Ask Polly I’m Turning 30 And Anxiety Is Ruining Me – The Awl

DearPolly,

Ihaveaproblemthat’scommontosomeextentforeveryonebutlatelyit’sbeginningtobeunmanageableforme:Ihaveterrible?

anxiety。

Background:I’magay29-year-oldmalewho’sbeenworkingatacrappydataentryjobforthepastcoupleofyears。

I’veneverbeeninarelationshipandsincecomingout,I’vesomehowgottenintothehabitofhavingsexonlyoncea?

year。

Asyoucanimagine,growingupIusedtobeanervouslittlequeerkid;scaredofbeingcalledafaggot,Icultivatedthisdeepmonotonespeechpatternandtriedmydamnhardesttokeepthecamptoaminimum。

AstheyearspassedandImovedintohighschoolandthencollege,thiswayoflivingkilledwhatlittleself-esteemIhadandmyanxietygotprogressivelyworse。

IwaiteduntilIwas23,whenIwasalreadyoutofcollege(sigh),toeversoslowlybeginthecomingoutprocessonlytopeopleItrusted。

Atfirstthisfeltlikeahugereliefanditcoincidedwithmegettingplacedinakickassinternship。

Butthen?

MyanxietyjumpedintohighgearanditseemedlikeIcouldn’tfocusonanything;unabletocontinuegoingforwardinmycareerandpersonal?

life。

Whenitcomestocareerstuff,theinternshipIscoreddealtwithpublicpolicy,andmygoalwastoimmersemyselfandseeifitwasanareaIcouldseemyselfgrowingin,butthesadtruthisthatInevercouldfindoutbecausemyanxietywassooverwhelmingIhadtokeepmyheaddowntomakeitthroughtheday。

WhenIwasatwork,Icouldn’tbearhavingpeoplecallattentiontomebecauseIwouldinstantlyblushbeetred。

Icanhandlewomentalkingtomeoneonone?

—?

theconversationflowsandtheendresultsarepositive,butI’vebeenfindingasIgetolderthatIgetincrediblyembarrassedwhenaman,especiallyifhe’sattractive,attemptstomakeconversationwithmeinawell-litsetting。

Atmyjob,therearefluorescentlightseverywheresowhenI’mapproachedbymyoffice’sTomHardy,IgetsuperredandIjusthavetoendtheconversation。

Here’swhatgoesoninmyheadwhenHardytalkstome:He’slookingatme;I’mgettingrednow;hecanseealltheporesinmyface;I’mgettingredder;Imustlooksouncomfortabletohim;hisnervoussmileshowsmehe’snoticinghowredandembarrassedIlook。

”Howcansomeoneprogressinaworkenvironmentwiththosekindofshittysocial?

skills?

Andthatisn’teventheworstofmyproblemsatwork;Ihaveahorriblepublicspeakingphobia。

I’vesuckedatspeakinginfrontofagroupsinceIwasachild,butnowit’sgottensooutofhandthatI’vehad3separatepanicattacksinfrontofmydepartment。

Onewasespeciallymortifyingbecauseitoccurrednotonlyinfrontofmyco-workersbutalsocolleaguesfromoutsideorganizationsatastateconference。

Iranoutoftheauditorium,wentintoarestroomandstartedbawling。

I’vespentyearsbeatingmyselfupaboutpublicspeakingbutIcan’tseemtoapproachitwithanythingbutsheerterror。

Whatreallytripsmeoutismakingeyecontactwiththeaudience,especiallywithmen。

Istarttopanic,havetroublebreathing,andblush。

WhenIseethoseeyes,itfeelslikethey’rebeamingtheirthoughtsintomyhead:you’refuckingstupid;you’reworthnothing;whodoyouthinkyouare;you’regetting?

red。

Whentheinternshipended,IhadspentsomuchtimedodgingattentionthatIfailedtomakeamarkinfrontofmysuperiorsandhadtotakeadeadendpositionatthecompany。

NowIsithereinmycubiclewonderinghowIcouldhavefuckedupsomuch。

Thisjobrequiresnothingofmesomybrainhasnothingbettertodothanover-thinkandjumpstartmy?

anxiety。

Intermsofmypersonallife,everythingiswhatever。

Istrugglewithgayshameeveryday。

Ihaveagoodsetoffriends,andIshouldbegratefultohavethembecause10yearsagoIthoughtifIcameoutoftheclosetIwouldbeleftwithnoonebutmyself。

Theproblemiswithmyfamily。

I’manAsianAmericanwithimmigrantparentswhoIknowwouldbedevastatedifItoldthemthetruth。

I’veworriedaboutbreakingtheirheartanddisappointingthemsinceasfarbackasIcanremember,butkeepingthissecretfromthemiskillingme。

SometimeswhenI’mcommutingI’llwanderoffinmyheadandimaginedifferentscenariosofhowthecomingoutscenewouldplayout;itneverendswell。

Obviously,I’veneverbroughtagirlhome。

Duringeachholidayseason,Ispendmytimecarefullysteeringconversationssothatmyunclesdon’taskmeinfrontofmyparentsifIhaveagirlfriendyet。

Icantellitembarrassesthemthattheiralmost-30-year-oldsoncan’tseemtofindadatetosavehislife。

ThisyearafterbothThanksgivingandChristmas,Iwentbacktomyapartmentwithmyback?

aching。

I’llbe30in4monthsandIspendmynightstossingandturning,dreadingthatmylifewilllookexactlythesamein5years。

HowdoIchange…me?

Look,IknowthatIcan’tchangethefactthatI’mgayandIknowIcan’tchangethatIhaveanover-activenervoussystem;buthowcanIkeepmyshameandmypanicattacksfromleadingmeintoalifeof?

nothing?

BigNervous?

Mess

DearBNM,

Alifeofnothingcomesfromnotwantingtobeanyofthethingsthatyounaturallyare。

Yougrewupinanenvironmentthatmakesyoufeelthatwhoyounaturallyareisbad。

Indisguisingyourtrueself,younotonlylostanychancetoexpressyourselfauthenticallyandnaturally,butyoucutoffyourconnectiontoyourmostbrilliantimpulses,yourmostvividanddynamicstreaksofinsightandgenius,andyourmosttenderandheartfeltmomentsofempathyandloveandjoy。

Iknowyoudon’treallyneedmetostatetheobviousonthisfront,butIdowantyoutoreallyacknowledgeatadeeplevelwhatthisactofhidingandmaskingandpullingawaydidtoyoursoul,becauseit’sunbearablysad。

Youranxietyisasymptomofyourinjured?

soul。

Buthidingwasalsoasurvivalist’schoice,andmaybeasmartchoiceforsomeonewithyourwiringandyourlackofinterestinbeinginthespotlight。

Comingoutandbeingyourselfandtakingonimmediateoutsiderstatuswasn’tsomethingyoucouldstomach,withyourfamily,yourcircumstances,andyournature。

Whoknowswhatkaleidoscopeofhellishoutcomesmight’vesprungoutoftakingariskierpath?

Iwantyoutofeelrealempathyforthescaredkidwhokeptthecamptoaminimumandmadehisvoicemonotone。

Imean,whatatragedy,thatanaturallydramaticandvivaciousboywouldhavetoimitatethedullheterosexualtrollsinhismidst!

Thesheerlossofthat!

Tohaveallofthisexciting,vibrantpotential,tobeauniqueflowerinafieldofmilkweed。

No,dillweed。

Thereyouwere,ablossoming,gloriouspurpleiris,withnothingbutdickweedasfarastheeyecouldsee!

Andyouhadtohideyourgorgeouspurpleandyellowbloomsandimitatedickweed?

instead。

OK,IjustGoogledmilkweedandit’skindofaraggedy-assplant,butit’sgotalltheseorangeandyelloworhotpinkflowersonitthatattractbutterflies。

(It’stheonlythingmonarchlarvaeeat!

)Anddillweedisjustgreen,butithasthosecoollittlegreenblossoms,thekindthatlookgreatinabigglassvase。

Orinagiantpotonasunshineybackpatio,thesortofgiantpotofweirdgreenplantsthatmakespeoplesay,“Jesus,whatAREthese?

Ineedtoknowwhattheyare!

IMUSTGETSOMEOFTHESE。

”Solet’sjustadmitthateventheseeminglydull,monotone-speakingheterosexualmenoftheworldareALSOpluckingtheirownprettyflowers,justtopleaseanunkinduniversethatfavorsDICKWEEDovertheother,farmoreexuberantandmelodiousandelectrifyingvarietals。

ThemostanxiousguyIeverknewwasthisincrediblysmart,creative,interestingguyImetincollege。

Helookedandsoundedlikeyouraveragefratboyuntilyougothimalittledrunk,andthenhe’dcomeoutofhisshellandtalkinwinding,artful,bizarrecircles,alwayswithdeeplymournfulundertones。

Hecouldalsoplayguitarandsing,buthedidn’tsingintheusualfaux-scratchyBobDylanvoicethateveryoneelsedid。

Hehadasweet,clear,highvoice,andwhenhesangKrisKristofferson’s“Casey’sLastRide,”hecouldmakeawholeroomfullofdrunkassholesweepbigsaltytears。

I’mnotexaggerating。

Itmakesmeweepbigsaltytearsjustthinkingabout?

it。

HedidtheROTCthingtopayforcollege,whichmeanthehadtokeephishairvery,veryshortandhehadtoactlikeagruffmachodudeinordertoavoidunnecessaryattention。

Althoughthatprobablydoesn’tsoundlikemuchofahardship,alotofdepressionandanxietyandlonelinessbubbleduparounditforhim。

Hewastallandhadbigshouldersandhewouldlookinthemirrorandsay,“God,Ilooklikesuchatypicalfratdirtbag。

”Afewtimes,heputonfakefacialhairandalong-hairedwigandahatandwentouttobarslikethat。

Hewouldmarvelathowmeanpeopleweretohim,inhisdisguise,butsomehowlookinglikeamisfitandseeingtheirmeannessfeltlikeseeingtheworldasitreallywasforthefirsttime。

Itwaspunishing,anditfeltcathartic,tobeacknowledgedasamisfit。

Thatwashisstrangewayofescapingthelieofhisidentity。

EventuallyhegraduatedandjoinedtheNavyandthingsgotevenworse。

Hisanxietyanddepressionskyrocketed。

IremembervisitinghimonhisshipinSanFranciscoduringFleetWeek。

Hetalkedaboutfeelingdesperatelyunhappyandfearfulthatthingswouldnevergetanybetter。

EvenifhesurvivedtheNavy?

—?

whichdidn’tseemallthatlikelytohim?

—?

he’dgetoutandlivealifeof?

nothing。

Thisisprobablywhereyouexpectmetotellyouthathekilledhimself。

Buthedidn’t。

HemovedtoSanFrancisco,grewhishairlong,gotaseriesofgreatjobs,fellinlovewithanamazingwoman,hadsomekids,grewsomeweirdfacialhair,startedwearinghats,sanginagospelchoir,startedwritinghisownmusic,andhe’sabouttoputoutanalbumofcrazyold-fashionedgospel-influencedmusicthatsoundslikesomethingthatwouldfitneatlyintothesoundtrackofaCoenBrothers?

movie。

Andhere’showstrangelifeis:Lastfall,someonesentmealinktoanawesome“BreakingBad”tributescoredwith…myfriend’s?

music。

Heisnotlivingalifeofnothing。

Andmaybehischallengeswereminorcomparedtoyours。

MaybejustbeingpoorlysuitedforlifeonaNavyshipislaughable,comparedtowhatyou’vedealtwith。

Buttome,itdoesn’tmatter。

Hisbasicnaturemadehisparticularcircumstancesunbearable。

HEWASN’TWIREDFORHIDING。

Hehadtoburyhisauthenticselfforyears,anditalmostkilledhim。

Hissalvationcameintheformofsheddinghisdickweeddisguiseandlettingallofthecolorsofhistrueexuberant,melodious,electrifyingsoulspringforth,foralltheworldto?

see。

Youaren’twiredforhiding,either。

Youhavetostopblamingyourselfforthat,andfortheblushingandthepanickingandthebawlinginthebathroom。

Icanonlyimaginehowitfeelsforyoutohavefundamentallyreshapedyourentirepersonalitytomatchthecolorless,lacklusterdemandsofyourhabitat。

Youweren’tbuilttolivealie。

Fewpeopleare,butasasmart,sensitivekid,youareparticularlyill-suitedfor?

it。

Andit’snotJUSTthatyournatureisill-suitedforit。

Youhavealonghistoryofburyingyourtruefeelings,yourtrueself,andthetraumaofthataccumulates。

Youhavebeeninjuredbytherepeatedfeelingthatyourparentswillnotloveyouiftheyknowwhoyoureallyare。

Thepainofthatsuspicion,thepainofhavingtohideunderthosecircumstances,mustbealmostunbearable。

Maybeyoudon’tfeelthepain,andinsteadyourbraindoesbackflipswheneveryoutalktoaman。

Thatbadenergyhastolandsomewhere。

ButdidyounoticehowwearinganACTUALfreakydisguise,andbeingtreatedwithcontemptforit,wasarelieftomyfriend?

OftentimestheACTUALpainthatyouanticipateforsolongisnothing,comparedtotheimaginedpaininyourhead。

And,asmyfrienddemonstrated,sometimeswestumbleonartfulwaysofreleasingourspiritsfromtheconformistforcesthatthreatentoblotoutthesunentirely。

Sometimes,alittlefree-flowingfreakinessisjusttheticket。

Sometimes,veeringintoarealmthat’scompletelyunfamiliarandalittlescary,thatsoundsatoncealluringandrepellent,canclearoutthecobwebsandgetthespontaneityandauthenticjoyflowingforthefirst?

time。

Iknowthatyouhatepublicspeaking,andyoufeelincrediblyscrutinizedandparalyzedwhenyouhavetopresenttoagroup。

MOSTpeoplefeelthatway。

Themajordifferenceforyouisthatyouthinkthismeansthere’ssomethingwrongwithyou。

AndWHENyoufeelanxiousaboutspeaking,youalmostgetPTSDbecauseitkicksupallofthetraumaofhiding?

—?

hidingyourtruevoiceandsensibilitiesinhighschool,hidingyourtrueselffromyourparentsyourwhole?

life。

Someonewithlesstraumaoverthis,butwiththesamefearsofpublicspeaking,wouldsimplytellpeople,“Ican’tpresenttoagroup?

—?

Idon’tlikeit。

I’llwriteareportbutIwon’tpresentit,becauseI’mnotcomfortablewithdoingthat。

”Maybethat’snotideal,butit’sbetterthanforcingyourselftodosomethingyou’renotreadytodo。

Youdon’tHAVEtobeexactlywhattheworldwantsyoutobe。

Theworldcanfuckingadjusttowhoyouarerightnow,andsocan?

you。

Shouldyoudotoastmastersorpracticeyourpublicspeakinginasafegroup,amongotherpeoplewhofreakthefuckoutwhenthey’reaskedtospeakpublicly?

Maybe。

Ormaybeyoushouldfindadifferentjob,withpeoplewhoaremoreflexible,andseeclearlyhowsmartandtalentedyouare,andhowabsurditistohaveyoudoingdataentry。

Canyouimagineasettingthatmightfreeyouupandmakeyoufeelmoreaccepted?

Isn’titpossiblethattherearejobsinyourfieldwhereyoumightworkaroundothergaymen,inamorecasualandnontraditionalenvironment?

Attheriskofreplicatingsomegay-manversionofthemagicalnegrohere,IhavetotellyouthatIsuspectthatyournaturalselfisthebestkindofglorious,generous,vibrant,dynamic,exceptionalkindofself。

Ifyoudidn’thavetohideanymore,youwouldopenlikeabeautifulflowerandyou’dfeeltherainonyourfaceforthefirsttimeandyou’dsay,IWILLHAVEALIFEOFEVERYTHING。

Ifwecouldfindtherightvehicle,therightoutletforyoursoul,wemightcoaxyoucloserandclosertothiskindofhappinessandrawthrillatbeing?

alive。

Maybeyoushouldwritepoetry。

Maybeyoujustneedtogotosomespokenwordevents,towatchotherpeoplefeelingnervousbutlettingtheirsoulsshinethroughanyway。

Butyoudefinitelyneedsomethingstrangeandwildinyourlife,thatfreesyouupandmakesyoufeelmore?

genuine。

Andwhataboutembracingyourintrovertedstatus,butdoingitwithotherintroverts?

Whataboutengaginginsomethingcreativethatallowsyoutoquietlybeinthecompanyofotherinterestingmen?

Whatifyoutookupsomethingyou’reterribleat,justbecause?

Whatifyousetouttomakefriendsonline,andyoumadeitveryclearinyourprofilethatyouarePAINFULLYSHYANDAFRAID?

Ifeellikeyouneedtoacceptyourweirdnessandshynessenoughthatyoucanshowittoother?

people。

It’sgoingtotakesometimetofindyourpath,andyouneedoutsidehelp。

Youneedtofindatherapistimmediately。

Yousimplymustdoit,nomatterwhat。

Ican’tdescribetoyouwhatadifferenceitwillmakeinyourlife。

Iwouldseeamaletherapist,infact,becausethat’swhereyouneedhealing。

Youneedtofeelacceptedandsupportedbyaman。

IcantellyourightnowthatTHATALONEwillturnyourlifeupsidedown?

—?

inangoodway。

Andofcourseagoodtherapistwillbetotallycomfortablewithyourstressandblushingandcrying。

THAT’SWHATYOU’RETHERETODO。

Don’tforgetthat。

Therapyisallabouthavingyourworstreactioninthecompanyofthatsupportiveenergy。

You’reSUPPOSEDTObringouttheuglinessandtheweaknessandtheshamefuleverything。

That’showyoureachpastalifeof?

nothing。

Andinyoureverydaylife,too。

You’reSUPPOSEDTObringouttheuglinessandtheweaknessandtheshamefuleverything。

You’resupposedtocryandshowtheworldwhoyouare。

Iftheydemoteyou,fuckthem。

Theydon’tseeyouclearly。

Yourgoodfriendsseeyou。

Slowlytrytoopenyourselfuptonewpeople。

Showthemthethingsthatmakeyoufeelashamed。

Theywillfeelgood,thatyouinvitedthemin。

Iftheydon’t,forgivethemandmoveon。

They’rejustlettingyouknowthatthey’renotworthyour?

time。

So:Getatherapist,considerjoiningasupportgroupforyounggaymen,investigateactivitiesthatwillmakeyoufeellikeyou’recomingoutofhiding,lookintootherjobs,andofcourse,exercisedailyinordertoreduceyourphysical?

anxiety。

Yousaythatit’skillingyoutohidethefactthatyou’regayfromyourparents。

I’msurealotofpeoplewouldarguethatcomingoutmightrelieveyourstressandanxietyimmensely。

ButIknowthatitcanbetraumatictoreachforsuchamajorchangewhenyou’realreadyfeelinganxiousanddepressed。

That’sreallysomethingyouhavetoexplorewithyourtherapist。

Ialsodon’tknowifyoushouldconsidertakingdrugsforanxiety。

It’ssomethingtoconsider,butIdothinkthatyouhavealotofclearreasonsforfeelinganxiousbeyondyourbiochemistry,soIwouldaddressthosefactorsbeforetryingoutdrugsifpossible。

Aboveall,though,youneedtoknowthis,believethis,andsayittoyourselfeverymorning:THEWORSTTHINGSABOUTYOUAREALSOTHEBESTTHINGSABOUTYOU。

Yoursensitivity,yourhyper-awarenessofotherpeople’semotions,yourattunementtotheworld?

—?

allofthesethingsarequalities,aslongasthey’renotchanneledintoanegativefeedbackloop。

You’relivinginanillusionnow,theillusionthateverylittleawkwardthingyoudomattersandisseenclearlybyotherpeople。

Youarehyperawareofreactions,likesomeoneonpsychoactivedrugs。

Butpeoplejustdon’tcarethatmuchthatyoustutterorturnred。

Theyhaveshitontheirminds,too。

Onceyouchannelyoursensitivitysomewhereelse,alloftheseinteractionswilllosetheirhigh-pressurefeelingandyou’llbeabletojustexist。

Youdon’thavetokeepupeveryconversation。

Youcanallowsilencetosetin。

Youcansay,“Alright,let’stalkaboutthislater。

”Youcanserveyourownneeds。

Youcanbeyourself。

YoucanaskforwhatYOUwant,insteadofalwaystryingtobewhatotherpeoplewantof?

you。

YOUARESPECIAL。

YOUARESENSITIVE。

YOUAREBEAUTIFUL。

Writeitinsharpieandputitonthewall。

YOUAREAFUCKINGWEIRDO。

YOUAREAMAZING。

YOUDESERVETOBEEXACTLYWHOYOUARE。

Writeitdown。

Postitonthewall。

Thisisyourworknow。

YourworkistoBELIEVETHESETHINGS。

Yourworkistoreadthesethingseveryday,andbelievethem,andliveinsideofthatbelief。

Ifyoudothat,yourwholelifewill?

change。

Andyouhavetogetatherapist。

Startcookingdrybeansandbakedpotatoeseverynightfordinnerifyouhaveto,butgetatherapist。

Getoneyoususpectmightbesmarterthanyou,onewhostayscalmwhenyoufidgetand?

sweat。

Here’swhatyoudon’trealizeyet:Blushingandcryinginthebathroommakeyoulovable。

Many,manypeoplewhoreadyourletterwillfeelREALloveforyou。

Theywishtheycouldmeetyouandgiveyouahug。

Theygetit。

Weareallfreaksandmisfits。

Weallneedahug。

Theweirdnessthatyou’resuredamnsyoutothesidelines,toalifeofnothing,isexactlywhatmakesyouuniqueandintuitiveanddivine。

Thedickweeddisguisemustbeshed。

It’sgoingtotakealittlemoreworkthanyouthoughttosheditcompletely。

Butonceit’sgone,youaregoingtolovesomeonedeeply,andheisgoingtofeelsogratefulforyourlove。

Youareabouttobloombeforeyourowneyes,andyou’regoingtohelpsomeoneelsebloomafterthat。

Youaregoingtohavealifeofeverything。

Polly

Doyouneedtotrysomethingnew,thatyou’rereallybadat?

WritetoPollyandfind?

out!

HeatherHavrilesky(akaPollyEsther)isTheAwl’sexistentialadvicecolumnist。

She’salsoaregularcontributortoTheNewYorkTimesMagazine,andistheauthorofthememoirDisasterPreparedness(Riverhead2011)。

Sheblogshereaboutscratchypants,personalitydisorders,andagedcheeses。

PhotoofAsclepiaswelshii?

—?

whichonlybloomsinthedesert,ahem!

—?

bythe?

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