Mental Health · Personal

An Open Letter to My Twitter Followers (and Some Insight Into Mental Health)

Before I get to the specifics of why I felt compelled to write this piece, we need to reach a mutual understanding about something. Mental health disorders are not rational. When I am in the midst of a panic attack, 95% of the time I know in my core that I have no reason to feel panic, no reason to be anxious. I know it like I know my name. The panic still happens – I have no control over it.

You know how when you have a headache you know it’s a pain stimulus to indicate that something is wrong, so after the first few moments it’s like, “Got it – something is up, you can stop aching now”? Same thing with anxiety. “Got it, we’re having an emotional reaction to something that is excessive or completely inappropriate. We don’t need to do the whole panic thing.” Still happens.

So as you read this and feel that urge to go, “Aww, James – but….” – I’m already there. Got it. We do these things anyway. So rather than spend time introspecting my way around it today, I want to live it openly so that others, specifically you who follow me and exchange thoughts with me, can know that it happens.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the thoughts, behaviours, attitudes, and insights that guide and define my interactions with people, both on social media and in real life:

  • I feel compelled to please. Ideological debate aside, what people want and need, what motivates people generally boils down to a handful of universal components. It bothers me when people, especially myself, lose sight of that and fixate on less important matters – or the how instead of the why as most political debate entails. It guilts and sickens me when people are upset with me over something I’ve said or done, even if I feel what I did was right.
  • I have tiers of friendships that I maintain in my head. At the extreme ends of the spectrum are people I cannot stand (very, very few) and people who completely intimidate me (also a short list – these are role models and such). The role model group I adore, admire, and respect to a level that I both want them in my life and never want to meet them because I am utterly convinced that I am not worth their time.
  • With virtually everyone else I have social anxiety and must deal with my introversion, too. I can have others around and often enjoy it, but I do also stress about it and feel my energy drain – even when at the height of enjoying sociability, I need to get away to be alone and recharge. Then I feel guilty about “abandoning” those people. I don’t think many of you know how bad it makes me feel to know that you are posting things I am simply not seeing and the impression that creates that I’m not interested or don’t care.
  • Much of it derives from knowing much about myself and only what is available to me about others. She is constantly engaged in meaningful events, attempting to better herself and the world. She speaks gracefully and with kindness, but confidently about her position and won’t yield to the intolerance of others. And she looks stunning while doing it. am sitting on the floor in athleisure, playing video games while I procrastinate about writing and searching for the motivation to hop in the shower.
  • And while we’re on appearance – I know that you spend time on it. People don’t roll out of bed red carpet ready. But I look at others and see beauty. I look at myself and while I think, “Sure, passably handsome to most,” I’m also aware of every single flaw. No, I’m not going to list them so you are aware of them, but every single one of them is reason why that person’s attractive self should not be wasting time around my scraggly ass.
  • I remember everything. Okay, well not everything, but the minutia of things that often makes people go, “Why is that still in your head?” Here are just two examples:
    • As a child, I’m talking 10 at most, I went to the mall to meet on the Philadelphia Flyers. One of my favourite players on my favourite team from my favourite sport. I had a trading card for myself and a pennant for my brother, but the handlers would allow him to sign only one item per customer. I got my signature and went back with nothing for my brother. I still think about that at least twice a week.
    • In high school we played a rainy day game (like hockey) where we would hit a Nerf ball with padded sticks at goals. A classmate took a shot that I blocked with my body. It bounced back and it blasted it out of the air, which I blocked with my face. That bounced even higher and away from me, so he wound up with a baseball swing to fire again. I knew it would be a line drive just to my right, but my brain went, “You’ve already taken two shots. Whatever.” His line drive bloodied the nose of one of the girls on my team. Total accident, but I have thought about that and my resulting guilt from not diving to block it ever since.

I am full of confidence. I have an intelligence, work ethic, and passion that is difficult to match, qualities I am sure of through my work experience and feedback from colleagues over the year. It wouldn’t be arrogant to admit to any of that because I have the track record to back up those claims.

However, I do still find it arrogant and immodest. Others are more intelligent. Others work harder. Others are more passionate. Any inkling I have of my strength or proficiency gets immediately taken down by my ability to hold up another person as superior to it.

“James, you are brilliant!”

Eh, so-and-so is brilliant, and making that the benchmark for brilliance means that I am not quite there. So I appreciate your compliment, but no. I have a lot more work to do and, sadly, trouble motivating to do a lot of it.

I’m sceptical to the point of cynicism about quite a lot, at least from an ethical perspective, which makes the passion part harder. Usually I just focus on whatever work is in front of me and then find my passion for that specific thing. I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. I work tirelessly on writing (though what I write is never good enough) and have too much fear in a practical sense for that to be what I do. There’s always the job and then the writing pursuit. And I struggle with what that job ought to be.

All the more reason why I look at those people I adore and admire with such reverence. They seem to have that part solved. Not only do they have incredible character, they also put it to task in such constructive ways. I do my job well and just collect a paycheck. It’s all underwhelming. The revered should not slow themselves down with my company.

It creates a laundry list of contradictions, ironies that equal parts true and impossible. They are paradoxes of character that frustrate my logical mind and give me just enough evidence to doubt everything. “It may not be true – I may be looking at it through a wrong lens and then I will have to weather the consequence of having approached this all wrong.”

Yes, I overthink.

So my Twitter family is populated with cherished company. I care about my followers as friends, even though some of you intimidate me to the point where I question if I’d ever want to meet despite the positive esteem in which I hold your digital company. I feel guilty about that. Sometimes I convince myself not to think that way and I feel guilty about that instead.

Whether we are casual acquaintances or you barely tolerate me, whether we are good friends or I managed somehow to impress you thoroughly with my wit and articulation, know that I feel bad and guilty most of the time because it’s social media and that’s social anxiety.

You are still valued, not as a reader but as a fellow human being and a friend.


~ James

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