After my psych appointment on monday morning, I was feeling pretty good. My doctor and I had a good long talk about my social anxiety and how I feel it’s grown untenably as of late. I was told (not in so many words, but in spirit) to go easier on myself. Just because I don’t feel like hanging out with people all the time doesn’t mean I’m suffering from a phobia.
And then, as I did a few errands on my way to the office, I felt my shoulders and arms tightening, skin tingling and crawling.
I found it hard to look up, found the presence of other pedestrians and shoppers threatening. I couldn’t bring myself to enter a grocery store to buy lunch, because I had already been in several shops and I simply couldn’t handle more impressions, and above all, choices.
It has continued like this for two days. Anxiety washes over me in waves. Sometimes it retreats and leaves me feeling almost normal, giving me hope that it’s over for now. Sometimes it drowns me, making me want to curl up in a fetal position and sleep until … some undefined point where everything is magically better.
And no matter what tricks I’ve employed, I haven’t been able to get to the root of it. I don’t know what it is that is worrying me right now; it’s just a general feeling of dread. Which means I can’t do anything about the cause, only mitigate the symtoms.
That’s the thing about anxiety – well, one of the many Things about anxiety – often it’s impossible to find the cause of it. Especially while you’re anxious.
On the plus side, last night when I was feeling completely overwhelmed and incapable of doing anything at all, I spontaneously came up with a new productivity technique. Maybe I’ll write a post about it someday.
For now, I’m trying to simply forgive myself. It’s okay not to be particularly productive sometimes. I’m mentally ill, for fuck’s sake. Just because life has been good lately doesn’t mean everything in my brain is right as rain – I will have setbacks sometimes.
I suppose part of what is difficult is that I have no idea how long this will last. Will I be alright tomorrow or am I going to have to deal with this for weeks? Months? Today, so far, it hasn’t been too bad; no panic symtoms, only a great tiredness. Which is tricky enough to deal with.
It’s funny how quickly you forget. I’ve felt so good the last few months, I had forgotten what it was like to be constantly sleepy, unable to just power through it. I used to think it was because I slept poorly (which I still do, most nights) and because I don’t work out – a perfectly reasonable explanation. When I was younger and grown-ups around me told me to just buck up, I didn’t understand how that was supposed to work. When I get like this, unless I’m actually moving about, my eyes will often literally refuse to focus on what’s in front of me and eventually start closing on their own.
These days it’s so obvious how my brain is trying to run away by shutting down. Sleep as a mental flight reflex.
Still. Under the circumstances, I’m doing well. I’ve kept to my routines, only lapsing in one or two less important areas. I get things done, though it might not always be what I wish I were doing or what I feel I should be doing. I’ve even managed to socialize a bit. A year ago, I would have been stuck at home, staring vacantly.
This is a pretty awful experience, but it is a valuable data point. It tells me something of how I’m doing, what I need to do to improve my life, how well my coping mechanisms are working, etcetera. As silver linings go, that may not sound particularly fun, but it works for me.
It’s only been a couple of months, though. For most of my life, I completely lacked routine and organization. I loved the idea of it; having an orderly life and getting things done. I loved the idea of a planner with neatly written checklists, and a desk full of clever utensils. And, of course, of having a clean home into which I would feel comfortable inviting friends. Of steady sleep patterns, regular meals.
But it wasn’t to be. Every time I came up with some new organizational scheme, it took no more than a few days before it was lost in the general clutter of my life. The holy grail turned into a pipe dream. I would pause in the stationery section of every bookshop and gaze longingly at supplies I knew would never see any use.
Every once in a while I get into conversations about houseplants. I’ll mention that I keep orchids, for instance, and immediately people think I’m some sort of plant wizard. Well, I’m not. Actually, for long periods of my life, I’ve been pretty crap at taking care of living things.
The point is, it’s really not a big deal. Keeping flowers healthy isn’t magic, you don’t have to sacrifice baby animals to obscure deities or even buy expensive equipment. Plants are less articulate than animals. Unlike dogs or cats they won’t make much of a fuss when they’re hungry or thirsty, so the main issue is really to remember to take care of them at all.
So, if you’re one of those people convinced they’re some errant offspring of a death god, destined to kill whatever they touch: You’re probably wrong. If you enjoy having greenery around you, here’s a few tips that’ll get you started! Continue reading How To Not Kill Your Houseplants→
Anyone who’s known me for longer than a year, however superficially, knows I’ve undergone some dramatic changes lately when it comes to how I present myself. I suppose it’s not so obvious for everyone that these changes have been a long time coming. They would have come a lot earlier, if not for the strange way my strongly individualistic nature has clashed with my equally strong desire to fit in and follow the rules.
I was bullied as a kid – surprise surprise – and although that time has definitely left its scars, the strange thing is how I can’t remember what I was bullied for. Kids make up all sorts of arbitrary reasons to pick on each other, of course, but usually these reasons are communicated to the victim. Not so much, in my case. Anyway, I do remember one time where a boy accused me of having cheated on a test. I remember it because that was one of the few times I hit back (verbally, at least). Because the very implication that I might have cheated got me furious.
Okay, but what’s this got to do with style? In my case, everything, as it turns out.
A need to follow rules has been a very strong theme in my life, without me knowing it. I always considered myself a very individualistic person, an outsider who likes to do things their own way. But fact of the matter is, I’m terrified of being caught having done something wrong. Even if that is simply wearing my hair wrong or combining the wrong pieces of clothing.
At the same time I’ve been actively uninterested in fashion. As in, I considered it anathema to the person I wanted to be. There were styles like synth and goth that appealed a lot to me ever since I was a teenager, but where I felt like trying them out would be putting on a costume. I listened to the wrong music, I didn’t have the energy or interest in learning to wear make-up … basically, I thought I had to buy the entire package to be allowed to wear the clothes and hairstyles I thought looked cool.
All this meant that I often dressed well, and in some ways originally, but always somewhat conservatively.
So that’s one aspect of what I used to look like. But my need to do things right didn’t just mean shutting myself out of alternative fashion. It also meant that I restricted myself to an imaginary binary.
Stuck in the Binary
It’s been a couple of years since I realised I completely lack a gender identity (what this means exactly is something I’ll probably get back to in a future post). When I first did, I didn’t think much of it. I’m AFAB and wore femme clothing, and as such enjoyed all the privileges, such as they are, of being interpreted as a ciswoman. And since gender literally means nothing to me, I didn’t really care if people kept thinking of me as a woman.
I also made one of the most embarrassing errors of thought I can remember: I thought, “Well, if I’m gonna dress as a man, I’d want to pass, and with these wide hips and narrow shoulders, ain’t no way that’s ever gonna happen.”
It never once struck me that there are other ways to present myself than fully feminine or fully masculine. That there’s a whole spectrum of gender expression, I knew. That there are plenty of people breaking the binary and challenging norms, I knew. I applauded and looked up to them. But for myself, I was completely entrenched in binary thinking.
So I thought that if I couldn’t pass, dressing masculine was pointless, and I told myself that with these wide hips of mine there simply was no chance of ever fooling anyone. Except perhaps very briefly, if seen at a distance. Simply going butch was never on the map, and what’s even stranger, it never struck me that I could dress androgynously. Even though I’ve carried a life-long fascination with androgyny.
All this changed, obviously. It changed through meeting the right people. The first step was, somewhat ironically, embracing femininity. Although I definitely had an interest in looking good before, I suffered from internalised femmephobia, which prevented me from wearing skirts and the colour pink. It’s okay, you can laugh. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The first step involved meeting a man who was interested in fashion. Not fashion as in what’s fashionable, but as in how to find clothes that suit yourself as a person, how to combine them to accentuate good features, etcetera. And I realised that hey, this is actually a legitimate interest. A hobby, even. One doesn’t have to be shallow or vain (attributes frequently associated with femme) to find this interesting or fun. Besides, if I refused to wear clothes I liked simply because our culture tells me I should wear them because of my perceived gender, then in a way, culture would still be winning.
And that was the beginning of my femme revolution.
Over the next few years I enjoyed a variety of styles with a focus on around-kneelength skirts and brightly coloured and patterned tights. I mostly went either for conservatively cute (as opposed to full lolita) or high femme.
The problem was, it still wasn’t me.
Letting Go of the Rules
The final change began when I started hanging out with the people who are now my closest friends (and in some cases, lovers). Suddenly I was surrounded with piercings and sidecuts and interesting, norm-breaking styles of dress and above all, a very relaxed attitude towards it. They were not cliqueish in the least, and when I started expressing an interest in trying out some new style elements – like dying my hair in unnatural shades – this was met with enthusiastic support and offers of help.
And so I took my first few careful steps. A purple ombre. A discreet undercut. A not so discreet medusa piercing. A sidecut. Another sidecut.
And then, sometime this spring, I had many long conversations about gender identity and expression with my partner Deus, and through these realised what should have been obvious all along: I had been LARPing a woman, and for a long time felt comfortable in that role. But I didn’t have to keep doing that. I didn’t have to pretend to be anything that wasn’t me.
I could, in fact, start dressing to look androgynous. Or butch. Or weird. Or whatever I feel like at the moment.
And that’s where I am today. I cut my hair off and dyed it black and purple. I wear a fake leather jacket and prefer men’s clothing, especially trousers, which just have so much more space than the ridiculously tight trousers I wore before. I also happily abandoned the grossly uncomfortable underwire push-ups I had squeezed my diminutive bosom into (telling myself I needed it to get closer to the much-coveted hour-glass figure), in favour of sports bras.
And not just that – I started sitting differently. And standing, and walking. I suddenly became acutely aware of how I, while trying to act like a woman, had constantly been policing my own behaviour, adjusting it to fit the idea of what an attractive female person should be like. Now, I’m finding it amusing to try to emulate male ideals instead, in an attempt to perhaps land somewhere in the middle.
In the end, this journey (which obviously isn’t over yet) has led to all sorts of insights about myself and how I express my personality through my exterior attributes. I’m happy to say I haven’t just become far more relaxed about how I present myself, but also less judgmental of others. In the end, the important thing is to dress and look the way you like and feel comfortable with.
So, if you’re reading this and feeling even the slightest twinge of envy: Just Do It. Go on and buy that piece you’ve been ogling but didn’t think you’d dare wear, or get your trimmer and shave a side-cut. It’s less scary and more liberating than you think, and you can always change your mind.
I actually experienced a pretty huge mental block quite recently. See, it turned out that writing that first post didn’t release me from the issue of deciding how to start this blog off. After all, that wasn’t a real blog post, it was just an introduction, of sorts. Immediately I found myself wondering: What do I do next? I have all these things I want to write about, but where do I start? What is a good topic for my first actual article?
Writing the first post on a new blog is kind of like starting a new journal. You have that huge, empty space in front of you, a white page (or screen) waiting to be filled. Demanding, even. And for some reason, you feel like those first words have to be perfect.
It’s ridiculous, obviously. Very few things turn out perfect on the first try. And what’s a perfect first blog post, anyway?
Of course, there are plenty of people (pro bloggers, that is) who have opinions on that. Usually, the idea is to set the tone for your future writing. The problem is that even though you may have some idea of what you want that tone to be, it will still take some time to develop. Also, in my case, I’ve had some trouble figuring out what I actually want to blog about.
A Paralysing Lack of Focus
See, there are so many topics that interest me. Everything from deep stuff – like various social justice causes, relationships and intimacy, gender, and so on – to hobbies and crafts, gardening, gaming, and other assorted geekery. So you can imagine my plight when pretty much every expert on the internet says, “You have to focus! You have to find a niche! You have to have a topic! You have to know your audience!”
But I’m a generalist, not a specialist. I’m not an expert at anything, but quite good at a few things and doing alright at a lot. My hobbies and interests tend to shift over time, leading to me picking up a lot of new skills but never honing any of them to a fine point.
I used to think the reason I never managed to become an expert was because I’m lazy. But I’m not. I’m simply way too interested in way too many things to be able to focus on just one of them. This realisation came to me earlier this year as a result of reading this excellent blog post by Stephanie Zvan on Specialist Envy. (Not very long thereafter I also realised that I probably have ADHD. No wonder I can’t focus!)
Along with this realisation came a certain amount of acceptance. Being unable to focus on one particular thing and become an expert on it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially not when it’s paired with an ability to pick up new knowledge and skills very easily. It means whatever I’m doing, I usually have some idea of the wider perspective.
Realising I’m a generalist was all well and good, but it certainly didn’t help me narrow down what I wanted this blog to be about. I have kept blogs before, and inevitably abandoned them as my focus shifted to other things. As a result, I became more and more reluctant to start new ones.
The Obvious Answer
This time, as my need to exercise my creative muscles (as well as my rather excessive desire to Tell People Stuff), I caved and asked my friends what to do. The answer was pretty much unanimous: “Just write whatever you want to write.”
In retrospect, that was kind of obvious. If I am to stay interested in blogging, I need to write about what I’m passionate about at the moment. Not force myself into a niche, which I will inevitably get bored of.
In other words, this is a blog about me, Alex Felicia. It’s about my hobbies, interests and passions. I’ll be sharing all sorts of things, from thoughts on how to deal with jealousy, to tips on how to make your planner look awesome – as well as what is going on in my life at the moment. If you know me, I hope this is reason enough to stick around and keep reading. If you don’t, give me a chance – perhaps it turns out we share an interest or two.
But don’t worry, everything will be neatly categorised so you can follow only the parts you are interested in. After all, one of my current passions is organisation…