More than a few of my friendships have begun from me apologizing to someone. I beat myself up, sure that I’m a bad daughter, bad friend, and bad partner. I’m always apologizing, so I must be doing something wrong. Why won’t I change my behavior? Why do I find myself apologizing for so many things all the time?
I could take my usual route to find the answer: I’m a selfish, angry, jealous, mean person who won’t grow up. But I realized it’s more than that. I may have been that way at some point, but I’ve changed a lot. And I got so used to apologizing for my bad behavior, that even after changing it, I still felt the need to do it. I kept apologizing to everyone around me because I got so used to cleaning up after my big mouth and the damage it did.
When I was driving my boyfriend’s car down to visit my family, I remember feeling anxious and scared. To help with the anxiety, I performed one of my compulsions to make me feel better. I locked the doors of the car several times just to hear it. I always felt relief when the locks clicked into place. I told myself, “This is what safety sounds like. Don’t be afraid.”
But when I swerved into the other lane, overcorrected, and flipped the car, it wasn’t the locked doors that kept me safe. It was the seatbelt keeping me from bursting through the windshield. And when people stopped their cars and ran up to help me in that green field, the locked doors of the car only kept me in. About seven or so strangers huddled around, while I sat in the upside down vehicle, panicking. I kept pressing my fingers up against the window, trying to think of a way out, shock and adrenaline rushing through me. The strangers tried to wrench the door open, but they couldn’t. Then they opened the door in the backseat, but the roof of the car was too smashed in. I couldn’t squeeze back there to get out. Then they tried to break the window, but they couldn’t. I was so afraid the car was going to catch on fire like in movies. Time was running out.
Finally, someone figured out the simple problem. They told me to unlock the driver side door and pried it open. I could have gotten out of the door all along if I had not locked it. I’d tried to keep people out, sure that it made me safe, but I was wrong. Locking the doors didn’t save me. My seatbelt saved me and all those people who pulled over to help me get out of the overturned car and make sure I was okay.
My opinion of humanity changed that day. I didn’t think, “Oh, everyone is nice now.” I didn’t change the way I treated others immediately. But there was a small seed planted inside me and an idea began to grow. This idea challenged how I operated on a day to day basis. It changed the way I interacted with others. It challenged the idea that I must reject others before they reject me.
I wondered why I was so standoffish and rude to people before I even knew them. Sure, maybe it was the way my parents were, and I learned that behavior growing up. Maybe it was because I suffer from symptoms of schizophrenia, including paranoia and delusions of persecution. Maybe it was because I hated myself so much that I couldn’t imagine that anyone I met would actually like me. I don’t have all the answers. I decided not to go down the rabbit hole of possible explanations because it wouldn’t change anything. I decided that it doesn’t matter why things happened the way they did or how I got to be the way I am. I could analyze my entire childhood, try to pinpoint exactly where everything went wrong or why I was born with certain genes. But I decided against that.
The only real answer is that I don’t know and no one will ever be able to give me a for sure, straight answer. So who cares? I moved on. All that matters now is being aware of my defensive behavior, my extreme distrust of others, and my fear of rejection. I have to be aware of it to change it.
Realizing that I’m so afraid of being rejected that I try to reject people before they reject me made me feel childish and stupid. I can remember so many times where I was mean to people because I thought they didn’t like me. And then seeing their expressions of shock or confusion, and realizing I was wrong. It was all in my head. I could have had a perfectly good acquaintance or friendship with my neighbors, teachers, and peers if I had been able to see through the fog of “nobody likes me!” I want to roll my eyes at myself. Sure, I experienced bullying a little here and there in school, but who didn’t? No one absolutely hated my guts that I know of. I don’t know why I thought everyone hated me. I could make a list of all the possible reasons I acted the way I did, why I lashed out at people for seemingly no reason. But the truth is, I don’t know and it probably was more than one thing (my illness, feelings of worthlessness, etc).
I always thought I was an inherently mean person. People told me I was intense, impatient, angry. Even when I grew up and began to face all my flaws, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a bad person. But I’ve changed a lot and I never was a bad person. I was just moody and irritable, not that it excuses my bad behavior.
I’ve realized that no one was out to get me, no one seriously hated me, and few people meant to reject me. It was all a web of perceptions and miscommunication. And none of it matters anymore. I’m tired of looking into the past with a microscope. The day that strangers helped me out of an overturned car, made sure I was okay and waited with me until the ambulance got there, I realized that I don’t live in a world full of people who want to hurt me. Most people are good if I give them a chance.
So, for the past two years, I’ve slowly but surely, tried to smile at people and give them a chance before I misinterpret a facial expression or convince myself that they don’t like me. I’ve made a lot more friends this way and letting go of the insecurity and anger has been a relief. This blog has helped me come a long way, too. I have over 1,000 followers now (thank you!), and it shocks me that even half that number of people subscribed to my blog. Every single one of you said “yes” to me. Every single one of you did not reject me.
For a long time, I was trapped in a totaled vehicle, terrified and angry, blaming others for the situation I found myself in, unable to ask for help because I feared no one cared. That was the unhappy life I was stuck in. Reaching out and asking for help was the best decision I ever made. Totaling a car taught me that most people are good at heart, that I am good at heart, and of course, to go the fu*king speed limit.
August Pfizenmayer is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and mental illness advocate. She loves reading, sweets, and warm weather. She writes confessional poetry, personal essays, and articles. Her poetry was published in the 2014 edition of Georgia State’s Undergraduate Art and Literary Journal called Underground. One of her current projects is a collection of prose poetry available on Wattpad. On April 11th, the next volume of The i’Mpossible Project will be available for pre-order with her story about life with schizophrenia featured in it. It will be in stores November 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.