say (at least, I think it is), but rehearsing and scripting takes time. ‘Casual’ conversation is work. It takes a level of attention and processing power that is above and beyond other casual activities… like watching TV. And even then, I still often don’t get out what I want to–because I’m editing the words as they come out of my mouth.

Friends who let me babble on about whatever has sparked me when I’m chatty–thank you. Thank you for letting me ramble your ear off in my fast and tangential way. Even if you zoned out partway through, or weren’t listening at all–still thank you. It actually means a lot for me to feel I don’t have to shut down the conversation because you’re not interested.

On the other hand, if you’ve noticed that I do turn topics away from something that clearly interests me, and you don’t feel bored or bothered by it–tell me. I absolutely suck at taking hints and reading situations, and I’m constantly looking for signs that I’m making people annoyed or uncomfortable. Good old me interprets the benign as a reason to stop, and manages to completely ignore actual cues to give up.

I love talking about the things I love, though. I really want to share them with people, and show the people I love the things that are fascinating to me.

Sometimes I worry that the excessive rehearsal and consideration I give to my words also results in them being void of emotion. I’ve been accused several times throughout my life of ‘indifference’, and I’ve never been sure why. I’m pretty much all-or-nothing. I throw myself at things until they break me, I take so much pride in the work that I do that when it’s criticised.. yes, I feel personally hurt. I know that rationally I’m going to make errors and they’re not the end of the world, but my work is an extension of me.

I don’t feel differently of things because they’re less important. My parents once remarked that I used to make ‘shitty coffee’ as a means of getting out of being asked to make them–they thought the story was an amusing anecdote about a spiteful child. Thing is, I took great pride in the coffees I made even if I didn’t want to make them.

What I think happened was there was a phase where I would pour the hot water into the cup with just the instant coffee and sugar in there, and then add milk. This was because if you added the milk first, not all of the coffee dissolved and there were ugly brown spots floating on top. It didn’t look like good coffee, and the way to fix that was do the hot water first.

Nevertheless, I didn’t find out about my ‘shitty coffee’ making until I was an adult. Which sparked, as comments like that always do, a full analysis of how it could have been understood that the reason was I don’t care. Why does this reason keep coming up? Most of all, how do I fix it? Short of pointing to the subject and directly stating ‘I care very much about this’, how do I communicate that everything I do I consider to be a part of myself and my stamp on this world?

Questions about my sincerity and other emotional states have been raised over time, too. It’s kind of a shock to realise that something you believed you were expressing has become so warped in transmission that people aren’t sure if you mean it. I blame a poker face built on years of not letting bullies see me cry. Add that to the fact that I am oblivious to most social cues, and I guess what you see from the outside is a cold hard bitch (yes, I’ve been called that too).

Speaking of social cues… did you know that when someone comments on something you’re cooking (like, ‘Oh wow! That smells amazing!’) that you’re supposed to offer some? I actually just learned this from a book. Is this really a thing? Have I been offending people by not offering what I’m making? Worse, have I been sending my housemates the message that I want their food when I compliment how wonderful the house smells at dinner? It does smell nice! They’re amazing cooks!

The whole thing leaves me feeling very confused and a little isolated. I’ve always known I’m socially awkward, but I’m only more recently becoming aware of this huge disconnect between what I think I’m saying–and what’s being heard. I’ve even had relationships end over it, because he thought I didn’t care and wasn’t invested while I could not think about anything else but the next time we would see each other.

I like communication that is direct and concrete when it comes to feelings and plans. I love debates that are abstract and philosophical, but when it comes to information that I need to rely on, I hate having to second-guess what someone meant. I hate the idea that people second-guess me because I’m not making whatever signals I should be making.

Ask me. If you feel my behaviour is out of place with what I should be displaying, ask me. I’d rather have a five minute conversation that is mildly awkward than a prolonged period of someone being upset or confused by me and having no idea why. I can’t see myself from the outside, either, so I think so long as no one comments that I’m doing things right.

Apparently I’m not. When people ask, it gives me the opportunity to reflect on what I did, said, and how it was received. That’s information I can store away for future reference and correct myself going forward.

And if it so happens that asking me leads to me being unable to speak, don’t freak out. Say what you need to say, accept that I can’t respond in that moment. I’m listening and I’m hearing you, and I’m probably frustrated to tears because not being able to get words out is its own kind of torture. The more rational and direct you are, the better I can process things. State the situation as you see it, and give me some space to process.

I’ll get back to you with answers a when I have them.

For we are young and free speech is illegal?

For we are young and free speech is illegal?

Free speech is being choked out of us by restrictive laws! You can’t say anything anymore! Torch the Racial Discrimination Sections 18c and 18d!

While it may be true that the social consequences of ‘you can’t say that!’ are getting trickier to navigate, the legal restrictions on ‘free speech’ in the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) are actually quite straight forward.

Senator Cory Bernardi is calling on Australians to ‘defend free speech’ with adjustments to RDA section 18c by removing the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ from the following:

Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin

             (1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

The practical effect of such a semantic switch would be akin to giving your toddler a brick to smash his toe with, rather than a mallet.

Bernardi claims that the law ‘should not concern itself with feelings’, and perhaps he has a point there–it’s tough enough to apply law to cold hard facts, why should someone’s feelings be considered also?

First of all, because the Racial Discrimination Act is designed to build a social structure that includes and welcomes everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity. Where groups are publicly made to feel less than others in community spaces, that destroys any sense of inclusion they may have had. Feelings are at the very core of this law.

Secondly, Bernardi has only picked ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the list of harms. ‘Humiliation’ is also a feeling, as is ‘intimidation’. To exclude all feelings from the practice of this law would take away any meaning. The only means by which racial vilification could be proved is by non-emotions based evidence: physical assault, statistics, and other symptoms that appear long after insults have bred into negative attitudes.

The truth is, removing two words does very little to change the way this law would work. Someone who is ‘insulted’ may no longer be able to claim this in court, but ‘insulted’ persons often feel ‘humiliated’, the practical applications of the law would not change at all.

Changing this law is an exercise in futile grandstanding, a politician who seeks to whip up support by claiming the political left is choking Australia’s right to free speech. Which would be all well and good, if he had any plan to do something substantial about it.

Note that this is also included:

Note:          Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts. However, an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence. Section 26 says that this Act does not make it an offence to do an act that is unlawful because of this Part, unless Part IV expressly says that the act is an offence.

These acts are unlawful but they are not considered criminal offenses. Charges are not brought by the state against the person, they are civil complaints that are handled by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

This is not the same as being prosecuted in criminal court.

So let’s have a good look at the RDA sections in question, 18c and 18d, and see just how restricted our free speech really is!

Section 18c (a) makes it pretty clear that it is unlawful to do anything (other than in private) that could upset someone if the reason for doing it rests on their being of a certain race/ethnicity/religion/etc.

That seems fair to me. I could agree with repealing this law if it meant that Australians were going to act on common sense and what their mothers taught them. It’s unfortunate that we need laws to teach us not to be dicks to each other. Be nice to each other, unless you’re in a private space.

(2)  For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it:

                     (a)  causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or

                     (b)  is done in a public place; or

                     (c)  is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place.

“public place ” includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.

A public place can be considered as anywhere that you might reasonably have an ‘audience’, whether that’s via public media, social networks, or community spaces. Places where you are likely to be heard or seen by the persons you are speaking against, and where your actions can directly affect them.

This is especially important for journalists, politicians, and other prominent personalities who may have their words taken as fact.

The law is not telling you that you can’t have an opinion. The law isn’t telling you that you can’t voice your opinion to your mates. It clearly states that negative acts that are racially motivated are not accepted in community spaces and media.

While we’re on the subject of voicing opinions, there are some exceptions to 18c:

Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

                     (a)  in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work;

Artistic work is ‘free speech’ at its best. Art is how we express the state of the social structure, art is how our society will be seen by generations after us. We understand history by Shakespeare, Picasso and Mozart–Australians of the future will experience our society in a similar way.

Art shows us a reflection of what is, and inspires us to change. That is why it’s more acceptable to enact discrimination via artistic means. Art is supposed to challenge us and make us feel, to be confronting.

(b)  in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest;

If what you are saying is proven fact, you cannot be sued. Even if the fact is hurtful or humiliating, it is not unfair nor unjust to speak it in a public setting. This passage also provides immunity for discriminatory practices used in research on how and why people discriminate, and debates on society and discrimination.

This allows us to openly discuss what discrimination is, and what discriminating attitudes we might feel ourselves as we open our minds to understanding the subjects of those attitudes. Discrimination is a social issue, and not one we should run from.

If you are expressing a view that is unacceptable under 18c, but is for the purposes of learning or is proven fact, you are protected by 18d.

(c)  in making or publishing:

                              (i)  a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or

                             (ii)  a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.

For those of you who were wondering where your right to an opinion went, here it is.

If you honestly, truly, believe in what you’re saying, you might be ignorant but you cannot be sued. This is why politicians like Pauline Hanson, who openly expresses her reservations about multicultural aspects of Australia, are not sued under 18c. She has an opinion that she wholly believes, has built a platform upon it, and though she offends and insults a lot of people over public media–she can’t be sued on ignorance alone.

The first part of (c) allows news outlets to report what occurred, without fear of litigation. If an attack occurred that was carried out by persons of a single race, so long as the account of the event is true and void of opinion-based speculation (unless written in an article stated as opinion) there are no grounds for litigation.

In summary:

Truth, common sense, and respect for others are the core values at the heart of The Racial Discrimination Act (1975) Sections 18c and 18d. The law and these amendments in no way infringe on anyone’s right to speak the truth, only restricting the unfounded fear-mongering hate rhetoric that injures others and damages Australia’s chances at an inclusive society.

If Bernardi wants to preserve ‘free speech’, he needs to do more than try and remove a few words. He needs to help Australia understand what free speech is, and what is appropriate according to the existing law. His changes won’t have any functional effect, just another distraction in Canberra.