It's like a punch to the gut. One negative comment washes away years of positivity and sets off roiling doubt, inducing a self-reflective funk that makes me a drain to be around. That is how anxiety becomes depression.
I am not writing this for kudos or comfort, but to let others know, if they react (overreact) this way, they are not alone.
It's embarrassing. I'm supposed to be able to handle this kind of thing. I mean, I know that when someone offers a critique or constructive criticism the thing to do is rationally evaluate it on its merits and progress from there, incorporating or disregarding as appropriate.
But it can take me days to get to that point, depending on what the topic is, depending on how sore the sore spot is that they touched. And why am I covered in sore spots?
Fear. Some days I am made out of fear.
Anxiety is a maladaptive expression of our response to threats. I experience a knee-jerk reaction to protect my sense of self-worth, when really I should wait until my amygdala is done hijacking me and I can think more clearly to respond.
Instead, I end up reconsidering my entire purpose in life and wishing I could just fade away, back into the oblivion where I used to live. Agoraphobia was in no small way a reaction to this fear—I was hiding from the possibility of being wrong.
And this reaction is set off not necessarily from someone actively trying to tear me down. Just pointing out a misstatement or a nuance I neglected is enough.
Some people can brush off criticism. Maybe I should have gotten used to it in academe, where people build careers off of falsifying and criticizing what came before. I hid from that too, writing on obscure topics no one would see, or that were so divisive it was easy to set any criticism into the "skeptic" category—the equivalent of saying "haters gonna hate" and walking away.
But now what I write is relatively mainstream, at least it's for a much wider audience than the metaphysical and ethical consequences of parapsychology or the relationship between Kohlberg's stages of moral development and the emergence of wisdom. What I write now is like standing naked in the town square compared to being covered in the armor of other people's theories and the multisyllabic pomposity of the ivory tower.
It's my heart bared to the world every time.
To disregard criticism out of hand, to go to the other extreme and say "I can't be wrong; therefore, you must be," is narcissism. We see this a lot online and maybe it's a viable defense against the propensity for anonymity to lead to indiscriminate asshole-ishness. But I can’t seem to just blow it off.
I want to find balance between RuPaul's admonition that "What other people think of me is none of my damn business" and falling apart every time. I’m getting there. At least now I can keep functioning. Thanks to years of treatment—cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, meditation, medication, and self-compassion—the episodes of extreme self-doubt pass more quickly, and I know better than to make irreversible decisions while in the midst of them.
Until this balance comes naturally, all I can do is keep showing up, take my time, and make the best decision in each case regarding when to engage for my own growth and the benefit of my work and when not to engage because there is nothing to gain from the dialogue.
But how do you know which is which? What if I’m wrong?