My sense of community has never been strong. It’s just not the way I was raised. Growing up, I liked just off of South Street in Philadelphia. It’s a business district with a lot of bars. Sure, I lived on a little side street and seemingly other people lived there too, but it wasn’t particularly common to socialize with the people who lived there. We didn’t have a typical neighborhood experience. Maybe it’s because we lived in a tourist area…maybe it’s a symptom of living in a big city, but we just didn’t have a desire to particularly know our neighbors. It wouldn’t be until I was in my teens that we even knew the names of people living near us (before that we only knew the names of their dogs…). My family was very social with each other (my parents were my best friends and I rarely liked spending time with my peers more than spending time with them). We were loners. We didn’t have close family friends. My parents were part of the New Age movement when I was very young and they had a couple friends from that, but as their attachment to EST faded, so did the friendships. We weren’t religious in any other way so there was no expectation of a church/synagogue community either.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately. It is seemingly something that many atheists think about because many people were not raised in an atheist environment and came to it over time. Before becoming atheists, many of them went to church and I have often heard that this community is the thing that is most missed about leaving religion.
I understand this logically. It is calming to be amongst like-minded thinkers. Institutions make easy places to meet people. It was hard to remember how to make friends when I wasn’t in any kind of school anymore. You make friends at the places you have to go. I imagine church is like this for kids. Your parents make you go. Everyone is there for the same thing. You make friends with people in the same situation.
But I have never been comfortable in “communities”. When I was in school, I had friends and such (I was quite social, actually) but I never particularly felt like I belonged anywhere. This has not particularly changed now.
I have spoken about my general feeling of being an “other” lately. Now that my home is filled to capacity with people who I love, 4 cats, a dog, and considerably more Star Trek merchandise than I ever expected to have, I feel a general sense that this is my community…but really, this is my family and I see that nothing has changed since I was a kid. The people with whom I share my home are the people I feel most “normal” around and it is easy to get comfortable with that and not want to seek out more people in the world when there are so many people who will disappoint.
There are frequent atheist meetups and polyamory meetups and I have had a very difficult time being remotely interested in attending either one. Granted I’ve had very limited experience with either one, but my experiences up to this point have not particularly inspiring.
I have been to two local atheist meetups (the same one). The first time I was subjected to the social awkwardness of having the audacity to be female and show up at one of these things. I was a new person at a pretty small meetup and most people couldn’t even bring themselves to make eye contact with me, let alone introduce themselves or say “Hi”. I was ignored until I decided to be assertive. Before that I had to listen to one dude’s tales of hitting on chicks at the bar. The second time I went, I talked to people more, but there was a lot of Christian bashing…which I find counter productive when you’re out in a public space that is pleasant enough to host you…especially when the jokes aren’t even funny. I think about going back here and again, but my motivation is mostly to be a female presence, an ambassador of sorts, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it to expend the energy to be that person.
I’ve only been to a couple of polyamory meetups (other than a BBQ with several friends where everyone was polyamorous so we didn’t have to explain it or particularly talk about it) and my feeling about them is similar in that I feel the need to be some kind of ambassador. Often the people that come to them are new to it and are looking for information. We talk about jealousy and time management and rules. I get worn out quickly because, well, I blog about this stuff too. There have been days where it feels like it’s all I talk about. I want to be approachable about it. I want people to ask questions and all that, but I also just want to live my life. Sometimes I want to just give people a copy of The Ethical Slut and a business card with Polyskeptic.com on it and tell them to do their research. Also, I rarely feel like I belong at these things because not only is “the way I do polyamory” or the “way I communicate and have relationships friend or otherwise” seemingly difficult for many to grasp, but I also don’t see anything spiritual or cosmic about it in the least. I am not a member of the New Age. I am just challenging social convention because this is the way I want to live my life.
But why does all this make me so angry? Why is my instinct to just pull away and give up on being out in the world? Why is telling people about life and being a person others can reach out to so terrifying? Why does thinking about it bring me to tears sometimes? My answer to all of this has always been that other people aren’t worth it and that being more alone is easier and better.
Well, here’s the thing: I can cite all kinds of reasons why I feel uncomfortable in communities that define themselves by a Granfalloon, but ultimately the underlying issue is my insecurity and my anxiety. I still feel the need to be two different people: The Great Ambassador (who is perfect, always happy and rational, and is a pristine example of the “movement”) and, well, me (who is pretty good but far from perfect, unhappy often, full of anxiety that is difficult to control). I don’t go to meetups if I feel incapable of people The Great Ambassador. I don’t want people to meet me any other way because I fear that seeing all the cracks will make people question my choices. I’m afraid that if I’m not at my best strangers will think poorly of me. It’s all the same as it ever was. Granted, I have met a few people who have given me some moments of regret for going to a meetup and have made me want to give up on meeting new people, but I also had to remember that the last time I was feeling like this was right around when we met Shaun and Ginny and that turned out pretty fucking good.
I have been crazy for weeks, and only after a brief reprieve of a few weeks here and there. I struggle with anxiety and low level depression daily. In the last several weeks each day has been a struggle to keep it together. I can do it. I can control myself. Circumstance certainly can be stressful and there has been a lot going on (what with people moving in, me going through the entire house in an effort to get it organized, and trying to change the slob part of me for good). I have been trying to pay attention to my diet (I have been caffeine-free for a month!) and my water intake and sleep to try and keep myself in the best condition possible. But, well, I finally have given into the fact that I need professional help.
So, I made an appointment to go see a therapist and probably a psychiatrist after that because I am starting to think that this is more chemical than circumstantial. I need someone outside to help me figure out what’s going on. I have made wonderful changes and am miles ahead of where I was years ago, but I am expending a ridiculous amount of energy to remain stable and I’m tired. I get enough sleep but I’m tired all the time and I think it might be because I’m trying too hard to be OK on my own. I have been scared of therapy because, while I don’t judge other people badly at all for doing the same, I have convinced myself that I am strong enough to do this alone and that giving in to this is failure. And maybe I can do this on my own, but is it worth it if I’m just crazed all the time trying to be strong? I have to ask for help and I have to do it without shame. It’s time to reach out. I have been afraid of potential medication because I’m afraid of losing the parts of me that I like, but I have to remind myself that if this is the path required that this medication will be like anything else. You have to find the one that works for you and trust that the people that love you will be patient and help you through the searching process. I did it for birth control. I can do it for this.
Since I can’t apparently stay quiet in the blogosphere about everything going on with me, I will likely be chronicling this process here, because like polyamory and atheism, mental illness is a real thing in the world that needs multiple voices and I realize that at this point I really don’t care who knows about it. I wrote an email to someone close to me last year asking them to seek out therapy and I was responded to with scorn and the declaration that they would never ever go to therapy or try antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. Well, that’s fine, I guess, but I am not special in seeking out help like this and I am not better than anyone for having avoided the option for this long. And sure, I might be weak sometimes but that’s why we ask for help. Why do I ask for help lifting a 200 lb weight but expect myself to be some kind of emotional juggernaut? I’m tired of being tired.
Yesterday I had to leave a supermarket because I had a minor meltdown about money AND the general idiocy of people in markets on a Sunday. There was a point where I almost picked up a cantaloupe and threw it. There was another point where I nearly started screaming at people in an aisle. I can control myself, but it’s time to figure out how to really get a handle on this. And then maybe I can get excited about being out in the world again, about being public in real non-internet places.