Something to think about…

*I apologise in advance for the length of this post. And I will totally understand if you decide not to read it! Come back tomorrow for a more “regular” post*

There was no post yesterday for the simple reason that, after coming in from work and sitting down on the sofa, I wa unable to summon up the energy to get back up and turn on the computer. The theatre on Monday night followed by quiz on Tuesday meant two very short nights… I’m loving having friends but the whole social life thing is exhausting!

Anyway, I said there was something I wanted to post this week once I had more time and could give my attention to it properly. This is that post.

Once again, I was reading some posts in the “British Armed Forces Brats” group that I’m a member of on Facebook (see Saturday’s post if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

One person mentioned that, a few years back, he had been “in a very bad way with the relationship/communication issues many of us seem to experience.” Looking around for fellow brats who had had similar experiences, he found himself on the (American) Forces Brats Wikipedia page, where there is a section on mental and emotional issues linked to the typical forces upbringing. One of the conditions listed was Avoidant Personality Disorder, which he provided a link to. Here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoidant_personality_disorder

I am not going to say that I have this disorder… obviously only a trained professional can do that. But many aspects of the condition sounded exactly like me.
Wikipedia says:

social_phobia-234x300

People with avoidant personality disorder often consider themselves to be socially inept or personally unappealing and avoid social interaction for fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, rejected, or disliked. Avoidant personality disorder is usually first noticed in early adulthood. Childhood emotional neglect and peer group rejection (e.g. bullying) are both associated with an increased risk for the development of AvPD.

People who have been reading for a while may recognise me in that paragraph… particularly the part on being socially inept (how many times have I mentioned my lack of social skills and inability to act like a normal human being on here? Not enough times to get the key words onto my tag cloud, but often enough, I think…).

The World Health Organization says Avoidant Personality Disorder is characterised by at least four of the following, which I would like to comment on:

  1. Persistent and pervasive feelings of tension and apprehension;
    I’m not sure this one applies to me. At least I don’t think feel particularly tense when not in a social situation.
  2. Belief that one is socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others;
    I’m pretty sure I actually am socially inept – it’s not just a feeling. Personally unappealing… not all the time, and in every way (there are things I actually like about myself!) but yes. I don’t think I feel inferior to others though…
  3. Excessive preoccupation with being criticized or rejected in social situations;
    YES! I have been known to plan out what I’m going to say to make sure there’s no chance of me being judged negatively for it. The better I know people (and the more sure I am they like me), the less I do this.
  4. Unwillingness to become involved with people unless certain of being liked;
    “But what if they don’t like me?” is a phrase Jan has heard me say many times…
  5. Restrictions in lifestyle because of need to have physical security;
    Other than tendency to try and avoid social events where I know literally nobody (which I’m not sure is even meant here), I don’t think this applies to me. I’m always looking for new experiences and I don’t feel like my lifestyle has been restricted in any way.  
  6. Avoidance of social or occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because of fear of criticism, disapproval, or rejection.
    Associated features may include hypersensitivity to rejection and criticism
    Definitely!! I’ve got a lot better at this over the years, but I’m still not a fan of attending social events with people I’m not already convinced actually like me! I worry about saying the wrong thing and being criticised or laughed at… years of being told you’re “weird” or that people “never actually liked you” will do that, I suppose.

The American Psychiatric Association has a similar list, but two things in particular struck a chord with me:

– Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
– Is unusually reluctant to take personal risk or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing

YES and YES! I love trying new things, but only certain new things… the kind that I’m pretty sure won’t lead to any embarrassment for me. Unless I can do them with my friends and only my friends. People I’m already sure like me are allowed to laugh at me 😉 Although even once someobody likes me, I am afraid I might do something wrong or stupid and end up alienating them…

This post probably makes me sound like a very unhappy person. Actually, at the moment, after having very few friends in Germany for a long time, I now have a group of people who I am reasonably sure actually like me (and don’t just hang around with me becasue I’m Jan’s girlfriend) and who I can spend time with without my usual fears about social situations coming up.

Socially-Awkward-Penguin-01So why am I posting this if things are so good? Because, after years of believing I was just odd, knowing that there are other people out there from the same type of background who have the same kind of confused, illogical feelings as I do is a huge relief! And knowing there’s an actual disorder with characteristics that describe me perfectly (seriously… I could have written the Wikepedia article!) make me feel like I’m not just a freak. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I actually have avoidant personality disorder – I do still attend social events and usually even manage to force myself to speak to people (while praying that I don’t say the wrong thing!). But knowing that such a thing even exists at least gives me a point of reference, and a possible place to start with trying to overcome my issues. As the title of the post says, it’s something for me to think about. And I feel like I’ve made some kind of breakthrough!

Why I’m a terrible friend

It’s only Tuesday, isn’t it? How is that possible? The last two days at work seem to have gone on for weeks! Sort it out will ya, time.
Anyway….

It’s been a while since my last “I am a terrible, horrible no good person with no social skills post”. Now it’s time for another one. Here’s something that’s been on my mind lately.

Jan thinks I’m a good friend because I keep in touch with people, remember birthdays and make an effort with gifts for every imaginable event. He, on the other hand, is terrible at replying to e-mails (I am too, but he never believes me when I say that!), has reminders of people’s birthdays on his computer but fails to actually do anything about them and would probably never see anyone if they didn’t make an effort to include him – or I wasn’t there to occasionally force him to respond to a message/invitation/whatever. So he has come to the conclusion that I am a good friend and he is not. However, in my opinion all that stuff is the easy part. Respond to a few facebook statuses, congratulate people on pregnancies, engagements and birth, keep a record of everyone’s birthdays (and their childrens) so you can get gifts and cards in the mail in time… none of that is rocket science. I look generous and my friends and family feel special because they received a parcel all the way from Germany (this is not why I do these things by the way. I realise this sounds like I’m trying to buy my friendships but I swear I’m not! I just enjoy giving birthday gifts/making people smile). But when you place me in the same room as another person, which, after all, is the whole point of a friendship – it can’t all be done via Facebook – it’s a different story.

Jan and I used to have the same argument over and over again. I would get upset because he never told me what was going on in his life, while he was convinced that I wasn’t interested in what he’d been doing because I never asked him anything about it. A typical converation would be something like this:
Me: How was your day?
Him: Alright.
Me: Oh, okay. *looooong silence during which I would usually get on with cooking while Jan sat down with his laptop*
Me: *Start rambling on about what I’d been doing that day/thelatest news from England/which of my friends had announced their pregnancy this time*

'awkward silence hour'
Photo credit: CRASH:candy

Eventually, I pursuaded Jan that just because I don’t ask any questions it doesn’t mean I’m not interested. I really do want to know about his day, I just have no idea what to ask. So he started telling me things without being asked and I tried to extend my repertoire of questions (I now have “what have you been doing today”, “did you get to do any work for your dissertation” and “how was your meeting” (only if he had one, obviously). Plus, after choir practice I also get to ask him how that went and how the other members of his choir are. Yay me… or something. Now, I am aware that the way to show people you’re interested in them is to ask questions, but beyond the standard “How are you?”, “how did your exam/job interview/driving test go?” and “How was your birthday/holiday/honeymoon” I have no idea what I’m supposed to say. It’s not that I’m not interested… I just honestly don’t have the words to show that I’m interested. Unless someone answers one of my standard questions with a nice long tale that screams out ideas for further questioning/comments I am completely lost. Which leads to awkward silences and me saying something random to fill in the blank, usually about something in my life because that’s the topic I know most about. And because other people do have social skills (or have possibly taken some master class that I wasn’t invited to in how to keep a conversation going), questions do get asked and the conversation remains on me, or goes off at some random tangent. The end result: I appear selfish, unfriendly and only interested in myself. Which would explain why I have so few friends (well, that and the things I’ve mentioned in previous whiny “I have no social skills” posts, such as my being ridiculously shy around new people, leading to me either not saying a word or overcompensating, talking too much and coming across as a complete weirdo. True story!).  But I have decided this has to change! I’m meeting a friend on Saturday (yes, an actual friend!) who I haven’t seen since July and I shall be practicing asking questions then. In the meantime, if anyone has any advice, book recommendations, websites or the like please throw them my way. Any and all suggestions gratefully received!

On friendship, and the lack of it

I thought long and hard about writing this post. There are some subjects that it’s difficult to get into without sounding self-pitying, and that’s really not what I want. But in the end I decided just to do it anyway.

I don’t really have any friends around here.

This is not a plea for sympathy or a desperate attempt to fish for compliments. It’s just a simple statement of fact – so please, no comments along the lines of “I’m sure that’s not true”.
It’s not like I’m a total recluse or anything. I actually know quite a few people, and I could probably manage to get at least one or two people to come out with me any night of the week. But someone to go out for a drink/coffee or to see aconcert with isn’t really a friend. Not a close friend anyway… so maybe what I should have said was I don’t have any close friends. I’m ok with that most of the time, but occasionally it gets to me. Especially when I’m feeling down or something and need someone to talk to, and there’s only Jan. Not really practical when I need to talk about Jan. And, of course, it puts a huge burden on him as well, having to be both my boyfriend and my sole confident, and knowing that he has to help because there’s noone else I can turn to. And of course, that all leads to the question of who I’m going to turn to when (and yes, I mean when) he leaves me. I used to have friends, back in England. Not many, admittedly – and quite a few people who I thought were friends at uni got to the end of final year then said “Now I’m never going to have to see you again I can tell you: I never actually liked you”. Charming.  But I had friends. I can’t really talk to them anymore though, now that I’ve been living abroad for almost six years and we’ve grown apart. They’re all going on with their lives, while I’m here, standing still. And how can I tell someone who’s recently married and floating on cloud nine that my boyfriend doesn’t want to marry me, or confide in a new mother who’s just finished describing how wonderful being a parent is that I’m currently busy trying to convince myself that I don’t actually want children so that I won’t be disappointed when I never do. Especially when it’s the first time in years that I’ve actually spoken to those people.

What I need to do is get out there and make new friends – preferably with people who are in the same situation as me. The last thing I need is more friends with babies, so I can torture myself by looking at all their photos. The only question is… how? I know it’s partially  my fault I don’t have that many friends. I’ve never been particularly good at making them, and the times I have managed it I’ve no idea how it happened! I’m usually quite shy, so in social situations where I don’t know anybody I’ll either be too quiet and nervous (making people think I’m either bored or antisocial) or I’ll overcompensate and say too much, which of course people don’t like either, so they’ll go away thinking “Does she ever shut up? You can’t get a word in edgeways!”. I am also an expert at saying the wrong thing, which doesn’t help. Something that seemed ok when it was inside my head ends up sounding really wrong once it’s out there for everyone to hear. It takes a very special kind of person to still want to know me in spite of all that! So the making friends thing isn’t as easy as it sounds. I have been working on my social skills, and I think I have improved… but not enough. Not even close to enough. So where does that leave me?

Why I get on better with people I’ve never actually met

*Note* I am not writing this post because I want people to feel sorry for me. As with most things on this blog I am writing it for me. Because it’s something I’ve been thinking about and getting it down on paper (figuratively speaking) is the best way for me to a) make sense of it and b) get it out of my brain so I don’t have to lie awake all night wondering why I can’t just be normal. End of note. Now on to the blog post.

I don’t deal well with social situations. Never have actually. I’m stupidly shy and just not a people person. Plus I lack social skills. I have no idea what to say to people I either don’t know or only know slightly, so when I’m placed in a situation where I’m supposed to socialise with them I tend to go really, really quiet and wait for someone to start a conversatiton with me. This usually leads to people thinking I’m either antisocial or miserable… not the kind of person you really want to start a conversation with. So they don’t and I don’t and once again I go home having had a really boring night and feeling like a complete failure.

That’s one scenario. Then there are the times I try too hard. I talk too much, laugh too loudly and for too long and say inappropriate things. The problem is I don’t even realise I’m going to say something inappropriate until it’s already out of my mouth and people appear uncomfortable, embarassed or start looking at me like I’m some kind of alien. Funnily enough this doesn’t exactly endear people to me either. In fact, I think they probably prefer the me who doesn’t talk. After all, antisocial is better than embarassing and weird.

Another factor is that I have low emotional intelligence. That doesn’t mean I don’t have any emotions… of course I have emotions. I’m not a robot! Although sometimes I wish I was… then someone could just reprogram me and I wouldn’t be here now boring the internet with my problems. No, not having emotional intelligence has nothing to do with lacking emotions… it just means I don’t understand my emotions or have trouble dealing with them. It also means I have trouble recognising and understanding other people’s emotions… so I can upset/offend/annoy someone without even realising it. Or, more often, I will notice that something’s wrong but I have no idea why. In my mind whatever it is I said was perfectly normal and nothing to get upset about. I have to really think about what I’ve said before I can work out what was wrong with it… and even then I can’t always see why it was that bad. Add to that the fact that I practically can’t manage to say three sentences without adding a major dose of sarcasm and you’ll see why I have trouble making friends. And the reason I can get on with bloggy people and penpals? Because it’s so much easier for me to realise how things are going to come across when I see them written down.

As I’m sure you can guess, this lack of emotional intelligence also makes its contribution to the not-so-good side of my relationship. Obviously it’s not our only problem, and not everything that’s wrong is my fault, but it is a major factor, which is actually part of the reason I’m writing this post. You see, yesterday the boyfriend and I made a deal. He will tell me his problems, rather than bottling them up and pulling away from me, and I will try to be nicer.  So this blog is part of my attempt to figure out how to be nice, because honestly… I’m not sure I have it in me…

… and back to normal

Well, the happy, positive blogging didn’t last long. Today it’s back to my usual moany self.
As we all know I only have about a month and a half left of my internship. At the end of January I shall find out whether they want to keep me on or not. At first I thought I was doing well, then I found out that although I am only good at a very small part of my job.  I can translate. I can proofread. That is all I can do. I’m not good at project management. It requires me to be organised. Not one of my strong points. Never has been, never will be. I am also incapable of taking initiative, have no social competence, am no good at working in a team, possess very little common sense, am too quiet, don’t communicate enough, lack confidence, appear unmotivated… the list goes on. In the right kind of job with the right kind of boss and given time I could probably change those things. Unfortunately right now I’m not sure I have any of those things. I enjoy my job, but only the part that I’m good at. My bosses are nice enough but the kind of motivation I need is very different to what they (and most bosses to be honest) are willing or able to give. And as for time… well, I’ve been given until the end of January to prove I can do all those things. The result? I spend most of my time at work praying that there will be lots and lots for me to translate today (so I don’t have to ask for work, proving once again that I can’t figure out for myself what needs doing) and the rest of the time I spend worrying that I’m doing something wrong again without even realising it. I keep catching myself wondering whether, at this very moment, I look motivated and enthusiastic. I wonder whether I’m taking too long over this translation – should I have been finished by now? It’s exhausting, and it means that by the time I get home I don’t have the energy to do anything any more. I need to make some food, but I can’t even bring myself to walk to the kitchen, I was supposed to hand in a translation for uni today (luckily only a practice) but I haven’t even started yet. I have more Christmas presents to wrap but even that is entirely unappealing – and I actually enjoy wrapping presents!
I’m not sure how much longer this can go on. But there’s nothing I can do about it, cos like it or not I really, really need this job.

Then and now

I used to blog on msn spaces. This was a few years ago, before it changed to windows live spaces, stopped working properly on this computer and generally became incredibly annoying.
A while ago the boyfriend asked me what had happened to that blog. I told him it still exists, I just don’t use it any more. So he suggested I should think about backing it up before msn decide to get rid of it. Today in a fit of nothing better to do I remembered his suggestion and went to have a look at my old blog.
My original, very first msn blog from my final year at uni was deleted when I changed email address. The one that’s still out there starts about half way through my year in Austria and finishes with two one paragraph entry in October 2007, written after a break of 2 months.

And… oh my god, it’s terrible. The first few entries are all “boo hoo, my boyfriend lives in another country and nobody ever invites me to anything and I’m so lo-ooo-nee-lyy”. OK, there’s a few positive ones in between but that’s the gist of it. Then there’s the two months that I spent in England between finishing in Austria and moving to Germany. Mostly filled with getting drunk and talk of how annoying parents are. Then we get to my first year in Germany. Jan and I are now in the same country, so no more moaning about that. Instead we have “I don’t like the school I’m working at, they’re making me go with younger kids when I prefer older ones and I’m sure my mentor teacher hates me. Oh, and the other language assistants don’t like me either. Boo hoo, I’m sooo unpopular”. Reading through them all I could think was christ woman, did you do anything but whinge? Then my thoughts turned to this blog. And what have we here…

1. Bev complains about hardly seeing her boyfriend even though we’re actually in the same country now.
2. Bev complains about having to live in a student residence full of *gasp* students when all she really wants is a place of her own with actual space of for all her stuff, and how come the boyfriend gets to live in a flat anyway?
3. Bev complains about work and how she has no social skills whatsoever and just can’t please the bosses or get her head round the project management side of things. Boo hoo.
4. Once in a while Bev stops complaining about work and switches to talking about how she reeeally doesn’t want to do any studying either. More boo hoo.

Seriously people, something’s got to change!