Your Problem Is

Written by Patrick J Turner Jr

Published on March 29, 2023

Hello again. I want to start by thanking anyone who read my previous blog post. I’m usually not one to open up or be vulnerable very often, and I had never put my feelings out there in writing to be seen by anyone before. It was late at night when I wrote the post in a cathartic, yet very messy writing session. I wasn’t sure how it would be received, or if it would even be read by anyone at all. To my surprise I woke the next morning to several very kind messages from friends buzzing in my phone.

I’ve been told I’m a good writer before, but truthfully the only writing I’ve ever done that has been read by others has been for school. I don’t doubt my writing abilities so much as I just doubt I can write in an engaging style. For people to read my innermost thoughts and feelings and to say that they were well written and thoughtful was deeply meaningful to me. So once again, thank you to anyone who read, appreciated, or got anything out of my words. It means a lot to me and has given me the confidence to pursue expressing myself through writing more.

I have long had a bad habit of being closed off. I have historically had horrible methods of expressing myself and processing my feelings. I think for the longest time I’ve found myself in a cycle of depression and anxiety, followed by an explosion of bottled-up feelings which improve things for a time, only to fall back into a negative mindset because I have not been addressing the root of the issue.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with finding this root of the issue. I’ve convinced myself that there’s something wrong with me, either mentally or socially, and that it’s an issue which is plain for others to see through my actions and expressions, but which is hidden from me. I feel that everyone has engaged in a grand conspiracy, intentionally or otherwise, to not tell me what my problem is. I feel like I’ve been spinning myself in circles chasing after this forbidden knowledge that I cannot attain.

I know this is a paranoid way of thinking. I know that people are not thinking that hard about anything I do, and that I am my biggest critic. I know that I am overthinking and getting so inside my head that my entire perspective becomes warped into believing I have no value or purpose. I know that these feelings are not unique and that many others struggle with them. I know that this is related to some form of anxiety, and yet I am unwilling to accept that and refuse to seek clinical help.

I think there are several reasons for this. For years I have unknowingly coped with anxiety or depression by crafting and inhabiting a sort of alter ego. If I feel like people hate me or that I am worthless, I can always just think my way out of it by telling myself I’m the greatest. This doesn’t actually force me to address what is causing my anxiety, but rather builds up a false confidence in myself which is then broken when I realize the reality that I am flawed and less than the grandiose vision I have of myself.

The cycle starts again. I am broken down by the dissociation between my idealized self and my numerous shortcomings, I build myself up through an egotistical self-centering, and then it starts again. At some point I guess I figured out this cycle was happening and decided to try and understand myself better. I attempted to do introspection and reflection to understand why I did things I didn’t understand or didn’t like. Over time this put me even further inside my head, and I began to feel even more anxious than before.

Part of this started when I broke up with my girlfriend from high school. It was the longest and most serious relationship I had ever been in at the time. We were together for over two years. We stayed together after we went away to college, and things seemed to work pretty well despite the long distance between our universities. I visited a lot, and we messaged every day even if we couldn’t call often.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the country and things began to shut down, it seemed like our relationship had shut down too. We weren’t able to visit much at all, and we didn’t communicate about how we both obviously hated being stuck inside with no human interaction aside from our immediate families. Things just started to fall apart over time, and by the beginning of 2021 I knew that things weren’t going to get better.

I broke up with her over the phone a week before Valentine’s Day. I felt physically sick for days after. The anxiety of knowing that not only had I broken her heart, but that I now had to tell our mutual friends and my family kept me in bed for hours crying. I didn’t know how to manage it all, and I didn’t know how to reach out to anyone for help.

Truthfully, I didn’t really tell anyone that we broke up. I didn’t know how to. Some of my closest friends didn’t hear about it for a couple months until they eventually either put two and two together or asked me outright if we were still dating. My best friends only found out because they asked what my plans for Valentine’s day were, only for me to awkwardly blurt out that I had broken up with my girlfriend. I didn’t know how to tell my own parents for several weeks, only being pushed to do so by a good friend and co-worker.

Everyone told me some variation of the same thing: “Why didn’t you tell me?” I had no explanation to give them. I guess a part of me was embarrassed. I’ve always been such a private person, not necessarily because I want to be closed off, but more so because I’ve never had good habits of communicating with others. Close friends know me as someone who jokes around a lot but cares about them. Acquaintances know me as a quiet, shy, reserved person who is well meaning. I guess I’m worried that no one really knows the “real” me.

I don’t quite have a good answer for why I’ve never opened up much to others. A therapist might point to something that happened to me in childhood or some point in my development where instead of adapting to interpersonal relationships in a normative way, I diverged down a different path. That’s not to say that a therapist has told me that, it’s just what I imagine they might say.

It may have something to do with my ADHD. I was diagnosed at age 8, days before my 9th birthday. While I was excited for my birthday party, my parents were taking me to attention and behavior specialists to have me tested at the recommendation of my 3rd grade teacher. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, or what would now probably be called ADHD-Inattentive.

I was given a prescription for a small dose of drugs to help me stay focused in class, and had regular checkups to see how I was doing. I didn’t really know how to express it at the time, but having to take medicine just to be able to behave and focus in class like the rest of my peers felt alienating. Whenever I would get in trouble for not behaving properly, I would lament, “If only I could be as good as so-and-so,” whoever was the most well-liked person in class.

I think that feeling has still largely stuck around to this day. At times when I feel incapable of focusing or connecting with others I think, “If only I could be normal.” I once told my mother that I didn’t like ‘normal people’. I think I meant to say I was jealous of ‘normal people’, whatever it means to be normal. I’m always so concerned with hiding my flaws or insecurities in a desperate attempt to be ‘normal’ that it feels hard to open up and show my true self.

There have been times when I’ve let my guard down and been open with others. Sometimes I think back to those times and feel deeply embarrassed. I think about the times I’ve been weird, off-putting, or cringe just trying to be funny or connect with others. I have no self-awareness. Sometimes I’ll say something weird and someone’s reaction will send me into a spiral of thoughts about if I upset them or not. I don’t know how to exist comfortably around others.

I touched on it briefly in the last blog entry, but after my other breakup in 2021 I did end up going to psychological counseling through the university, just as my ex had suggested. It helped to open up about my feelings in a safe environment. I was only involved in weekly and then bi-weekly sessions from the beginning of the year to the end of March 2022, but I did feel like I made some progress in that time.

We talked a lot about my social anxiety. After several breakups in 2021 I was left feeling a lack of self-confidence to an extent I had never felt before. My anxiety had begun to manifest itself outwardly in the form of being especially awkward and shy around anyone and everyone, even more than usual. I was scared that everyone hated me and thought of me as a terrible person. I could not forgive myself for breaking up with my exes and I could not find my worth in others or myself.

My counselor was kind. At first it felt wrong to open up to them, even to the small extent that I was. I didn’t want to be a burden. Gradually, I was able to understand that it was okay to open up to her and that while our Zoom calls talking about my problems from the comfort of my apartment didn’t seem very clinical in nature, they were slowly helping me to get better.

They gave me several strategies to better approach my social anxiety with. They helped me to identify the negative thought chains I would enter, believing that others thought poorly of me, and then how to realign my perspective into something more positive. It was not and still isn’t easy, but this was the first real advice I had received in addressing my fears and doubts.

It wasn’t a lot, but it was a good start. As silly as it may sound, I declared 2022 to be “The Year of Patrick” and became determined to do anything I could to make my life better that year. It started with counseling, then I adopted my beloved cat Chomsky. I started to take my counselor’s advice and start trying to interact with people in my class more. I started to go on dates again, and while I may have made mistakes at times I ultimately put myself out there and met my current girlfriend.

The extent to which my girlfriend has made my life better cannot be overstated. She has eased my insecurities, we communicate openly and often, and we spend every day together. I love her more than I know how to put into words. She is my best friend and I feel like a part of me is missing when we are apart. When I am with her I feel a joy I wish I could bestow upon others. The ocean of doubts in my head begins to dry up.

I don’t want to appear as though I am a thoroughly unhappy person. Despite my many anxieties and insecurities, I do have many things to be thankful for. My parents and family all love and care about me. They call or text to check in on me often. The same is true of my friends. I am very lucky to have a strong support network of people I care deeply for, and who care deeply for me. Sometimes I wish I could be more open with them all, and I guess I believe that someday I can be.

Despite everything bad around me, I try to stay optimistic. It’s a hard position to maintain, especially when the world can be so complicatedly cruel. I’ve been wanting to exercise gratitude more. I’ve been trying to stay off my phone more and recognize when I start endlessly scrolling Twitter or Instagram. It’s hard to manage myself at times. I want to get better, but it’s hard to set myself on the right path it seems.

So I guess that brings us back to what my problem is. Maybe it’s really just social anxiety. Maybe it’s me being neurodivergent but unwilling to accept the fact that I have different needs from others. I think the obvious truth that I’ve been avoiding for a long time is that everyone is the total sum of what makes them good or bad. We are all stuck inside ourselves, unwilling participants of the circumstances of our birth, childhood, and entrance into society at large.

Our trauma and the mechanisms we develop in response to it, for better and for worse, become part of us and we carry them with us wherever we go. When faced with such an insurmountable truth, the fact that some things are outside our control and aspects of our being are unconsciously formed because of that, what are we to do? I suppose our only option is to do what we can.

I’m writing this over the course of several days as part of my after-work routine of unwinding. Unlike many previous expressions of myself I am doing so from an intentionally neutral and sober state of mind. I am trying to view myself objectively and to write coherently what I feel, rather than an outpouring of unmanaged thoughts. I am trying to be thoughtful and mindful of myself, and I think that it’s helping.

In addition to the kind words of support I received about my last blog post and my website as a whole, it was the act of writing itself that pushed me to want to express myself more. I’m not always the best at composing myself thoughtfully in real time around others. But when I’m alone with all the time I need, I can write and express myself freely through images, video, sound, and words. I want to work to do the same in person. I want to show everyone the real me.

All I can say I that I’m trying to be better. I’m trying to be aware of myself and my flaws and to work on improving them in the ways I know how. In the meantime, please be patient and wait for me. I want to reach a point where everything clicks, where I can realize and bask in the idea that it doesn’t matter what my problem is, it only matters that I’m happily working toward a better me. Thank you for reading and goodnight.