Positive Cynicism – I’m more of a halfway-decent man
Aaron R. Davis
Carl’s been my best friend for 25 years. On Saturday, he’s getting married, and I’m serving as his best man.
And I am freaking out about it.
Here’s a column about how anxiety disorders and depression can affect how you perceive everything.
Months ago, Carl sent me an email telling me he was getting married and asking me to be his best man. I was honestly surprised at the offer, and reacted mainly with fear. This is one of the horrible things about what I’m going through: my instinct, as I’m hiding here in my little cave, is to cut myself off from personal relationships and obligations. So when my best friend asks me to be the best man at his wedding, instead of feeling honored and enthusiastic, I’m petrified and confused.
Back then, I didn’t realize why I do this kind of thing. Thanks to therapy, I understand now that as a child I internalized a series of traumas that left me with the operational belief that I don’t matter very much to anyone. Not just that I don’t matter, but that I never could matter. This isn’t me feeling sorry for myself. This is something that, subconsciously, I believe about myself.
This is a big part of why I’m such a lousy friend/family member. I subconsciously assume people don’t want to include me, so I’m not the guy who just emails you out of the blue, or calls you up just to see how you’re doing. And I’m sure as hell not the guy who makes plans to spend time with friends or family. You probably have better things to do than waste a day of your life humoring me.
So when something comes along that acts against one of the core beliefs on which my life operates, it terrifies me. It terrifies me because I get genuinely confused: why the hell do you want me to be your best man? What’s wrong with you? What’s the joke here? Why are you rocking the comforting shell that I’ve protected myself with all of these years? Isn’t it enough that I’m staying out of your way and not imposing my existence on you? Think about it this way. If you were just bobbing along, living your life, and then someone found you and told you that you were the long-lost king of some small nation, wouldn’t you be confused and overwhelmed by the responsibility they were trying to give you?
But what I’ll never be able to take back is that when my best and oldest friend honored me by asking if I would stand up as the best man at his wedding, I basically asked him if he was out of his mind.
That’s another problem with this thing I’m dealing with: my instincts genuinely tell me that I’m not capable of doing these things, and that deep down no one really wants me to do them, anyway. It’s why I can often be so quiet and withdrawn, which, unfortunately, comes across as unfriendly to people. But it’s not meant to be. I can go out in the world and be nice and polite up to a point. But I’m also, in my subconscious, just doing everyone a favor by not imposing on everyone’s time and generosity.
So this wedding is kind of a huge deal for me. I’m scared about it. Sometimes I’m so scared that I start shaking and trying to figure out how to get out of it. But it’s too late for that, and besides, I really don’t want to get out of it. I’m terrified that I have to stand up in front of everyone and give a toast, but a.) I think it’s important that I make myself do this and b.) I want to do it for Carl, not only because he’s my best friend and this is such a big occasion, but because he’s really gone out of his way to make sure I’m included in this. And that shouldn’t scare me the way it did. It should make me feel honored, humbled and proud. At a time in life when I had resigned myself to not mattering in anyone’s life, he’s proved that I do. His mother even called and thanked me for agreeing to do it.
Besides, I think I won’t actually even be as scared of this as I was of meeting Carl’s bride-to-be. I only met her two weeks ago. They don’t know, but I actually had a panic attack about meeting her. A big one. Because, again, I don’t expect people to like me at all, especially right now, at the worst point of my health, more obese than ever, and with my terrible skin and being, you know, so ugly. I was honestly expecting her to take one look at me and think “I don’t want to look at this terrible thing in my wedding pictures for the rest of my life.”
And you know, that has nothing to do with her and who she is as a person. It’s 100 percent to do with my anxiety and my low self-esteem and my general assumption that people won’t like me.
And that’s one of the other awful things about what I’m trying to overcome: it causes me to make unfair, generalized assumptions about people I don’t even know.
(And for the record, she’s lovely and seems awesome.)
So there’s a big part of me that’s scared as hell. I’m very self-conscious. I have a lot of doubts. My mind is racing through all the things I want to do to prepare for it, and I’m working very hard against my natural, avoidant instincts.
I don’t want to just get through this. I want to enjoy it. And I want to be there for my friend.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.