June 6, 2019 by Cláudia
This post has been sitting and waiting on my drafts for over two years now having written nothing but the title.
Two years ago, I made a joke about mental illness, which I thought was hilarious enough for me to uncontrollably laugh at it (honestly, even today, I still think it is hilarious). When I looked at the person who I was with, he was dead serious, even a little bit blushed from incredulity.
‘Wow. I didn’t expect this from you. I’m triggered.”
Immediately, my endogenous reaction was panic mode. Desperately trying to justify myself, I very sloppily tried to explain that I was very sensitive to mental health issues and that I’ve had some personal experience with it, but in the end I just said nonsense. Eventually, he dropped it, unconvinced.
The next couple of days I only left my room for what it was strictly necessary. Feeling like this person made a radically wrong assumption about me and that it would taint our possible friendship forever. Feeling like I could not show my true self and that no one really knew the real me, because I get misunderstood so easily.
It’s amusing to look back at it now. But in the moment, it truly felt like a defeat.
I felt like I was completely being misrepresented, but I couldn’t find the words to portray me in a truthful way. There was a deep disconnect between my communication and my true self. This phenomenon happens very often when I am with anyone but my closest inner circle, intensifying proportionally to how uncomfortable I feel with the person.
I wrote this title more than two years ago, but it felt like an important topic today still. With a misinterpretation of a simple joke, someone else painted a picture of me that was completely the opposite of my true self, which lead me to feel extreme frustration with myself, for not explaining myself in a satisfactory way, and with the other, for not knowing me well enough to understand what I meant.
Right now, more than two years later, we are friends and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even remember this anymore. What I thought was a defining moment, it was actually pretty irrelevant when looking at the greater picture.
So why did I finally pick up this title?
Because this is at the same time something that I’m much better at and something I still struggle with.
On one hand, I don’t think one bad joke or a misinterpreted comment will completely define me. It is completely unreasonable to think people will completely rule me out because of one single comment and if someone immediately assumes to know all of my personality after one simple interaction, that’s more on them than on me.
That’s why I don’t do it to other people (anymore!). I remember on multiple occasions thinking that “I could never be friends with someone who thinks/says…” but now I believe it is absolutely unacceptable to just assume I have interpreted what someone else means without at least asking for a clarification. Or to assume that I have someone figured out based on something they said. Getting to know someone takes time, and people have different levels of social anxiety that may be tampering with how faithfully they are representing themselves.
And ultimately, opinions and attitudes change all the time. Some opinions I used to have are really outdated in comparison to who I am today, so I hardly ever interpret an opinion as a reflection of who a person actually is deep down. It is more a temporary state that reflects on each of our journey as a person.
But on the other hand, I still feel like social interactions are tough. I laugh at inappropriate times. I laugh nervously. Honestly, I laugh all the time in social situations but only 5% is me actually finding something funny. I make stupid comments, forget about things I know and overshare.
And my problem is not that I’m acting socially awkward – it is that in social situations I am so much in panic mode that I am unable to access my real thoughts and feelings. I can only assess the authenticity of anything I said and did when I am in a comfortable situation again.
Because I have this very strong experience of how difficult it is to communicate accurately, I am particularly mindful not to jump to conclusions.
It’s really hard for some people to express themselves in a way that is truthful and genuine. So just ask for clarification: ask “what do you mean by xyz?”, “why do you think that?”, “why do you say that?”. And ultimately, actions are more indicative of what a person’s like than mere words.