Lately I have been pondering the concept of genuineness. I have no doubt that this is due to my recent increased involvement in the Supernatural fandom, and having the blessing that is Misha Collins – the epitome of how being genuine can lead to the very peak of living your best, silliest, quirkiest, sexiest life – in my Twitter alerts constantly. At first I thought genuineness was just learning to not be so shy, and to just put your feelings out there and be yourself, but the more I’ve marinated on it, the more I’ve seen what a slippery slope into my particular flavor of mental health struggles genuineness seems to be.
When many people think of anxiety, we think of the “what ifs.” My husband didn’t answer the phone, so what if that means he’s dead in a ditch? I can’t remember if I checked the coffee pot to make sure it was absolutely off before I left the house, so what if my house is actively on fire right this minute? My six year old was on her tablet constantly this week, so what if that means she’s going to lose all her social skills and her grasp on the difference between fantasy and reality and I will officially be a complete failure as a parent?
But what iffing about possible catastrophes is only one type of anxiety.
My personal brand of anxiety, while of course having a hefty side of what iffing, primarily lives in the dreaded crossroads of perfectionism and inferiority. I believe that if I don’t accomplish tasks with absolute perfection, then they are failures. But — haha! — I don’t actually believe I can ever be perfect, and see most things that I complete as subpar. The cycle in my head of striving to reach a goal that my brain says I absolutely have to reach, but absolutely cannot actually achieve is never ending and absolutely exhausting. It also means that I am always, ALWAYS trying to cover up the crippling inadequacy I feel.
Which brings us back to genuineness.
The single greatest barrier between me and being genuine is this perfectionism/inferiority anxiety. The entirety of my life has been spent trying to manage this anxiety, and to convince everyone that I am smarter/calmer/sturdier/stronger/wittier/more disciplined/more confident/more productive/more EVERYTHING than I actually am. My anxiety makes me truly, in my heart, believe that I have to put on a brave face and pretend to be something that I’m not (most typically calm or intelligent) so that others will believe that I belong, though the entire time I *don’t* believe that I belong, and am just trying to keep up the facade. There was a piece of my brain that kept thinking that with each educational degree I received, it would help me finally feel like I had earned my place. That I really was smart. But the actual reverse happened… with each degree, the amount of brilliance and talent of the people at that same level increased exponentially, and (at least in my mind) the expectation for me to know what the hell I’m doing just goes up, leaving me with a massive desire to run, hide, and snuggle with my imposter syndrome somewhere far far away from where the action is. Because I’d rather do that than be publicly given the ball to then drop it.
I very much believe that my lifelong fascination with singers, actors, and authors comes from my absolute envy at their ability to be vulnerable and just put themselves and their art out there. I cannot get enough of watching what I believe is one of the most stunningly beautiful traits in the universe, which is the creation of art through genuine emotion. Actors may be saying lines they’ve been given, but they’re creating a world through channeling emotions they’ve experienced themselves, and they’re doing it on the stage for the literal world to see. The bravery involved in that is absolutely breath taking, and something that I can only fantasize about having a fraction of.
The irony is not lost on me that what I value in artists I love is what I degrade in myself. Seeing David Tennant so obviously put his very soul into being the Doctor, or watching Jensen Ackles rip my guts out with his portrayal of Dean Winchester… Listening to Lenny Kravitz sing about experiences so personal to him and so relevant to me that I have to take a detour for a private bathroom sobbing jag, or hearing Jonathan Knight be so stunningly open about his struggles with anxiety… these are what make me love these artists beyond measure. When I saw clients, what I wanted more than anything was to see a release of emotion, and to see them clearly and openly expressing their feelings to those around them. Every time I saw them learn to be genuine, it filled me with joy and pride. But… when I look at myself, all I can think is that my feelings would be a bother, make me look weak, or.. would let everyone know what a fraud I am.
The irony is real, but so is the struggle. Because anxiety is one hell of a good liar.
So where does this leave me? Well, I’m writing this, which is a solid step. I’m still debating on whether I’ll post it, because again, letting people see my mental mess is straight up terrifying. Right now I’m in the very final stages of my dissertation, and should officially be Dr. Anderson within the next few months. As I’ve been a stay at home mom to two small kids while I’ve gotten my PhD, this means that it’s time for me to return to work, and as I have no specific direction on how to do what I want to do professionally, to call this nerve wracking would be the understatement of the century. Is sharing the full extent of my feelings of inadequacy a good idea at this time when I need someone to actually think I’m intelligent enough to give a job to? What if I share this and it puts anyone off wanting to work with me? What if I post this and it makes people think I’m fishing for compliments? What if I post this and no one even cares? (See, I can what if with the best of them!)
Ultimately, the logical, professional part of my brain realizes that what I’m dealing with is normal. It’s faced by people all over the world, all the time. Despite the crippling anxiety, I continue to soldier on, putting myself out there the best I know how, even when I’m internally in free fall while I do it. I’m trying to ask questions to understand how to move towards what I want, and I’m trying to get to the point where I can actually verbalize what I want, which is a hell of a lot scarier than I ever thought it might be. That’s the thing about dreams… thinking about them is fun, and easy. Having them be within reach — so close that you might touch them, and then might fail — is mind-numbingly terrifying. But hey, this entire entry is an exercise in both managing and facing my anxiety, so I guess I should go ahead and go all the way.
In a perfect world, my dream job would be one in which I could give back to the science fiction fandom community, preferably by continuing to help validate our community through research and exploration of all of the things this community does for us and our mental health. I would love to do studies, write books, and maybe even start a podcast. Another way I’d love to give back is through helping fandoms learn to communicate more effectively, and understand each other better. I see so much assumption and miscommunication of different fandom “factions” on my timeline that it makes me want to bring everyone together and process. I’m not sure such a thing is even possible, but I sure would love to try.
I would also dearly, dearly love to work with other academics and professionals studying fandom and psychology, because there are so many brilliant people out there doing brilliant things that I am just in awe. Even being able to breathe the same air as them, let alone work on spreading the word of geek mental health issues would be a treasure.
And finally, getting involved in the many organizations in this community dedicated to making the world a better place would be absolutely incredible. Professionally, I worked for several years in the foster care system, as well as residential facilities for youth, including juvenile sex offenders. This work, frankly, destroyed my faith in humanity. Despite being away from that work for longer than I was involved in it, trying to regain that faith has been a process that requires ongoing work and care, and is for me especially hard in our current society which seems so conflicted and angry and divided. I look at organizations like Random Acts, and want to be that kind of person so badly… the kind of person that can bring joy to the world, and see beauty in it. Of course I hesitate to get involved, because they’ll discover that I’m a fake. That despite my mental health background, I struggle with seeing the good in everyone and being non-judgmental. That I am cynical and jaded and see the potential for manipulation and perpetration everywhere. Is that a fair interpretation of myself? Is it an inaccurate view of the world? Who knows. It doesn’t stop the fear from being real, though.
But. The world doesn’t stop spinning because it becomes uncomfortable, so I will continue to move forward. I will attend cons and talk to fans about fandom and mental health through Project FanCare. I will figure out how to write a CV and then do so and apply for academic jobs. I will apply for some private practice jobs too, even though the idea of seeing clients again (and possibly failing them) is crippling. I will blog, I will network, and I will ask questions of people I admire, even when it’s scary. I will look to academics and artists and fictional characters that I feel connected to, and siphon strength from them where I can.
And when the anxiety whispers in my ears, and the doubts come, I will repeat as many times as necessary the line from one of my favorite authors that is always one of my first lines of defense:
Hope strengthens, fear kills.
Wish me luck.