The Fear of Fear Itself

This is a more personal post than I usually write. I’m just trying to write some things out tonight, as it were, so if it’s not your thing, feel free to check back next week.

Growing up with a sister who is two years younger than me, it was a given that people would compare and contrast us. My sister was always bubbly, cute, wearing the right clothes, dating someone, involved in plenty of activities, and always surrounded by a large network of friends. To this day, when we go somewhere, she’ll make conversation with people she doesn’t know, and she pulls it off.

On the other hand, I have always been reserved, quiet, shy, frustrated that no one makes clothes for the little teapot, habitually single, involved in plenty of activities, and with a select core group of very close friends. I’m not very outgoing because I get really nervous talking to people I don’t know or don’t know well. I stammer and stutter and say stupid things. I think I’m a generally awkward person.

We are basically nothing alike, which is probably why we find ourselves arguing a lot and unable to really understand each other. But that’s not really where this is going to go. Over years of comparisons, people always assumed that because I was quiet and not very outgoing, I’d always be more interested in staying close to home. I’d probably attend the local campus and stick around close to mommy and daddy when school was over. My sister, on the other hand, would run off and live somewhere interesting. She was much better suited to take care of herself.

My sister ended up going to college about 20 miles away. In the fall, my brother, the most outgoing and adventurous of the three of us, will be heading off to college about 40 miles away. Surprising everyone who thought I’d go to school in my back yard, my college was just over 100 miles from home. And on move-in day of my freshman year when my whole family stood on the sidewalk telling me tearful goodbyes, I didn’t cry with them. I gave them hugs, sent them off, spun on my heel, and got to my life.

The only entire summer that I spent at home during college was the one right after my freshman year. After my sophomore year, I spent about a month working at a camp for gifted students in New Jersey. After my junior year, I came home for two weeks, then moved into my summer/senior year housing back at SU with two roommates I didn’t know and spent the entire summer working at the library while taking two classes.

And I loved every second of it. The summer of ’04 was the best of my life so far, hands down.

With graduation looming, I ignored all the people encouraging me to come back home and look for jobs. Instead, I hoped to get out of PA altogether. I applied for jobs in Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Maybe even a few in New Jersey. And every time I got called for an interview (I used to get those a lot) and traveled to one of those places, I got more and more excited to go out on my own and just do it.

I accepted a job offer in Virginia in late June, 2005. Everyone asked me if I was nervous, and I suppose I must have been a little bit, but I was more excited than anything. With three cars full of my belongings, pretty much no furniture, and $200 in my bank account, I moved to Virginia.

And I made a life.

During that time, the phone calls from home came (though, to be fair, most were from my aunt and a few from my dad), telling me about different job openings and how I should just come home. But I didn’t want to.

Then I had to.

At first I could deal and I managed a mental momentum because I knew that I’d be out of here soon. It’s been almost three years, though, and I’m still in my parents’ house and no closer to being employed (I know regular readers have heard all this). To say I frequently panic would be an enormous understatement.

But here’s the problem: I’ve been here for so long now that I’m starting to worry that my courage is waning, even as I keep trying desperately to get back out on my own. I think that’s what I want more than anything in this entire world, and I’m afraid that I’m afraid of it. Or that I will be. Would that classify as meta-fear? Hmm.

Sometimes I feel really lonely and abandoned. I feel like I’ve driven all of my friends crazy, and, in fact, I’ve said (half-jokingly) on numerous occasions that if I come out of my unemployment with any close friends left, it will be a miracle. I know I’m not the easiest person to deal with, especially when I’m freaking out. It’s not that I expect them to take care of me, it’s just that I’ve needed to lean on them more than I ever have. I’ve needed them to give me beds, floors, couches, and air mattresses to sleep on when I just need to get out of town. I guess it would make sense if they’re sick of me needing that. They have their own lives to worry about and they don’t want me around getting in the way.

But I also wish people would try to understand what it feels like to not feel wanted anywhere or needed for anything. I didn’t say that feeling was necessarily founded, but I’ve spent a lot of time in my house this spring on account of everyone I know being really busy. And that’s understandable because… just because my life is on hold doesn’t mean everyone’s should be. I kind of wish people would let me be there for them just so I had something else to focus my attention on and I wouldn’t feel quite as needy. I feel like I’ve worn out my welcome at home (my dad hasn’t been able to use his garage in 3 years, my mom keeps asking if she can sell my furniture, my brother frequently swears at me and tells me [and everyone else] how much he hates me…).

I worry that I’ll become afraid of being around my friends the longer I’m away from them because I always have this weird adjustment period. I worry that I won’t be part of their lives anymore and I’ll just start feeling awkward around them. That kills me. And so I worry that I’ve worn out my welcome with my friends, too. Maybe I just do that to myself by trying to plan things. Then again, maybe my propensity for planning is just another way to beat people to the punch (in a weird, twisted way). Try to engage before you can be disengaged. Paranoid? Maybe.

But it would appear that this post is brought to you by social anxiety.

In any case, the point is that I don’t like this part of me that is suddenly grappling with so much fear. Or, to be more specific, I don’t like that my biggest fear has become fear (the FDR reference is not lost on me). I’m most afraid of that which I might come to fear. And buttons, but that’s a totally different story. One for which I am endlessly teased.

So for now I’m doing my best to hold on to the hope that I might get out of here soon. I get along with my family much better when I’m not here. Bah, bah, black sheep and all of that. And I’m doing my best to hope that I get somewhere in close proximity to friends I already have and that hopefully they won’t be totally sick of me. And I know that even though I’m not the most outgoing person ever, when I get to wherever it is I’m going, I will make some new friends, too.

Unemployment is such a bitch. It sucks enough to be out of work and worried about money and finding a job, but people don’t talk enough about the horrible psychological side effects. Sorry for subjecting you to them (I promise that the next post won’t be a downer…it’s just how I’m feeling tonight), but thank you for listening.

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3 thoughts on “The Fear of Fear Itself

  1. Makes sense to me. Unemployment does huuuuge things to your mental state, anxiety and depression-wise. Did to me anyway.
    I think it’s easy for a sense of adventure and independence to atrophy . More brain-muscle analogies!
    You still have the drive to get out and do things, though, so I’m sure once the right opportunity comes up, you won’t back away from it.
    Keep inviting yourself on those out-of-town trips.

  2. I know just how you feel about unemployment. It’s absolutely dreadful. It does so many damaging things to your sense of self-worth as well as your bank account. Ugh. It’s awful.

    I’d say try to look at things you can do from home to build up a little bit of income so you can just get out, and then once you have a local address to where you want to live, you can more easily apply for jobs and get hired there. The bugger of the thing is it’s easier to find a job when you have a job, which is totally counterproductive and makes no sense but it’s the way things are, unfortunately.

    And you know my couch is always open. :)

    • The good news is that guy I met yesterday… I talked to him this morning and I’m going to do a little bit of freelance work for him. It won’t make me a ton of money, but it’s a start. It helps put some cash in my pocket, so that’s good. It gives me experience, too. Plus, he said that it has the potential to turn into something full-time eventually (although he didn’t really know how soon). Sorry the blarg was giving you some commenting trouble :)

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