Illustration by Jennifer Martinez-Flood @jamf_craft

Shadowy Woman on a Shadowy Planet by Jamie L. Rotante

Feb 09, 2023

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

I think if I had to choose, out of all the many, many fears I mull over on a near-daily basis, my top pick would be the fear of being forgotten. Ironically enough, it’s also the fear I’ve faced the most. Of course, “being” and “feeling” are two distinct entities, and while it’s more likely that the latter is a better representation of what I endure, it still happens often enough that you’d think I’d be used to it by now.

I suppose being forgotten isn’t the right way to put it. It’s less that people outright forget me—it’s that I instead just seem to exist on the perimeter, skulking along the sidelines, only catching glances when I become noticeable enough to stop and interact with. Like when the sun hits exactly right at midday, your shadow grows taller than you, and you can’t help but want to catch up to its height by jumping and stretching. Or when you’re driving on the parkway, and you find yourself distracted by how much the front of your car’s shadow looks like the outline of Shrek’s head.

Basically, it’s as if something major or different must happen for me to feel noticed. It’s not enough to be there all the time, albeit in silence—I have to demand recognition of my presence to feel anything close to validation. This happens in friendships, professional settings, and sometimes even with family. I often feel like if I were to disappear, no one would notice, at least not for an awfully long time.

I realize that this is my fault, too. I have a problem with drawing attention to myself. I feel shameful about self-promotion, I actively halt myself if it seems like I’m pushing too hard. I suffer from the all-too-familiar millennial case of “so I did a thing”-ism. I also have a hard time demanding attention in relationships for fear that I can’t reciprocate it in the same way. I’ll fight to the ends of the earth for the people I love and care about. I’ll constantly keep them and any struggles that may unfortunately come their way in my thoughts, wishing them good energy and giving flowers from afar, even if they don’t know it. I’ll always show up when it counts. But it may take a few days before I respond to a text. I might wait awhile to RSVP to an event, giving myself the time to see if my brain is willing to give me a break and allow me to actively be present and enjoy a social occasion. I refuse to drag anyone else into my depressive bouts or only be able to show up physically, but not mentally or emotionally. I’d rather give zero percent than anything less than a hundred percent.

Because of this, I keep my peace sacred and I’m serious about not disturbing it. Sometimes my mind forces me to take a few steps back even when I want to be more proactive and social. Sometimes it feels like the universe is working against me, inflicting tragedy and illness on me when it sees my social calendar starting to get full. Sometimes I allow myself to believe those superstitious ideas and use them as reasons to further my inward reflection and extend my alone time. As it stands, I’m actively working on this. It’s been a goal of mine (a resolution, if you must) to stop being this way, to be more present and social and put extra work into my friendships and relationships. Not allowing alcohol to dictate my behavior is a big step in this direction. I’m trying, whether it seems like it or not.

But I can’t be the only one.

I keep my peace sacred and I’m serious about not disturbing it.

For the longest time, I felt bad for the folks who were the “special occasion” friends. The ones you only see at birthday parties, weddings, and showers. Not the friends who get the calls to hang out just because. Not the go grab a coffee on a random Wednesday friend. Not the take a weekend trip for fun friend. I don’t want funerals and tragedies to be the reminder to others that I’m still here and I still need people around me, even if I often retreat into my own world.

Without realizing it, I became this friend.

A lot of it is on me—I live and die by my principles, and I find it hard to falter from them. If someone has hurt me or caused me distress, I want to make a point of not allowing them to continue to do harm, and it hurts when others don’t see my point of view. I have been working on this. I understand that not everyone will see eye-to-eye with me. I by no means think anyone should change with whom they associate with for me. I’m vocal about my feelings because I don’t want to keep them to myself. This has led me to being further isolated and left behind. By sharing my feelings, I fear I’ve become the whiny friend, the one who always has a problem, and, worst of all, the one you have to walk on eggshells around. No one’s told me this. But when it becomes apparent that the people with whom you’ve spent the most time in the past have moved on around you and without you, it’s hard to not feel that way.

I don’t want funerals and tragedies to be the reminder to others that I’m still here.

By being equal parts distant, isolated, silent as well as vocal, open, and sharing, I’ve become the shadow I’ve always feared of becoming.

This alters my perception of how to deal with others, too. Should I break the long streaks of silence to make sure they’re okay, or is the silence what they need? Could I be too persistent? Am I being too distant or am I being annoying? I have difficulty answering these questions about myself. Sometimes friends checking in regularly makes me feel loved and appreciated. Other times I wish they’d understand that I’m actively trying to disassociate. Depending on what I’m going through at any given time, I can vacillate wildly between a need for comfort and a need for distance. How can I make this clear to others when it makes no sense to me?

And at what point am I looking so internally that I’m not recognizing what’s wrong externally? Is it possible that my agonizing is mine alone, and while I’m worried that I’m not doing enough, others aren’t caring as much as I am? Am I spending so much time fretting about old relationships that I’m stopping myself from fostering new ones?

When I find myself making a new friendship or having new encounters with people, I realize I’m not invisible. I’m not just lurking in the corner. I’m someone worth talking to, worth recognizing. I am validated.

All I can do is make sure the people I love know I love them—but I also have to recognize my feelings as well. I know I can make myself feel like a shadow. I can recognize that’s bad and work to change it. But when I’m actively made to feel that way, maybe that’s not only my fault. Maybe it’s time to start directing the energy I’ve spent worried about being forgotten instead towards making myself known, doing so by fostering new friendships, new relationships, new endeavors.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I’ve consented for too long, most of the time to myself. I no longer want to feel inferior. I will not be forgotten, even if that means I won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

I refuse to be a shadow any longer.

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