Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Mask You Live In

...theatre, work, play, friends, lovers, parenting, not parenting, poker, golf, weather, alcohol, dancing, writing, and more...

So far I feel like I've talked a bit about several of these of late. The past couple of days has been preoccupied with thinking about thinking about preparing for departure, as I am leaving for Spain in about 72 hours. I need to gather some books to read while traveling, and perhaps organize the music on my iPad a bit as that will likely be the source of music while in the air. Returning to the list, though, I'm not sure where to turn next. Dancing was covered, as was writing. Parenting and not parenting is integrated into the conversation on anxiety, though there is, I suppose, more to be said there. Golf seems like a subject for fairer weather days, and theatre, work and play is really a single topic at this point, and which tends to get referenced in most of what I have to say right now. What does that leave? Friends, lovers and alcohol. A useful combination.

Actually, I was listening early Sunday morning to an offering from the The Moth that seems somewhat on point. In this audio piece, James Fallon describes his work in neuroscience. It seems that he was doing research utilizing the PET scans of psychopathic serial killers, and while doing so quite accidentally discovered that the two identifying characteristics of the PET scans of psychopaths are also found in his own PET scan. All things being more complex than they might appear on first blush, it is safe to say that he is not likely to become a serial killer. Yet, the findings were not without some significance or insight. He asked friends and family if they would describe him as somewhat sociopathic...and they generally were willing to say that, yes, although he is a nice guy and fun to be around, that he is also somewhat distant and removed...etc., etc., etc. As I was listening to this story, I was pretty sure I had heard it before, and sure enough, it did appear on NPR on a Science Friday offering...and it's also a TED Talk.

Anyway, given my divorce and a general awkwardness around women, men, children and dogs it has often been apparent to me that whatever amazing mojo some of my friends have in regard to relationships both romantic and otherwise is largely absent from my social toolbox. I can be awkward. Perhaps I am a sociopath. Perhaps I have some elements of social anxiety disorder. This is that moment when you are seated in Psych 101 as part of your early general eds for your undergraduate degree and you start imagining yourself having all of the abnormal psychology disorders. Yes, this is, indeed, that moment.

Which is where alcohol comes in. I enjoy drinking socially and periodically the demon rum gets the better of me and I wake up the next morning wondering what happened and why I am such a miserable example of humanity. At least some of this falls into the category of self-medicating for the aforementioned potential psychological disorders. It is much easier to forget that you are anxious about whether or not you are making appropriate social connections at a party or at the bar when you've lost track of most social inhibitions. Its such a fundamental element of my social persona that I rarely even realize its happening...which is why it sometimes moves from the level of modest intervention to full on altered state. On some levels it is also just a habit and a flawed perception. As I sit here I can build a convincing counter-argument showing how most of my social interactions occur without lubrication and with general success. Perhaps my fascination with social drinking is more about the entertainment of it, for there is much entertainment to be had. Probably a little of all of the above.

What is worth hanging on to, I think, is some kind of honest self-evaluation as to the level of fidelity in the person that is being presented. One of the charms of drinking has always been that the things that I have done and said are often things that I would have wished to have done in any event. Usually. Sometimes things that are honest are not also things that others wish to hear or even that you in your better judgement wish to have allowed yourself to say. Another tough atom to split. When I was younger I think it was more true that drinking allowed me to uncover things that I was working hard to keep covered. That is less true as I age. I find now that I am pretty willing to say most of what I think and feel without any assistance. I like that. It appears to be one of the perks of aging that you embrace yourself in a more complete and open way.

Digging further into the impact of social anxiety, as it feels like it lives in the middle of this maze, there is a long piece in the Atlantic about self-medicating and social anxiety disorders. The piece is by Scott Stossel and it explores his life-long struggle to manage a severe disorder. I am intrigued by the overt and explicit nature of his work to medicate his condition. While I have only the smallest sliver of the disorders he describes, I wonder about the impact of self-medicating on my physiological responses to performance anxiety (see previous posts). For now, I'm thinking in terms of just behavioral work, but drugs are out there.

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