I found out a few weeks ago that ye ballroom dance instructor fusses when he's anxious. Just wanders the building, doing tiny, neglected, low-priority maintenance tasks. I have no idea if he does things because he can't sit down, or can't sit down because he feels like he should be doing things. Haven't asked, at least not yet.

I had friends like this in high school. I used to think it was my mission to "calm" them by getting them to sit down and stop twitching. I honestly couldn't tell you what gave me the idea that I was personally responsible for making other people stop wigging out, except that I was miserable as a teenager and assumed that pretty much everything was my fault, pretty much all the time. I don't think I quite grasped that the fussing and the nervousness were not the same thing, or that forcing someone to stifle all their anxious tics would make things worse, not better. In my defense, nobody had ever done anything but shout at me over it -- my idea of a solution might not have worked, as such, but at least I had some (badly misguided) empathy.

Back in the day, I would have ended up following someone like ye ballroom instructor around, practically sitting on him, pestering him to breathe or focus or relax or something equally unhelpful. Me as I am now, I just let it be. Fixing minor faults in the environment isn't disruptive, and the act of fussing itself does not seem to cause him distress. There are worse things you can do with nervous energy than spot-clean the decorative molding.

I do mention that I've noticed, though. I don't do much of anything else about it -- the first time I called him on it, in fact, I specifically told him 'I will leave you alone to cope with this if you want' -- but there's much to be said for knowing you're not completely invisible.

Other things, I am much slower at learning. My ability to be sociable varies inversely with the amount of stress I'm under. People give off a lot of cues, and having to monitor those and respond to them in real time takes a lot of computing power, which I don't always have when I am also trying to pretend I'm not limping and/or having a complete meltdown. I'm not always great at explaining this in the moment, either; people who have been around for a while know I'll come back, because I did the first time and told them what had actually happened, but it has a tendency to strangle new friendships in the cradle.

I like ye ballroom instructor as a human, I appreciate his competence as a co-worker, and I'm dying to work with him as an artist, so I'd rather not do that here. He's also inordinately sharp and I think a rather more nervous person than he usually lets on. He's obviously had a lot of practice charming people and is good at anticipating/reading reactions in the moment, but for quite a while he seemed not to know whether he'd actually made any kind of dent with any of it -- 'see you soon' always had half a question mark at the end. I don't need to vomit the entire contents of my brain on him, but I am making a conscious effort to be consistent, and let him know that yes, he's correctly picking up that I'm not doing well, but no, that has no effect on how much I like him.

It may or may not make any difference. If I'm making it up and that's not the sort of thing he worries about, then he's not even going to notice. That'll just be how I am, so far as he knows. If it is the sort of thing that bothers him, then I can't really fix that, but at least I can not make him guess. I'm not entirely sanguine about practicing on a fellow human being, but that's the only way to do it, and it doesn't seem to be hurting anything. It doesn't guarantee I won't utterly fuck things up, but at minimum I will have satisfied my own sense of fair play.


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