Recently, I had a bizarrely spiritual experience while I was having a conversation with the kind of person with whom I positively dread having a conversation. That is to say, a female. Actually, I don't dread talking to them at all, I'm just not very good at it. Actually, allow me to specify even a bit further. I'm not good at it when said female is neither a close friend, relative, or lesbian (I do just fine when they fall into one of those three categories). The spiritual experience of which I speak occurred when one voice in my head was busy scrambling to find a way out of the hole I'd just dug for myself within the conversation, while another voice was trying its best to dig that hole deeper and deeper until I could make out the glow of Hell's gates. (And being that I quit smoking just over two months ago, my social awkwardness has been reaching for new heights as I adjust to living day by day without the one thing left that calmed my nerves). Anyway, at one point in the conversation a mysterious third, far more sensible, voice entered into the fray and said, "St. Michael, Archangel, I beseech you, throweth down thy mighty sword of flame, picketh up a rather large baseball bat, and striketh me in the face with it, please! Anything to stop me from talking!" Of course Michael didn't come, and I was left alone to deal with the mess of a conversation I'd made. (Okay, so it wasn't actually a spiritual experience, and none of the voices in my head resembled anything but my own inner monologue, which is fairly relieving, but c'mon, I wouldn't expect you to read this if I didn't at least try to make it interesting). I'm surely making this out to be far worse than it probably seemed on the other end of the conversation. But nevertheless, the worse I think it is, the milder any subsequent reactions will seem to me. A deceptive but handy defense mechanism if there ever was one!
Some people have the audacity to wonder why I have social anxiety. They think that being a performer means I'm somehow courageous. What they don't understand is that a large crowd of people is no threat to me, my ego, or my heart. Crowds of people are just one gigantic impersonal consciousness to me. An individual female, on the other hand, is a real person (as much as I sometimes try unsuccessfully to be like some other men and conveniently forget this fact). But back to the social anxiety. In truth, thoughts like the above prayer to St. Michael are a symptom and not a cause of social anxiety. Of the three greatest internal challenges I've faced in my life, severe anxiety was the one to hit me at the youngest age, sometime around seven or eight years old. It didn't become refined into the splendidly acute social anxiety I now have until around eleven or twelve. My two other constant companions, depression and mood swings, hit me of course at puberty. Except unlike many other lucky teens, adulthood did not dispel the little bastards, and I've been living with all three for around fifteen years now. However, I'm mainly writing this today not to talk about anxiety or depression, but about the roller coaster ride that is being a swinger (and not the kind who attends key parties).
Whereas it's no secret that I'm a mood swinger, I've done my best over the last few months avoid swinging in obnoxiously public ways. It's taken me a lot of growing up to admit that sometimes I just need to shut the hell up and that I will feel much better for it. I am, after all, myself rather tired of seeing people on sites such as Facebook update their status every two hours with a new mood from any of a million points within the vast range of the emotional spectrum. It can seem rather manic at times. I was once, not all that long ago, regularly guilty of this myself. And very few of my friends had the courtesy to tell me that I was being so horrendously self-defeating in my behavior. It's not, of course, that people are any moodier than they once were. It's just that the only evidence we have of the moods of our predecessors is in written documents passed down through history, and correspondence took a lot longer before the internet cursed the West and then the rest of the world with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Actually, we don't have any more disorders than we used to either, we just have more names for them and quicker means by which to judge them. And I'm not, thank God, bi-polar. I don't need prescription medication, I'm seldom so depressed that I can't function, and I don't generally take my moods out on innocent bystanders. But I am prone to quick changes in the wind without always knowing the cause. After a lot of soul-searching, I at last stumbled onto something that seems to help explain why I'm like this. It's been quite literally staring at me from the mirror my whole life and I just didn't see it! In fact, while I was driving across the country last month, with nothing but my iPod and my thoughts to keep me company, I came up with a new phrase to describe my regular state of being, my condition, as it were. This is my new catch-phrase. My slogan, if you will:
"I'm not bi-polar, I'm Russian."
Now, of course there are several problems with this phrase, chief amongst them being that any woman potentially interested in me who reads my published words could be rather turned off and taken aback by the blatant honesty regarding my moods and their fairly pendulum-like behavior. Men in the West are expected to be a little more stable than I'm making myself out to be. Well, remember, in the first place, I'm generally not one to take my moods out on others. In the second place, I'm an artist, so I always end up living fairly inside out even when I try to conceal my feelings. And in the third place, one mustn't be too concered about the impressions that others get from internet, print, or other similar forms of media. We are, after all, a culture of perfectly self-obsessed individuals, and the internet has only made us more arrogant by providing a forum in which we've given ourselves the delusional glory of faux-celebrity. So, to Hell with the opinions of the masses. And really, any woman who doesn't appreciate honesty and the ironical humor with which I deliver it would never be able to tolerate a genuine relationship with me anyway. Besides, I'm not using a blog like this, full of pseudo-philosophical ramblings, to try to meet women. It's not my best side (although it's certainly one of my personal favorites).
Another problem with the above statement is that it may be seen to stereotype the Russian people as over-dramatic, moody, and downright unstable. Well, that's not my fault. Thank Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky for that. The juxtapositions in the psyches of the former's characters and the wildly manic but beautiful music of that latter speak volumes about just what it means to be Russian. Russians have lived for a thousand years in this bizarre, almost static, tension between misery and glory. I've lived there my whole life, but it was not until I really started delving into my cultural heritage that I understood it on such a profound level. (I'm also English, which could theoretically explain my love of subtlety and etiquette in interpersonal communications. Let us be faire and pretty and lovely and dignified and upright and even somewhat slightly pompous, shall we? Even if none of those things are true). But knowing just how very Russian I am at my core has given me great relief. In much the same way that religion often provides for people certain explanations and answers, my cultural heritage does a fair amount of that service for me. Knowing that I'm Russian helps me to feel, even if this isn't so, that my whole existence is not at its core just one cruel and ironic joke of the gods.
"But Daniel!" You're thinking to yourself, "If you're so bloody miserable all the time, why don't you do something about it!" Well, first of all, good job on your use of the word "bloody." I thought I was the only American who said that! Secondly, the sweetest and most ironically beautiful thing of all is that after years and years of fighting my moods and times of depression, doing everything in my power to stabilize myself, I learned that the thing which gives me the most stability is to stop trying to force myself into stability. Allowing moods to come and go as they please without struggle gives them less power. I'd like to personally thank the Stoics and Daoists for that bit of wisdom. But in reality, it doesn't matter a lick how much I read or hear from the Stoics and Daoists- learning to let my control go was a lesson that only Father Time, fickle jackass that he is, could teach me. And he did teach me, at last.
But I've only just learned this. I'm still going through withdrawals, so to speak, during which I see or hear people doing or saying things that enrage me and make me want to put my fist through their empty heads or at the very least through a wall. I know now that the best thing to do is sit back, let the rage hit me, absorb me, release me, and avoid as best as I can expressing it to anyone who rightfully should be on the receiving end of my righteous indignity (or unrighteous indignity, for that matter). Their reactions to my reactions will only increase my stress level. In the past I would engage in the futile act of debate, which would often escalate into verbal or written feuds full of personal attacks. Futile. Now I've come to realize that I ought just let people be as they are, even if they are exceedingly stupid. After all, nothing would please me more than for everyone else to leave me and my beliefs the hell alone, however naive I may be at times. My urge to engage in pointless circular arguments with people on a regular basis is now usually followed up with yet another new voice in my head, "Let it go. They're not going to change, and you don't need to die young of a heart attack." I still want to shake my fists at the masses, slap some sense into them, and speak my mind every minute of the day. I've had myself in such a twist for so many years that it almost feels unnatural to remain silent about anything. You can tell this by the fact that I'm writing and publishing an essay about it. Ah, but I relish the irony. Remember, I'm Russian, I can live relatively comfortably with different parts of my personality completely at odds with one another.
But I'm tired of being so tightly wound that I feel like a wire on a suspension bridge. I'm literally tired. Exhausted. All my life I've been waiting to exhale. Admittedly, at some points in my life I'd sought external means to force this to happen via substances, exercises, or practices. None of them worked in the long run of course because, number one, I'm an addict by nature so anything I introduce into my system, be it chemical, behavioral, or emotional, which gives me temporary relief will eventually become an addiction and thus an even greater problem if I'm not extremely careful. Number two, none of those things actually change the core problem - that I am in a state of tension with my environment and within myself. The paradoxical solution was to stop being in so much tension with my own tension (In hindsight, one of the most irritatingly obvious things I've ever come to realize). Now, of course it'll take me years to integrate this revelation fully, but I came to it on my own which means it should theoretically have some lasting effect on me. I've at last, for the first time in my life, had this vague sensation of a natural release, of exhaling, and, addict that I am, I'm looking forward to more. (Although, I am Russian of course, so I wouldn't want things to get too relaxed, now).