Assertiveness and Guilt

Well, it finally happened. I told people to stop messaging me so much, because I was wilting under the pressure of it all. Only, contrary to my expectations, I did not explode. I was actually rather polite about it.

But. BUT. Of course the guilt has set in. Let me explain though.

So I have a neurotic need to reply or respond in some way to every message or call. I am built like that because I equate not replying to abject rudeness, and I cannot logic my way out of it. Thus, since I very much hold myself accountable to my own standards, I cannot ignore anyone. [Although someone tried very hard to change my mind about this stance.] Except if I have already told that person I will not be replying to any communication from them. This has happened in the past.

Keeping in mind that I have this personality quirk, and that I am usually inundated with work – project work or house work – it was a small wonder I was drowning under the stress of replying to the daily messages of some people.

First, I tried backing away from other social networks. I stopped using Facebook, avoided logging into Twitter, and finally gave Whatsapp a miss, unless I needed to communicate with my mom. I let notifications lie unread on the app, turning off notifications entirely. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew that they were there, waiting silently for my attention.

Next, I tried hinting people away. “I’m running around quite a bit.” or “I have deadlines for some work.” None of them stuck. From one quarter, I got extreme understanding and told I wasn’t obliged to respond, but the messages would continue unabated. From the second quarter, I got exhortations to stop! working! so! much! woman! Or to TAKE A BREAK! Which, while well-intentioned, is not particularly helpful or useful, and frankly makes me grind my teeth.

That brings us neatly to today. Where I finally realised that I was in a sink or swim situation, and I needed to extricate myself. So I told them very nicely that the daily messaging was causing me stress.

And sat back to watch the understanding reactions, albeit betraying hurt, and tried very hard not to rush to undo the results of me asking them to give me some space. It was horribly easy to do so, and I physically kept myself away from my phone so as not to undo it.

The trouble with me is that when I am assertive to people who are nice for the most part, and my assertiveness causes them varying levels of anguish, I find it very hard to stand my ground. I feel an overwhelming urge to rush in and soothe ruffled feathers and generally fix things so they are happy again – regardless of whether it is healthy for me or not.

Additionally, one of them was there for me during a particularly trying time in my life. And I have been there for him for moral support thereafter. So I felt doubly worse for asking him for my space. And yet, I was slowly going crazy.

In the afternoon, I sat with mom for lunch and I told her all of this. And I asked her whether I did the right thing. She looked at me and said: “Only you would let it go for so long, and then ask whether you were right. You need to sometimes do what is right for you, and tell the others as kindly as possible, but not hold yourself responsible for the consequences.”

And that, put it right into perspective.

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Social Media Break

I’ve been feeling rather disgruntled of late, and I’ve been trying to turn that feeling around by figuring out the cause. And as I see it, I see multiple reasons, but the fundamental cause is that I feel unproductive and stagnant.

There are several contributing factors to the stagnation: one is the lack of drive work-wise; another is the breaks in my exercise regime; and finally one is the crippling lack of growth. I would like to fix all these issues, and do so well. I usually get quite excited around the beginning of a month, seeing it as a fresh dawn to make positive changes. I make massive lists and set goals, and every time I see myself failing to reach my targets. This has led to all new disappointment.

Each time I tell myself it will be different. I will write those blog posts; I will read a book a week; I will lose 3 kilos this month. But the inertia sets in when I get distracted, and I lose my drive.

The biggest factor in this loss of drive is Facebook. I see people travelling (which I want to do), raising families (which I don’t want to do), learning new skills (which I want to do desperately), and scaling new heights (which will come in its own time). I see people pushing their personal boundaries and growing, and I find myself stagnating. And I hate it. I feel the misery growing, and becoming a block to all productivity and positivity all around.

Not this time. September 2017 will be the beginning of the wholesale change I will wreak in my life. And the first step towards that is to shut out Facebook. I gave up Twitter a long time ago, because it became too much for me to handle. But Facebook is an addiction that I need to extricate myself from. I had already disabled notifications on my phone, but now I will uninstall the apps too.

So the big changes in my life will start with this one small step: no more Facebook.

Performance Issues

I am a chronic worrier. I let anxiety bog me down every step of the way. Questions like: “Should I do this?”; “What will happen if I do that?”; and “Oh my god, what will happen if I don’t?!” dog every move I make. It HAS become easier as I’ve grown older, but not because the self-doubts have gone away, but more because I’ve found the mute button.

It happens with every new project. When I’m speaking to a client for the first time, the ideas flow uninhibited. I find creative solutions without thinking too much, and the conversation is sparkling. At this point, it is a purely academic discussion. Contracts haven’t been exchanged, work hasn’t begun, and everyone is still feeling everyone else out.

It is my perfect place. Because, anxiety doesn’t assail me when I have nothing to do, and I have made no commitments. Once the contract starts though, it is a whole other ballgame. I freeze.

It is the classic blank page freeze. I don’t know where to start, so I put it off. When I do make a start, the research I do points me in an unknown direction. I have to learn new stuff. Timelines start to draw closer, and I panic. The panic exhausts me, and I start feeling ill. The illness makes my head fuzzy, and I can’t work. More panic sets in, and I am left weeping quietly in the corner, feeling utterly overwhelmed and out of my depth. And everything spirals out of control.

Finally, because I have no other choice, I screw up my eyes and just start working. No research, no learning, just work. When I have finished a first draft, the panic subsides slightly. When I start refining it, and come up with a better second draft, the panic subsides some more. And finally, when I do the research, and fill in all the gaps, the panic goes away entirely.

I seem to have found a way to cope, but I wish it wasn’t when I am pushed up implacably against a deadline, and sinking or swimming are the only two options in front of me.

You’re Not Supposed To Be Invincible

As a writer and editor, my vocabulary skills are fairly well-developed. However, I wouldn’t say they were absolutely at the pinnacle of achievement. I haven’t got the best vocabulary in the world, and I doubt anyone will till such time as Stephen Fry is still alive and kicking. The man’s repertoire and eloquence is staggering.

I would say that my vocabulary was moderately good from rather a young age, say from my burgeoning teenage years. I read quite a bit back then, although it was mostly novels. Nowadays, I have more of an eclectic reading palette: history, biographies, philosophy, and more. Each book adds another voice to my head, or polishes off a dusty facet from an existing one. Ultimately, reading is what made me a writer.

Now that I have done trumpeting my abilities, [and strongly resisting the urge to add disclaimers everywhere] I recall a conversation I had with a colleague recently. He was asking how one was supposed to know how to correctly pronounce words, if they were new to him. He then went into a tirade about how complicated English was. Before I could reply, another colleague joined us, and she caught the tail end of the tirade. She mostly agreed, because as an aspiring writer herself, she felt double the pressure to be word perfect each time.

She narrated an instance where her ex-boyfriend mocked her for mispronouncing a word. She learned speedily enough that pronunciation was everything. Much like I had thought, many years previously.

When I was at school, I had a friend who was incredibly smart. When I say ‘smart’, I mean genius-level. She topped at everything she did: school work, ballet, and art are a few of the fields I can actually recall. I was a shy kid, with positive vibes and confused at best. I was intelligent, and I occasionally still show sparks of this mystical ability, but overall I spent more time confused than otherwise. I didn’t have her staggering vocabulary, but she made me feel awful if I ventured to ask for explanations of the big words she used. I learned to sew my mouth shut, because mockery was hardly a desirable outcome for a preteen.

It took me years to grow out of that insecurity, although she wasn’t the first or the last person to make me feel inadequate for simply not knowing something. Today, I stand a very different person altogether, and I have learned to be proud of being able to ask if I don’t know something. Because it means I have grown, and I am human.

I didn’t say all of this to my colleagues though, even as the thoughts flashed in my mind. I did however say that it was ok not to know all the words; or to mispronounce them. Language is a vehicle for communication, and providing the person in front understands what you mean, your words are successful. That’s the most important point.

Secondly, mispronouncing a word, but using it correctly, means you understands its import. Also, it means that you learned it while reading. A habit usually adopted by intelligent people.

Thirdly, most linguists and passionate lovers of language will say that language continuously evolves. It is only idiotic prescriptivists that nitpick flaws.

Finally, and on a more philosophical train of thought, no one is meant to be invincible or perfect. If we didn’t make mistakes, we would hardly be human would we?

To Be Or Not To Be Intimate

I keep thinking that every I feel overwhelmed, things will even out, and I won’t feel like that. But the fact is that it becomes my new baseline for normal, and work and other commitments blow up some more in my face. Which is why I have the tiniest shred of sanity left, the most tenuous grip on that shred, and finally powder keg of temper underneath the surface, which is instantly triggered by bullshit. Or any horrible behaviour really.

All the above is the reason behind why I let someone get under my skin today, and why there was suddenly a red mist where the atmosphere used to be. And when I opened my mouth, red hot lava poured out. I wasn’t shouting, but I had no idea I could decimate anyone that easily with just words.

It started off innocently enough, where we were talking about our families. From there, we got into a mild discussion about siblings, where this someone [let’s call her Maria, for reasons I will forget shortly] said – I partially agreed – that it was easier for a girl to have an elder sister, as opposed to a brother. The third member of this lunchtime discussion of course disagreed. He is just one of those chronic firestarters, pedantic and inquisitive. [As an aside, also the star of this post.]

Maria argued with him, and then made the following astounding statement:  sisters and brothers always kept each other at arm’s length. Mentally and emotionally, they may love each other, but physically it would be weird for them to be close. In fact, those siblings would were prone to hugs and embraces were not normal, and just plain weird.

I was naturally flabbergasted with this point of view, but I wasn’t mad just then. I merely said that it was perfectly normal, and it really depended on the individuals in question. And if one was to look at it in that light, then mothers and sons, or fathers and daughters, shouldn’t exchange hugs and kisses, or embrace each other unless there was an occasion [her sole exception to this diktat]. Because I said this nonchalantly, expecting sense to prevail, I was stunned by her response: Yes, they shouldn’t. It isn’t normal.

Which is when I lost it.

I didn’t lose my temper visibly, but I did point out that that was a highly judgmental point of view. And that just because she found it uncomfortable personally, didn’t make it abnormal. In fact, human relationships have a degree of intimacy with actually cements the relationship further.

She argued that everyone was judgmental on some level, and while I agree that everyone is, it is based on an internal moral compass that assesses the harm in a situation. When it is about affection between two consenting adults, who is anyone else to judge? Basically, she reduced loving relationships between people and their near and dear ones to something ugly. Just because she is uncomfortable with intimacy?

She continued to say that what was normal for her forms her opinion. I agree, however what she considers normal cannot be the baseline on which she judges other people. She countered with why couldn’t it be, and I said that it is the very crux of xenophobia and discrimination to separate people into normal and abnormal.

Finally, I looked at her in abject incredulity, because I couldn’t believe I was associating with such a bigot, and said that intimacy was a integral aspect of human relationships. In fact, it is one of the things that makes the effort of working through these things worth it.

I considered sexual abuse playing a part in her mental makeup, but then I’ve been through that too. I have been through a phase where “all men suck!”, but I grew out of it. Individuals suck, and within their minds, it is their complex personalities, characters, experiences, limitations, and much more that makes their behaviour good or bad.

I hug my friends, regardless of whether they are male or female. Not all of them, because everyone gives off different vibes. But quite a few. I don’t flinch when one of them touches me inadvertently, because they aren’t contagious or impure. They are human beings. There is no malice or lust in their touch, but simple companionship. They are human beings too.

Being The Other Woman: Introducing the Characters

If you haven’t read part 1 of this post, it is OK. You haven’t missed anything. This is the post I actually set out to write, and got bogged down in the details.

There are several characters in forthcoming incidents. I deliberately obscured the ones in the previous post, because otherwise they might be recognizable to people who know us. [I am relying on the anonymity of the Internet to prevent that from happening, but the truth is I still am scared of it occurring.]

So, without further ado, the cast of characters in the following short stories:

  1. JP: The inveterate scumbag, drug dealer, shiftless work-shirker, and general malcontent, with an appetite for the good life but not for the work that goes into realising that life.
  2. AQ: The rich kid with starry eyes, and the determination to carve his niche, albeit with a little help from mummy and daddy. Absolute charmer, with movie star good looks, and the pedigree to leaving swooning girls in his wake. [Boys too maybe, I am not judging.]
  3. The French Student: Not conventionally handsome, but still arresting enough to draw plenty of attention. Tall naval officer, with a authoritative presence, and boyishness that first melted my stony heart and then broke it into a million pieces.
  4. CC: The British heartthrob. Star of his own series on my blog. The one I thought was different, but turned out to be a philandering playboy.

And then there is me.

Feeling a Long Way Off

When I broke up with my significant other, I expected to miss a lot of things: the comfort, the familiarity, the physical, emotional, and mental closeness, the support, and a million other things, both vague and specific. I also dreaded the thought of trying to start anew, and having loved so deeply, I was under the first impression that it wasn’t even possible. Not that that impression has changed. I still feel uncomfortable of falling in love with someone.

I also harboured the (mis?)conception that I could not be intimate with someone I didn’t love. Perhaps this was a part of my Indian psyche and the layers of conditioning that seep through cultural mores. Now, this part I am not to sure about.

I am not a person that is driven by pure desire, but I’ve started to think about dating for the sake of physical intimacy. I am still dead against the thought of a relationship though.

Basically, what I am trying to say without sounding like the ultimate despo, is that I have the strongest urge to grab the unsuspecting cute boy (who appears to be at least 5 years younger than me) and kiss him.

What. The. Hell.