Recently I watched a movie called Eighth Grade. It was written and directed by Bo Burnham. Now I’m going to talk about him and nothing in relation to the movie. I first heard of Bo trying to watch his standup… which I didn’t really like. I still don’t, if I’m being honest. Sometime later, I saw him on The Green Room with Paul Provenza (which I think anyone with comic appreciation, should watch). I grew some admiration because it’s not easy holding your own in a roomful of veterans. I still didn’t think much of him. It wasn’t until I saw him onscreen in The Big Sick that I got serious about that admiration though, I still can’t explain what changed my mind.

I really enjoyed The Big Sick. I think everyone should watch it. I think Kumail Nanjiani is brilliant. This movie was probably one of the best romantic comedies I’d seen in a long time when I watched it. I still can’t believe I got a chance to tell Kumail in person how much I liked it. 

Back on track.

I have trouble coming to terms with how bad my anxiety can get and how crippling it can be. For years, I tried to hide it from myself. I think part of it was because I didn’t know what was going on with me. It was part of the trauma. Having no one around made it easy to be confused. When I started getting a sense of what was happening, it made me even more scared because I felt like it was making me less of a person than I already felt like. For years, deep down, I just desperately wanted to be cool but I felt like this was a reason even less to be it. It made me feel more like the loser I already felt. I wanted to be cool because I felt so invisible and with the life I grew up with, it made me feel so alone.

I’m only beginning to understand my own anxiety more. Every time I’ve tried to talk about it before, it was always with some sense of crafted conversation. It’s not easy talking about how bad it can get. Even when I have better control over it once I started learning more about it. But I get moments where it’s so hard to breathe. I don’t answer my calls or texts and the longer it goes on, the more I feel that loser feeling and if it goes on too long, it’s so hard to get out of. I start to not be able to function. I can’t focus and I just stay in my room. Sometimes I feel this intense feeling of panic like I’m terrified but I don’t know of what. It’s usually before bed and it’ll keep me from sleeping. I get the same feeling of panic when I try to leave my house after a few days of being too worried about people seeing my anxiety because I can see the physical signs of the weariness when I look in the mirror.

It’s been bad for a while now.

Eighth Grade explains anxiety pretty well. I can relate to that desperation and inside vs. outside and how disconnected it can be. That pressure to want to be seen as cool and the awkwardness that comes with it. The stutters of talking to people that you think are cool and those small smiles of victory when you think you feel it. It gets being a disgruntled teenager pretty well too. Some of the scenes were so painful to watch because I could feel it.

It’s the closest I’ve come to see how relatable it feels to my own anxiety. I even think she does better than me but then I think of moments where I’ve forced myself to do things. I’ve never been able to shake that uncool feeling from myself though. It’s emotionally painful to experience and I can get paralyzed by past embarrassments even though I know deep down, it’s not a big deal. It’s so awkward.

There was another seen that hurt to watch. It was the car scene. I’m going to spoil it:

When he was making her uncomfortable by trying to get her to play Truth or Dare and she didn’t really know how to go about the situation… I felt that. When she’s looking down and away but still trying to “be cool”, it’s how I feel inside when I talk to people. Even just in social situations. But where I really felt it was when she apologized for saying no and how guilty she sounded for rejecting the dare. When he tells her it was for her and how her first time is gonna be stupid or whatever… You can feel the guilt growing on her. When she is crying in her room, I felt it. For me though, I internalize it and that scene and how she’s acting in it is the turmoil I feel on the inside. 

What I felt was more shame though because sometimes I never said no.

This film was the closest thing that I’ve seen in front of me that explains how I feel inside sometimes. In a way, it’s kind of nice that it was anxiety rather than emotional disturbance that I’ve seen in other films.

It’s a lonely way of living and it gets even harder as I get older. As an adult, there’s a part of me that feels like I’m a grown woman, these are problems for teenagers. I’ve learned not to push people away which is a step up from how I used to be. I tend to isolate myself but I’m working on that. I’m still learning to accept help from the right people and being honest with them. I know I’m lucky to even have a couple of people this is possible with. I feel guilty that I have a support system but I can still feel helpless. But I’ve grown as well. I don’t long for affection anymore. Sure, I have anxiety about dying alone or being a spinster for the rest of my life but I don’t force attachment to people anymore. I’ve come to terms with how disappointed and overly anxious it makes me and that it’s best to avoid.

I never thought I’d genuinely stop seeking for meaning in empty places.

Where Do I Go From Here?

There’s a developing level of vulnerability that I’m starting to accept. It hasn’t really been easy to navigate but it also feels absolutely necessary.

I’m beginning to recognize that when I start getting uncomfortable from my social anxiety, instead of trying to connect, I end up embarrassing myself. I haven’t quite decided if it’s something I can work on or it’s just a part that’s me. I guess it’ll come down to the ability to be able to separate myself from it. My anxiety sometimes causes me to shut down instead of show up because I become somewhat paralyzed about what move I should be making and then I don’t end up doing anything. There used to be days, even weeks, where I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) leave my home and the longer that went on, the more I convinced myself that once I stepped out into the world, everyone would know. I would deflect my anxiety by pretending to myself, “Haha, I’m okay. Things are okay. Nothing is wrong. Don’t let people see your weakness. Haha, it’s okay. I’m fine. I just want people to think I’m cool and it’s not cool to be anxious. Knock it off, Fish.

It was exhausting.

It’s more manageable these days but fuck, I’m still intimidated when I get socially anxious. Like, it can feel sure people can sniff the anxiety out of me and be like, k, you loser and I’d be like, yeah you’re right. People don’t really respect you much when this shit is apparent as well. There have been times I would feel so uncomfortable wondering if people could sense how hard I was trying to just be social. I felt like I was being a phony not being able to do it so … easily? I just wanted to be accepted but my anxiety shield kept me on edge a lot. It still does sometimes. I get in my own head about whether or not people wanted to be my friend when I wanted them to be mine.

I’ve always kind of felt like, I was friendly enough for people to chat with, maybe, but not enough to like, establish a friendship with. I’ve also had to come to terms with my efforts as well. I have a hard time understanding how to call someone to just hang out or plan an outing with my friends. I haven’t practice that sort of thing enough because I start getting anxious about the rejection of trying. I haven’t learned to surf the waves of it yet but I’m hoping to get the hang of it. Right now, I think I’m still crashing down.

Truth is, I’ve always wanted to be seen as a person but then I ask myself is this allowed? Also, when you’ve spent most of your life mostly hiding from people while desperately wanting to be cool, you’re just mostly invisible. When you mostly just make an impression of embarrassment (which I’m really good at), it doesn’t make you come off as someone people want to know. At least that’s what I end up telling myself when I’m alone and reflect with cringes.

So where do I go from here?

I don’t really have an answer. But I think the answer lies in just keeping on. Keep writing out these anxieties so that maybe I’ll be able to own them so they own me less. Maybe I’ll stop worrying about how much of a loser I might be coming off as. That’s how I feel when I write about this shit. Maybe eventually that feeling will stop. Since I’ve been putting my shit out there more honestly, I feel less shackled even though the feelings still come. They don’t come as strongly.

And that’s probably a good thing.