I’m so happy that I can finally share my new website design for my business – Forty Two!
My old website design did not fit my work any more and was starting to look dated. I wanted to update it a while ago, but have been so busy with actual work that I haven’t had the time. I know I could have had someone else build it but I had a vision and wanted the creative control and to just do it myself. Typical of me. 😛 It’s going to be a work in progress. I’m not 100% happy with it, but it is so much better than what it looked like before. Better to make it live and then correct and continue.
One of the things I am really happy about is the decision to remove writing from my list of creative services — even my bio writing, which has been one of my most popular services for the last five years. As fun as it has been at times, I realize that doing so much writing for other people on a regular basis makes me feel drained when it comes to writing my own stuff. I have less motivation to put my own words down, and it makes me sad. As much as I love it, writing takes significantly more effort for me than photography or design. I am in awe of people who can write all day long and not get tired.
The truth is, I’m happiest when I can sit down and just write whatever is on my mind. I know that removing writing from my services was the right thing to do because every time I think about it I feel this huge inner sigh of relief. I have so much fun doing design and photography for my clients that it seems silly to continue doing something that has been draining me. Hopefully now I will find the space and energy to work on my own writing projects. 🙂
Life feels so much better when you can look at yourself and ask: what’s working and what isn’t? What makes me happy and fulfilled and what doesn’t? And trimming out the latter whenever you can, even if it’s just a piece at a time.
This last month has been one of my most productive ever, and I have one really big personal creative project (can’t tell you what it is yet, it’s still a secret!) that I’ve been working on for the last year and a half that is so close to finally being finished! Truth be told, I’m a little scared to finish it. That fear of failure is ever-present: what if I’ve missed something important that messes it all up? What if no one likes it? What if it’s a total flop and a waste of time?
I know these thoughts are irrelevant, and don’t worry. They’re not stopping me! 🙂 They’re just there and I have to acknowledge them. I’d rather finish it and fail and know that at least I put it out there and put my best foot forward than never finish it at all. I’m really excited about it. Everything about it has felt so inspired and it truly has evolved in its own time. I’m really proud of myself to be able to work so hard on something and finally be close to actually seeing it come to fruition as a completed project.
Faced with the longest stretch of writer’s block I’ve ever experienced, I’m desperately attempting to scrounge pennies of inspiration wherever I can find them, so I’m sitting here, re-reading one of my very favorite books about writing: Story by Robert McKee. When I got to this long paragraph I found myself wiggling in my seat. This is precisely what it feels like to need to write something so much that it hurts. You look around at the world and see connections and puzzle pieces that you want to fit together, but someone painted over the picture on the box and you have no idea what the image is supposed to look like in the end, so you sit blindly for a while, pressing mismatched fragments together in hopes that they will eventually turn into something coherent. For a long time all you have is a pile of pieces and a belief that what you have been given means something.
“The love of story — the belief that your vision can be expressed only through story, that characters can be more “real” than people, that the fictional world is more profound than the concrete.
The love of the dramatic — a fascination with the sudden surprises and revelations that bring sea-changes in life.
The love of truth — the belief that lies cripple the artist, that every truth in life must be questioned, down to one’s own secret motives.
The love of humanity — a willingness to empathize with suffering souls, to crawl inside their skins and see the world through their eyes.
The love of sensation — the desire to indulge not only in the physical but in the inner senses.
The love of dreaming — the pleasure in taking leisurely rides on your imagination just to see where it leads.
The love of humor — a joy in the saving grace that restores the balance of life.
The love of language — the delight in sound and sense, syntax and semantics.
The love of duality — a feel for life’s hidden contradictions, a healthy suspicion that things are not what they seem.
The love of perfection — the passion to write and rewrite in pursuit of the perfect moment.
The love of uniqueness — the thrill of audacity and a stone-faced calm when it is met by ridicule.”
So while I’m still running on the fumes of hope, I’ll just keep reading McKee and listening to this song on repeat since it makes me feel better.
I have lived with social anxiety for all of my life. She has been this invisible presence that stands over my shoulder, giving me a running commentary on everything she thinks and sees. Occasionally I’m sure she gets her facts straight (out of sheer probability) but I know that the vast majority of the time, every word out of her mouth is complete and utter bullshit. At least, I think I know that it is bullshit — yet for some inexplicable reason I find myself believing the things she says anyway. Maybe it’s just because she’s almost always there. I can’t tell her to go away; that’s like handing her a microphone and shining a spotlight down on her, because she just gets louder.
Often times, it seems like my social anxiety has Tourette’s because she can’t stop herself from saying these awful things to me over and over and over and over again, these hateful thoughts that make me want to shrivel up into nothingness. It is incessant internal bullying… but I can’t tell the bully to go away and leave me alone. She is in my head. And sometimes I can’t tell where her voice ends and my own begins.
Others might not notice that there is anything going on underneath the surface. They might look at me and see a pretty face, a happy smile, a healthy body, and they assume that everything is fine. I can even go out with my friends and have a great time if I choose to. But even on good days, the moment I get home the social anxiety comes rushing back in. She is a tidal wave that suffocates me and I drown in her insanity. The moment I shut the door all of the thoughts that I have been trying to hold at bay all day start swirling around me. I resist the urge to bang my head against a wall and instead just fall to the floor and curl up in a ball.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy interacting with people, or that I hate people. Please don’t get me wrong. When I am finally comfortable around someone I tend to be that annoyingly happy person that will not shut up. I have tons of fun being around close friends and family. And I really do like having new friends. I just don’t particularly enjoy making them, because of the constant negative running commentary in the back of my head that keeps telling me I am stupid and no one likes me. People are an integral part of my life that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It’s the self-hatred that often comes with being around people that I don’t know very well that I like to avoid.
My social anxiety isn’t there all the time, fortunately; but her presence is inconsistent and unpredictable, and when she is there I can’t ignore her. So what happens is I find myself fluctuating back and forth between two different versions of myself: the person that I am without her, and the person that I am with her. The person that I am without her is (I think) the real me. But my social anxiety shows up so often and always at all the worst moments, and she’s loud and obnoxious and always the voice of authority. She claims to see all of the things that I miss. She reminds me that she is right and if I ignore her, I am walking blind through life. I need her, so that I know the truth.
It doesn’t matter that I know her reasoning doesn’t make sense. There is no such thing as “the truth”, because every single person’s truth is different. And if the one thing that I know for sure about life is that I want to be happy, and knowing “the truth” makes me miserable, then maybe it is better to walk through life oblivious. I recognize that she doesn’t benefit me in any way, she only makes my life worse. But there is no form of logic that could ever make her go away. She makes up her own logic, and when she is around, her logic is Queen of my consciousness.
When she isn’t hanging around in my head, I am alive and happy, filled with enthusiasm and passion and energy. I find humor in everything and see connections in places that other people don’t. I have endless ideas and creativity for days. I dream about all the things that I want to do, and I feel open and loving towards others. I reach out to people and connect with them, and forgive and forget. I offer kindness and help even when I might not have it in me to give. I become thoughtful, generous. I accomplish tasks like a champion, checking them off my list with satisfaction. I sing, I dance, I play. I do silly things and don’t care what other people think of me, and they laugh and play with me. Most of all, I feel utterly free.
When she is around, though, I become this person that I can’t stand. I am fearful, nervous, hesitant. I become hurt, angry, resentful, sad, and bitter. I wallow in my own self-pity and stew in my own self-doubt. I hate people and life and living, and want nothing to do with any of it. I can’t connect with others. Every little task becomes this enormous mountain that is utterly unscalable and I end up stuck, unable to move, completely alone. I become resentful and jealous of people who are able to be outgoing and social and enjoy the company of strangers. I am convinced that I am unlovable and everyone hates me. I feel angry at people who are living the life that I want to live, because it feels certain to me that I will never, ever get there. The doors of life are locked and barred, and I am shut out in the cold by myself.
Even a minor interaction with someone I don’t know at the grocery store can feel like placing my bare hands on a red-hot stove and having to live with the pain from the burns for hours after the event occurred. I know the obsessive thoughts in my head make no sense and have no purpose whatsoever, but that doesn’t stop them.
One of the most frustrating things though is when my anxiety becomes so loud and strong that it begins showing through the mask of self-confidence and I become really nervous, shy, and withdrawn on the outside, too. That’s when people start perceiving me as standoffish, or a snob. Everything I have been thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I expect people to hate me, and they do.
I might find myself at a party, clinging desperately to the person that I came with, hoping that they won’t leave my side because I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO or how to talk to people. And then I find myself on my own and OH GOD OH NO PLEASE HOW DO I TALK TO THESE PEOPLE. I CAN’T. I’LL JUST STAND HERE AND TRY NOT TO STARE AT MY SHOES AND PRETEND I’M REALLY INTERESTED IN THAT SPOT ON THE WALL. YES, THAT WILL WORK.
It’s usually so much easier not to drag myself through the mud trying to talk to people. So I just don’t. Then people usually interpret that as though I’m not interested in them, which usually isn’t true at all. And then when someone finally does come up and try to talk to me I get so nervous that I just babble about whatever pops into my head and talk too much (which of course leads to me beating myself up later for talking to much.)
I KNOW. IT’S RIDICULOUS.
Life often feels like I’m holding my breath for long periods of time. Every time I have to go out and be social, I suck in all the air I can knowing that it’s all I get until I can be alone again (or with the people I feel the very closest to and safest with.) And when I finally get to shut the door on the world later, I’m laying in a pile on the floor gasping, thankful I can finally breathe again.
It’s so much easier to remove myself from life than to force myself to interact within it. The problem is, when you have social anxiety, you do still have to interact in this great big world that expects you to be social. If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to make friends, talk to people, smile and be friendly and happy. No one likes the girl that doesn’t want to talk to anyone. When I had a job, I had to stretch myself so thin, constantly pretending to be this outgoing person that I’m not because no one wants to hire the shy introvert, and it wore me down over time, grating on me. Very few people could tell I had anxiety because I was so good at pretending. I got hired for every single job interview I ever did, and I was always recognized and appreciated as one of the best workers. I was good at getting along with everyone. But every night I would go home and feel like I was putting paper cuts in my soul, slowly but surely bleeding out. Finally I resorted to starting my own business just to be able to meet life halfway, and at least be able to tackle it somewhat on my own terms. But I still am constantly having to force myself to do things that make me completely miserable, because if I don’t then I can’t make money and if I can’t make money I can’t pay my bills and if I can’t pay my bills then I am a complete failure at life (not just a partial one.) And I will not be a failure. So instead I have to force myself to do things that are absolutely emotionally exhausting.
People always say the more you do something that you don’t want to do, the easier it will get over time. In some cases that might be true, but in the case of social anxiety it is not. It never really gets better; it’s a roller coaster of good days and bad days. Some days my friends and family ask me how I’m doing and I say, “much better! I feel great today.” And the very next day one tiny little thing happens and it feels like the first domino in a long line that goes off, making my whole world fall apart all at once. It doesn’t make sense to others because in reality, the event is just not that big of a deal. But to me it feels like trying to climb Mt. Everest when I’m totally out of shape. I’m overwhelmed and I have to stop constantly to try to talk myself into taking a few more steps.
Often times it makes me so, so, angry that I am like this. I try so hard to make peace with the anxiety but really, It’s hard not to shit on yourself when you look around at a world of people that all operate on a fully functional level (or at least seem to, because so many people are good at pretending.) I look at people who don’t have this problem and on my worst days I become furious at them for having what seems impossible for me, furious at myself for being the way I am. This usually results in me melting into a black hole of self-pity, which of course makes me hate myself more, because what could possibly less appealing about a person than self-pity?
Well-meaning people who realize that I have social anxiety but don’t understand it will try to give absolutely useless advice, like telling me that I just need to focus on the positive. But when they become matter-of-fact about it, like they know better than I do, and sit there logically explaining why I shouldn’t have anxiety and that I just need to trick myself out of it, it makes me want to punch them in the face. There is not a single shred of logic they could offer me that I have not rehearsed a thousand times in my head. “Oh, you’re saying that the way I feel is illogical? WOW! That’s life-altering. I never realized that. Thanks. It’s all better now. Fixed. I’ve waited around my whole life for you to show up and tell me that so things could magically get better.”
If you don’t have social anxiety, you don’t understand. Yes, you might have days where you feel slightly down about things and milder versions of these thoughts find their way into your head, but you can usually focus on the positive and it got better, right? So everyone else should be able to do that, too, right? NO.
Some days it is easier to focus on the positive. Sometimes I can pull myself out of it. But every time? No. Most of the time? No. Very rarely? Yes. The difference between when I can and when I can’t? Not a fucking clue. And people don’t like hearing that. People don’t like thinking that things are out of their control. Believe me, I GET IT. The last thing I want to do is admit to myself that I can’t get rid of my social anxiety.
Yes, there are a lot of things that are in my control, and I’m not trying to say I’m powerless. But after spending my entire life telling myself over and over and over again that there has to be a way to force myself to get better and one day everything will be okay and if I just keep working on myself and trying things and reading books and going to self-help seminars and reaching out and saying positive affirmations and making lists of things I appreciate and going to hypnosis and doing breathing techniques and beating pillows and having creative outlets, I’m getting tired. I’ve been trying everything under the sun and getting only partial results (or no results at all), and at some point I have to take my head out of the sand and admit to myself that it’s not something I can figure out how to control or fix. It’s something I’m going to have to live with. I can look forward to and appreciate those blissful days when she is not around to try and strangle or drown me, but she is going to keep coming back again and again. And if I don’t find some way to at least accept that, I’m going to be angry at her and fighting with her for the rest of my life.
If you are someone who doesn’t have social anxiety, the best thing you can do to help someone who does is acknowledge that what they are feeling is real, and stop telling them that they just need to stop focusing on the negative, or that they just need to get out and do the things that they don’t want to to do until it gets easier. It’s not that simple. That’s like someone who is in shape telling someone with a broken leg that they just need to stop focusing on the pain and get up and walk on it and it will heal on its own. It doesn’t work like that. Everyone is different and what works for one person is different than what works for someone else. And most of the time, what works only works to a degree.
The thing is, once someone with severe social anxiety stops having hope that they can get better, that’s when social anxiety’s best friend, depression usually shows up… and things just go downhill from there. We have to figure out a way to be at peace with ourselves as we are without completely giving up hope. And the best possible thing you can do to help someone with social anxiety is to just show that person that you love them, and you are there for them, no matter what. Let them know that they are not alone — and you can love them without needing to fix them. Keep reminding them that at least the crazy thoughts they have in their head about you not liking or loving them are false.
I’m not writing this post as a way of reaching out, asking for help. I am writing this post because I think it’s important that people talk about these things instead of hiding them, sweeping them under the rug. When you live your life pretending to be something you’re not, it feels like you are forced to break your own heart every other day so that you can survive in this crazy society. Brené Brown gave a wonderful TED talk about how being vulnerable is one of the strongest things you can do and later another great talk about learning from shame and those insights have always really resonated with me, so this is my way of being vulnerable. When I see other people post things online that I relate to and are open and real and raw, I sometimes find myself in tears thinking, “that’s me! And look at all of these people commenting on their post that this is them, too. I’m not as alone as I feel.”
And yes. I am scared to post this. The anxiety in me is totally freaking out about how everyone is going to judge me. But whatever. I woke up this morning feeling like shit, and sitting down and writing out all of this stuff that is constantly floating around in my head brought me back to some semblance of sanity. That has to count for something.
So this post is for those of you who also feel alone in a crowd of people. None of us may know how to beat this frustrating thing called social anxiety. We all have different tools that we’ve picked up along the way that help sometimes, but we also stumble and fall a lot more than even those that love us ever get to see because we are often too ashamed of ourselves to admit it to others. Just know that it is okay if you are hurting. There are a lot more people out there who are feeling what you are feeling, too. We as a society have gotten far too good at hiding our pain, and because of that we become alienated. But if we only knew what others were going through, we might at least have the opportunity to feel just a little less disconnected.
For a while now, I’ve been wanting to blog about things that aren’t necessarily photos. I have a lot of thoughts floating around in my head and feel like I should put them somewhere on the web. But my photo blog has a black background that looks great for photos and makes your eyes bleed if you stare at the white text for too long. So I’ve opened up this little space in the corner of my website where I can write whatever is on my mind.
Some of my posts will be happy and funny, others will be sad and sometimes dark. Whether my posts come out insightful, angry, silly, or just weird, all that matters is they are all little pieces of this twisted and confusing place I like to call my mind. You can expect poor grammar when I don’t take the time to edit what I write, and you can expect long spaces in between posts because my writing is usually better when it is inspired. Also, routines kind of suck.
Welcome to the weirdness that is me.