In a recent post I ended by saying that I was feeling too damned good and optimistic to write my initial post idea about something I call The Monster. But of course the Monster had a reason to come back. He came back to visit today and now I'm enraged, and I can't get to the gym yet to burn him off.
What is the Monster? The Monster is a state of mind I get into when I find out I've done something wrong, or when I'm convinced that I've done something wrong. Last night my friend and I went to see a transgender musician/speaker. In between songs, I turned to my friend and whispered-- or I thought I whispered-- things like, "Oh, this one's my favorite" or "This is what I was telling you about earlier." I had no idea that anything was wrong.
Meanwhile, during the Q and A, I asked the musician/speaker about something that I've heard about-- that occasionally there are people who identify as one gender in childhood and then it changes in adulthood. I don't mean someone who came out in adulthood or someone who didn't know what to call themselves until adulthood. I mean someone whose gender identity honestly changed. And occasionally I have heard, too, about people who've identified as transgender in childhood and then changed in adulthood. I asked him if there has been any research on it. After the Q and A, it occurred to me that I possibly made him feel uncomfortable with that question, that it could be misconstrued as me implying that transgender people should suck it up and "outgrow it". I mean, it's not too unreasonable of a fear, especially since last August some people accused me of silencing rape victims with this blog post. So after the show was over, I went to the musician/speaker and told him that I hoped my question hadn't offended him. He assured me that it hadn't. Well, good.
OK, so I had taken that possibility into account, but of course I couldn't get through a social event without pissing people off. No. It never happens. The Universe won't let it happen. My friend told me today that when I commented between songs, I wasn't whispering and the whole fucking auditorium could hear me. She said that she heard people making annoyed noises. Of course it was a cue that I missed. It scares me because it makes me wonder just how out of touch with reality I am, that I'm the classic unreliable narrator.
Oh, but she was trying to help you by pointing it out to you. First of all, my friend also has Asperger's. More importantly, this isn't an isolated incident. This happens EVERY SINGLE TIME I'M IN A SOCIAL SITUATION WITH PEOPLE I DON'T KNOW. Every time I learn to keep something else in check, something unexpected comes up that I ended up screwing up on. People think I'm being serious when I'm joking, people think I'm angry when I'm not, and all around people misinterpret one thing after another about me.
As I alluded to above, a blog post I wrote was interpreted by people in a Meetup group that I was silencing rape victims. Another group (my sign language Meetup group) kicked me out. Why? They said that I was voicing too much when what I was doing was saying things to myself for clarification in my attempt to learn sign language. For example, "Oh, oh, okay. 'Dog,' got it." This apparently made the deaf people there feel unsafe. Then the straw that broke the camel's back happened one night when I ordered a large dessert and in the spirit of community tried to share it. They felt that I was forcing it on them and it made them feel alienated because I was the only one who ordered it. Four people left early because of me. But of course I had no clue that this was why they were leaving. It didn't even cross my mind.
The day after this past Thanksgiving, I went out to breakfast with my family and extended family. My cousin, with whom I'm close, announced that she was pregnant. Her aunt hadn't arrived yet, and she told us not to say anything and let her make the announcement again when her aunt came. I didn't hear her say that. So when my cousin announced her pregnancy again, I was confused. I turned to my cousin's aunt and said, "What, you didn't know? She announced it before you got here." In other words, I thought she had already known I and didn't get why my cousin was announcing it again. My cousin put her head in her hands, shook her head, and said, "Oh, God, Julie." Embarrassed over my stupidity-- I'm lucky my cousin's aunt didn't feel offended over this-- I walked out of the restaurant to cool down. I knew if I continued to sit there that I would shake and fight back tears. These misspoken words are, of course, the kind of thing that could get me fired if it happened in a job staff meeting. And I knew it. Getting kicked out of the sign language Meetup was still fresh in my mind, so this incident hit me pretty hard.
When I hear yet another bit of feedback after another fuck up, I'm not hearing "constructive criticism" or even an occasional "Don't do this". I'm hearing, "Here's yet another mistake you made." And after decades of this never-ending nitpicking from others, I just feel unbridled rage. Operant conditioning. Amygdala hijacking. That's what the Monster is: He's a intense fight or flight response that I reflexively get when I've done something wrong. My heart races, my fists clench, and I feel intense pins and needles in my face, probably from the sudden surge of adrenaline. It's anger: Anger at myself for annoying, offending, hurting, and scaring people. Anger that I have this intensely negative effect on so many people, that I'm a burden to them, that I habitually cause people distress. He comes to life in my head after I leave a situation thinking that things went well only to find out that I pissed everybody off. He comes to life after I offend people with a few misspoken words. I go into these situations reminding myself things like, "Remember, don't tell raunchy jokes" (I don't anyway unless I'm with people I know well), "Remember, phrase that question in a tactful way", and so forth. But there's always something I fail to take into account because it didn't occur to me to take it into account.
And, as you know from the opening to this blog post, often I assume I've done something wrong when I actually haven't. But if that happens it's often alongside something else upsetting people, something that it would never occur to me to think twice about. I just can't predict what's going to fly and what isn't. There was recently a situation involving someone I am in occasional correspondence with. I don't know him well, but he knows a bit about me from my blog posts, and has been very kind and helpful. That said, I would hate to make trouble for him in any way. I can't get into what the exact situation was, but the short version is that I was afraid I'd hurt him in some way based on something I had said to someone else whom we both know. I emailed him and told him that I was worried that I had done something horrible. He assured me that I hadn't done anything wrong and seemed genuinely puzzled as to why I was worried. He's been very compassionate towards me, so of course I know rationally that if I had done something wrong that a civil discussion-- not yelling, screaming, shunning, blocking, etc.-- would have ensued. But that's the exception, not the rule in my life.
And it's hard to think rationally when the Monster is in my brain, telling me in no uncertain terms that I have done something wrong. In this recent case, it was almost like watching a movie, all these possible scenarios of what the outcome could be running through my head. I wouldn't go so far as to say I heard literal voices, but there is a nagging voice of sorts in my head when this happens. And I'm sorry to say, it's usually the voices of my parents, Mom especially. They only really started to get what it was like to be me about 6 years ago, and before that I heard endless feedback about fuckups in social situations that sometimes included phrases like, "That's abnormal", or "What's wrong with you?" or "I can't believe you said/did that", "I'm wondering where I've failed as a parent.", "You never take advice," "You don't know how to interact with people", "You make people uncomfortable", or any number of phrases that start with the word "You". After decades of conditioning, it's hard to shrug that off.
Today I'm just very angry. Tomorrow I'm going with the same friend I saw yesterday to see a production of Hamlet at Wellesley. That's how the subject of my talking came up. OK, fine, I won't talk during the show.
But don't be surprised if I'm back here tomorrow reporting another social mistake that I made.