Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sociable (Love in the Time of Anxiety)

so·cia·ble - adjective, noun

1. inclined to associate with or be in the company of others.
2. friendly or agreeable in company; companionable.
4. an informal social gathering, especially of members of a church.

This weekend, two of my important people got married. One in a self composed musical wedding ceremony at a theatre nearby, one in what I can only assume was a terrific country style wedding (based on her absolutely amazing Pinterest-collection of wedding-related things covered in twine) just a few hours away. Both are people I would have loved to see as brides. I was invited to the celebrations by the latter of the two, and I really should have gone. She was in my wedding, I've known her since I was 15, we've travelled together for heaven's sake. There's a bond there. But who spent all of that day on the computer watching 6 episodes of 'Freaks and Geeks' in a row, eating half a bag of crisps and making 48 cupcakes? That was me.


Story time!

I've always been a happy kid. Actually, for a long time I was that kid:

I have no idea who the other kids here are, I think they're relatives.
Should one of them be you, and I'm now ripping up some horrible childhood trauma - please forgive me. 
The kid who, when everyone else agreed that both the activity and the people involved sucked, was just happy as a clam getting to wear a scarf on her head. (To be honest, I'm still that kid).

However, something happened as I grew older, and at some point I went 'Hey! Groups of people, how horribly horrifying!' Now, I'm no expert, but I think most people who experience social anxiety at a young age tend to shy away from people. Not me. No, I inserted myself into as many large groups of people I possibly could, feeling awful while pretending to be super happy. And it worked fairly well, as long as I granted myself a steady supply of breaks to cry in a bathroom.

I was bubbly, enthusiastic and confident on the outside, and shy, terrified and insecure on the inside. Actually, I can do better than that. Let's do a thought experiment: imagine a really magnificently colourful train. It's bursting through the landscape, soap bubbles flying, happy music playing, rainbows and glitter shooting through the air, leaving the scent of home-made cinnabuns and summer. In fact, the whole village is just waiting for the next time it will pass with it's silly quirky happiness.

On the inside, however, the train is nothing but a wooden box, with a narrow wooden bench. A wobbly narrow wooden bench, with only 3 legs. And on that wobbly three legged bench sits the engineer. He happens to be very old, terrified of speed, he is allergic to the smell of cinnabuns and gets horrible motion sickness.  And he's nearly blind. And in charge of the train. That only has one break that you have to move from wheel to wheel, on the outside. And the door is jammed. Can you picture it?

That's how I felt. (In all honesty, a lot of people probably found my bubbly too much, so maybe only a tenth of the village really waited for me to burst through the landscape, but that is beside the point of this discussion, thank you very much).

Then this happened:
It might surprise you to know I did not have a MySpace account
I was the cheeriest goth you'll ever meet, and that lasted for about 6 months, before the happy-train went on in technicolour. At some point, the engineer jumped out leaving little but the happy bubbly outside and the wobbly bench on the inside. Occasional panic attacks happened, but I powered through, functioning relatively well for years, with only the shortest periods of 'can't handle people, really.' 10 years passed that way. And then I went to England.

In England the engineer caught up with me again. I thought he was lost forever, but he had just been out buying equipment, getting laser eye surgery and some motion sickness tablets. He was back, and ready for action.

First he installed breaks. Slowing down the whole train a little. Then he fixed the wobbly bench, decided it was still crap and bought a new one. He painted the inside walls, picked off pieces of stickers and happy slogans on the outside, giving the train a slightly less manic look, but making the inside a lot brighter, and he started experimenting with slowing down the pace when he wasn't in the mood for full speed. It felt good, it felt smart, it felt awesome. Except, the engineer very suddenly disappeared again.

I don't know what happened to him, I'm hoping he's just out for more parts. Luckily he made an emergency break for me to hold on to before he left. That turned out to be a good thing. When I got back to Norway I was overwhelmed by the complete lack of fit between the me I got to know while in England, and the life I lived back here. And instead of crashing the train into a wall, I pulled on the emergency break and stopped it completely.

It's been tough coming home, it is tough being home, it is tough finding out where to go from here. And it has been tough telling an important person: 'I'm so sorry, but the thought of going to your wedding gets in the way of me sleeping, and makes me sweat and tear up a little bit.' Luckily, she is understanding.

But! Now I'm all sorts of hopeful! After all, is there a better place to find yourself than on a comfortable bench inside? Is there a better time to figure out where you're going than when the train stands still? I think not! I've also started doing some remodelling on my own, for example I've figured out the train could use some more windows, it would be nice with a passenger car and and a larger variation in music, perhaps a happy whistle and whatever it is that makes the train make that 'chooo chooo'-sound. I'm decorating.

Right now, it's okay resting in a train that's colourful both inside and out, waiting for the engineer to come back. And when he does, I'll make it up to the brides. I'll make it up to all the people who have been waiting. I'll make it up with visits and celebrations and joining in parties and accepting invitations and talking and listening and all those words. After all, I am quite sociable.

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