Monday, September 05, 2011

Do You See What I See?

I’m sorry if this is a lot of undiluted rambling and doesn’t make much sense.

Perception is a funny thing. We want so much to be seen a certain way yet the way other people perceive us is often nothing quite like we thought.

I’ve begun to realise there is very little I can do change people’s perceptions of me….besides write a blog post about it. It doesn’t matter how much you try and create an ‘image’. You can try and be yourself, but the reality is that you are many different ‘selves’ depending on who you’re with. I’m always interested and amused to hear other people’s perceptions of themselves:
They say, “I’m a laidback person.” I think they come across as very stressed.
They say, “I’m a bubbly, friendly person. I think not to me.
They say, “I’m not very good at anything.” I think they’re amazingly talented.
They say, “I’m sorry for being self-absorbed and not ringing you lately.” I think they’ve always been a fantastically caring friend.

If I’d gone on first impressions alone, I would never have made some of the fabulous friends I have. I’ve misinterpreted shyness as aloofness or snobbery. I’ve been thought a snob by others. While we should all make an effort to create a good impression with strangers, sometimes we can be misinterpreted. Although there are times when I’ve gotten a definite ‘bad vibe’ from someone and if they haven’t warmed to me in subsequent meetings (but are nice to others), I assume they’ve got a problem with me other than simply having a ‘bad day’.

Personally I think it’s good to keep first impressions to yourself. While sometimes it’s amusing hearing people share their first impressions of you, it can also be hurtful. I don’t want to hear that they thought I was an ugly nerd, the same as I don’t tend to share my first impressions of others (particularly if they were negative). At a job interview a few years ago, the boss asked me what I did with the rest of my time (since I was going for a part-time position). When I explained that I was a writer, she asked what my book was about and looked shocked when I answered “Football.” She said, “Oh, I thought you’d write romance novels or children’s books.” Huh?!? Why would someone think that? I look like someone who would write Mills and Boon?

The football and writing thing has actually come up a few times. People I’d only just met have exclaimed that I don’t look like someone who would follow football let alone write about it. Someone said that I don’t actually look like a writer at all. I’m wondering if they thought I was really boring and was surprised to hear I had personality and an imagination.

Someone else told me they thought I looked 'well travelled', and they assumed I'd travelled a lot overseas (not sure how anyone could assume this based on my appearance, but anyway...).  They were surprised to learn that I've never been overseas and didn't even go interstate until I was 23.  There are babies that have travelled more than me!

Maybe it’s due to being The New Kid on the Block, but it’s come to my attention that many people think I’m a shy, quiet mouse who will lie down and willingly be walked over. That I’ll pick up their slack when they’re disorganised. That I’ll rearrange my plans for them at great inconvenience to myself. That I’ll just sit there and listen to their unwanted opinions about myself. I’ve been horrified at some of things mere strangers or acquaintances have said to me. Things like, “Sarah, you don’t look good in that,”…stuff I would never say to someone I barely know, and would only say to a friend if they really wanted an honest opinion on something. I am definitely more shy in situations where I don’t know people, but I’ve realised that this sort of thing has been happening my WHOLE life. It must be my appearance. I must look sweet and demure or something so people think I’m a pushover. Recently I’ve wondered if getting some tattoos or piercings would be the only way to get some respect.

But when I said to Duncan jokingly, “I’m a delicate flower,” he scoffed and said, “You? A flower?” To him, I’m probably more like a cactus.

It’s not just appearances unfortunately. I’ve also come to the realisation that I will never be taken seriously by some people. Even when I’m upset about something, some people will always presume I’m joking and have a little giggle at my expense. I’m tired of trying to get people to understand that although I’m a humorous person who likes to have a good laugh, there is a time and a place for everything. I’m a person not a clown! I have feelings the same as everyone else. I have good days and I have bad days. That’s normal. That’s HUMAN.

Those of you who have followed my blog for years now will remember the series I did leading up to my wedding day called Diary of a Wedding Planning Machine. That series recorded one of the lowest periods of my life in February 2008. After struggling with wedding stress (caused by guests mostly) and insomnia (during which I turned to sleeping pills), I felt like I was on the verge of some kind of breakdown. I went to church one evening and someone I did not know that well asked, in casual conversation, how I was and how I was going with the wedding plans. Now I know that when someone asks, “How are you?” it doesn’t mean they really want to know how you are. It has become more of a greeting than a question and any answer other than , “Ok,” or “Fine, thanks,” tends to attract weird looks like they’re thinking, I don’t REALLY care how you are, you dimwit! I was aware that this person was probably expecting an answer saying that I was fine and that the wedding plans were going well, but I don’t believe in lying. However, I knew that this person was just a casual acquaintance and I didn’t want to give them a detailed rundown of my woes like I would to a close friend. So I said something like this:
“Well, I’m finding it a bit busy and stressful at the moment since I’m not sleeping very well.”
Now I didn’t have a mirror in front of me, but I’m pretty sure that I was straightfaced so this person’s reaction really astounded me.
They giggled!
Yes, it was like they thought I was trying to be funny. That I was joking. That I was suddenly going to break out into a huge grin and say, “Just kidding.”

That has not been a lone incident.

Why? Why do people react like this? I do not understand it. Even humorous people get down. We should not be surprised that they are not untouched by the harsh realities of life. They suffer too. They need support. And when they are down, they need to be taken seriously.

It really irritates and saddens me because I feel like I have poured myself out in love for some people yet they cannot return the favour. I’ve sat with new mums who have cried because they are so overwhelmed with sleep deprivation. I’ve sent sympathy cards and messages to those who have lost loved ones. I’ve tried to show love in practical ways. That’s not to say I’m some kind of saint who has all the answers and comforts people perfectly. I get so overwhelmed by situations that sometimes I don’t know what to say. But because I know what it’s like to sit alone in a dark place and have some kind soul attempt to say or do something to help, I try with others – even if makes me look like a doofus. Their comfort is more important than my embarrassment over my faltering words.

So when I let people know that things are hard, it is SO hurtful that instead of comforting or walking with me through the trial, they crack stupid jokes they hope will cheer me up, or they avoid me until they think I’m over it and then come crawling out of the woodwork to enjoy some laughs with me again. It annoys me that someone else can write, I need a hug on Facebook and have everyone offer a virtual hug, but if I wrote something like that, I’d either be ignored, mocked or told to get over it.

Having said all this, I don’t want my truly wonderful friends to think that I don’t appreciate them. I do….so much. This is aimed at those who expect me to be their personal clown all the time…and don’t know how to handle it when I’m not feeling so cheerful.

I appreciate the care from people who know I’ve had a tough year and have expressed concern that I may develop depression. I thank God for those people because I know they’re asking (a) because they truly care and their motive is my wellbeing and (b) not because they just want me to snap out of it and ‘entertain’ them. I do get annoyed at people who say stuff like, “You’re not as cheerful as you used to be,” because they’re not around me all the time so how can they say stuff like that (they have just caught me at a bad time), and people have bad days and weeks and that’s just LIFE. Just because someone posts on Facebook that they’ve had a stinker of a day is no reason to sound the alarm bells. I would tell them I hope they’re ok, but I wouldn’t think they have depression unless it’s a constant occurrence.

Why am I posting all of this? Well, it was what I was getting at in Friday Focus: Mourning with the Mourning. I just want to be taken seriously as a person. I want to be allowed to grieve when people die without having people avoid me or expecting me to snap out of it in two seconds. I don’t want silly jokes when something seriously bad has happened. When I tell people, who have asked how I am and want honest answers, that things aren’t great, I don’t want to be laughed at. Why would ANYONE joke around like that?

I read somewhere that Rowan Atkinson is actually nothing like Mr Bean. Apparently he’s not that funny in real life; he saves his humour for television. I’m the same. Humour is appropriate only in some settings.

I have thought a lot about whether I should post this stuff for fear of copping more crap from smart-asses. But I’m saying, “WHO CARES!” Who cares what other people think. Who knows, I might actually help someone.  Someone out there might read this and say, "Thank goodness.  I thought I was the only one."

And then I hit ‘Publish Post'.


Karen said...

I hear you....and I get it. Sorry you haven't felt supported through some of your tough times....I've felt a little bit the same lately actually. Will pray for you xx

bettyl said...

Human nature has let us all down at some point, sadly. Some more than others.

In the end, the only opinion that is really important is God's. If He's happy with us (and He is a lot more than we realize!) then other opinions don't really count.

He's the only one we can rely on and that works for me.

Iris Flavia said...

Same here... often people took my shyness for pride and arrogance...
Though... how arrogant can you be when you look down, not up?

Ummm. How does a writer look like, then?
It´s not worth to get mad at people like that. Most won´t learn, anyways. Could imagine it´s kinda hurtful, though...

Hehe, a cactus ;-)

Guess some people you described maybe are just very shy themselves, don´t know what to say and instead of keeping their mouths shut... talk nonesense.

Sarah said...

Thanks ladies! Sorry to hear you feel the same, Karen. I will keep you in my prayers.