Self-Erasure: Mental Health Awareness Month
I’ll be honest, when people complimented my autism post with things like “this must have been so difficult for you to write!”, I didn’t understand what they meant.
My autism diagnosis and online reading about it was a positive experience for me. I finally had words and a way to explain how I felt and how I saw the world. Writing about it made me feel empowered and understood – so writing a post about the good side of autism was not difficult for me.
It was the same with the anxiety one. It was relatively easy to write. I am an anxious critter – anxiety and autism usually go hand in hand, so that made sense, right? No reason to call off the sunshine picnic!
Then I started writing this post and…
I now understand why people find it difficult to write about their mental health.
This piece of crap had me in tatters. I had to look at parts of myself that I have taught myself to subconsciously and consciously avoid. It made me feel like a wounded animal, and like a wounded animal – I wanted to cover up the painful parts and hide them from the world.
So enjoy this messy trip down I-don’t-even-know-where as I angst out about an impending event. In many ways quite possibly the worst imaginable event in any person’s life if they struggle with self-erasure.
Down The Rabbit Hole
I wasn’t going to post any more mental health stuff this month. After all, I had already covered my autism and my anxiety, and Mr. E’s brain chemistry is not my story to tell. So I was done, right?
Except, in a moment of weakness, I posted a question, asking how you could work on being less self-conscious. The awesome Victoria from Debts To Riches had the time and patience to indulge me, and she provided kind, useful advice.
But throughout the course of the exchange, I was reminded of something I have known for years, but never thought to write about: I have some serious issues with being in the main person at any event. These are not just pre-presentation jitters – these are violent aversions.
Now, at least in my mind, there are two kinds of “spotlight”. The first is scripted spotlight – you hold a speech, perform a musical piece, defend a thesis, make a presentation, etc. This kind of spotlight, although still somewhat nerve-wrecking, I don’t have as much issue with. There is a script to follow and I follow it, more or less.
It is the non-scripted spotlight that really makes me want to scream and run away. The “make a circle and sing the birthday song” kind of spotlight (I still refuse to tell people my birthday because of this primary school horror), the “social mingling” at parties and things like… weddings.
Things without recipes to follow – things with a thousand, thousand social norm ravines for me to fall into.
I have wanted to call off the engagement at least a hundred times already, and it is not because of the vows or any doubts regarding whether or not Mr. E. is the right man for me.
It’s that god-damn forsaken party we have to throw.
If it were up to me, we would head down to the town house, sign some papers, get some added legal benefits, go home, have some cake and call it a day.
But Mr. E. loves his family very much and could not imagine going through with such an event without gathering his loved ones.
I can respect his viewpoint.
I just really don’t want to be the main character, which societal norms tells us the lucky couple are. We have joked about Mr. E. donning peacock feathers or something totally out there just to pull most of the attention to himself – that madman wouldn’t mind.
I never wanted to be a princess growing up.
I dreamt about being a servant – or a slave. Preferably an oppressed one so that I could fight my way to freedom through my imaginary wit and cunning! At least that was how it went in my endless daydreams. Always starting from someplace horrible and then getting away, time and time again.
I have helped pull off 100+ people events either in the kitchen, as a waiter, or just general chaos control. I revel in being the shadow behind the curtain, the ghost who just makes everything flow smoothly. The person in the lab who knows all the instruments and can teach you how to use them.
I grew up wanting to be a ghost, or a shadow. I felt like one anyhow.
I suppose you could look into my childhood and find some reasons there, but honestly, I try not to poke around with psychology into my childhood. See wounded animal comment way up there. It happened, now I am here.
In an attempt to follow Bitches get Riches’ good example, I tried to do some research into self-erasure, so I could put in some useful links. I didn’t get further than this post before I felt sick and had to close the tabs.
Let Me Be A Shadow
If you enjoy parties and navigate social occasions with ease, you will probably not be able to imagine the sheer, distilled dread and horror I feel just at the thought of having to perform, without a script, in front of a crowd or in a party – especially more formal ones, as I’ve never really been to one.
I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to smile or pose, I don’t know how to mingle fairly and shit – my brain is running off elsewhere.
I have helped feed over 200 viking reenactors at once. The worst part is not all the work, it is when people insist on pulling the kitchen staff in front of everybody and giving applause. It is the single worst part of any event.
So when I say I would much rather be in the kitchen at my wedding than being a clown in a fancy dress – it is because I mean it. Even if people don’t take me seriously.
Because it’s “your” day, right? You’re supposed to be ecstatic about it.
PS: I do realise that the wedding itself is not the actual problem here. It is just a manifestation of a deeper issue or some such phrasing.
How Does Self-Erasure Affect Personal Finances?
In my experience, it affects it negatively.
If you are prone to self-erasure, it can be difficult to stick your head out and see the value of your own work. This makes it easier for other people to take credit for your work, or for people to not actually see all the work you do – which can actually lead to negative feedback and performance reviews,, regardless of your workload. Here is an example from my own job:
Supervisor: “I hear you are running the instrument on your own by now – that’s great!”
Engineer: “Oh yes, she is completely independent by now.”
Me: “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, I still call for engineer whenever there is an error message.”
This constant professional downplay is something a lot of women struggle with, so we are not alone in that regard, but it does affect you negatively over time when you get passed over for that promotion or even that job, full stop, over someone with less mastery of skill, but more confidence in their perceived mastery.
I am not used to other people doing things for me. So when they do (even if it is their job), I will shower them with thanks, perhaps a bit too profusely.
While it is not a bad thing to be grateful at work, it can be a problem if you do it too much. Much like apologising too much, which women are socialised to do, it tends to read as unprofessional or uncapable by male peers who are socialised very differently.
Other issues can be not taking advantage of your workplace perks or reimbursements, making you pay out of pocket for things you technically shouldn’t because it’s “not a big issue” or filing for the reimbursement feels like “too much hassle for too little”.
Minimising yourself might have been a useful and necessary survival skill growing up – but it is doing you no favours in the dog-eat-dog world of most workplaces.
Also, and this should probably go without saying, but you’re at risk for less-than-healthy relationships, which could have devastating effects for both yourself and your personal finances.
How do you move on and move past a childhood that promoted self-erasure?
I don’t know. But I imagine moving away and finding a new, positive social circle has a lot to do with it. If you have any idea of other things that might help, please do let me and the readers know in the comment section.
All I can say is, if you have ever felt this way – I see you, and you are not alone.