People tend to value strength. Confidence and charisma draw us in like a soothing warmth, while strength & skill fill us with childlike wonder, and a secret dream to become strong and confident ourselves.
But it’s not that easy, and sometimes I don’t feel strong or confident, but I “know” that’s what people want. So I fake it; for them, and for myself. It’s natural to be uncomfortable with weakness; to feel reluctant to appear weak, to be an imposition. But sometimes I need to be weak, to know that it’s okay. Sometimes I ask for it, but sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I don’t have to. People just say and do things that reassure me, and whether they know it or not, those little surprises mean the world to me.
Recently I attended a boffer event (games with foam swords), which I’ve been going to for a few years now, and as a result I have a bit of a reputation. I’m a decent fighter, but I’m very good at analyzing the game and recognizing what we need to do. Unfortunately this also means that many players get frustrated with me, and rejoice when I’ve been eliminated. Of course there’s an underlying compliment in that, but there’s also a fair amount of negativity.
But today, after a particularly grueling game, another strong player, someone who knows me (but not very well), walked up to me and said “Good game,” and it really made me feel good, because underneath those words I could hear “I’m glad you were here, and I’m glad you were on the other team,” and I realized that I really needed that.
Later that day, after everyone grabbed some dinner, we re-gathered at someone’s home to relax, maybe play a board game. And it was nice, but then conversations drifted to the dark; trading stories of former roommates and distant relatives who struggled, and ultimately self-destructed, ending up homeless or in jail because they couldn’t master their own shortcomings, and in spite of myself, my anxiety began to rise again; the secret fear that I would someday fall to my own flaws, and self-destruct.
And in that moment part of me yearned to run away, hurry home, and retreat into some fictional story, where nothing bad ever happens.
But instead I wandered, drifting between conversations, until I ended up attaching myself to a young couple; Mike and Erica.
It’s always tricky, getting to know couples, particularly young ones. I’d always kept my distance when they were together, but this time I needed levity, and Erica was full of mischief. She teased Mike, in a variety of playful little ways, and gradually I started to join in. Little comments at first, little remarks, but gradually I grew bolder, until I started teasing too, and again I realized, I’d missed this.
Among all the times that I’d tried to be professional, efficient, or clever, I’d let go of foolishness. But the truth is sometimes I am a fool, and completely content saying and doing things that are a little odd, a little random, and very silly. But many people don’t like chaos; they want to understand, they want to succeed, and that takes order and clarity.
But Erica was in a silly mood, and her mischief made me feel comfortable expressing my own, and together the two of us caused no end of strange looks, often just by looming behind someone, with the occasional giggle or two.
Of course eventually it faded, but in that time, I didn’t feel anxious, or pressured to “be” anything other than my own brand of silly, mischievous, and maybe a little bit creepy…but only a little bit, and since it wasn’t just me, I felt reassured.
And when it did fade, I felt…at ease. I felt like I’d been given a true respite from my self-conscious anxiety, and I felt like I’d really connected with someone else who also struggled with anxiety, and we connected in a very natural way, without trying, and now, a day later, I realize that “that” is something I have been missing for a long time. Amidst all the striving and working to become “more”, there’s been precious little time to let go and be foolish, and even less time to share that wonderful chaos with friends who welcome it, those precious few who secretly struggle in their own way, and desperately yearn to let go, though they often don’t realize it.