A wee while ago, I stopped having social anxiety. I don’t know exactly when that happened; hell, I couldn’t even tell you whether it left me by increments or all of a sudden. All I know is that one day I waited for it to show up and piss in my porridge, and it didn’t.

I cannot begin to express my surprise at its absence. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have social anxiety. I know that I was probably not born with it, but I remember it chewing at me before I hit kindergarten. By the time I started school, it was affecting every aspect of my life. It peaked in junior high and ebbed after University, but it has been with me for as long as I can remember. Now it’s gone, and I don’t know what to do with myself, because its absence has affected all the equations in my life.

Let me try and explain this. When I had social anxiety, every social interaction, however minor, caused me a significant level of distress. If the interaction went positively, that positive value was added to the negative value inherent in the interaction. If the final result was a positive, then that interaction added quality to my life, but that only happened rarely. Most superficial interactions just didn’t hold enough value to be able to offset the initial negative. Deeper interactions carried a higher potential value, but they also carried a larger initial negative because the stakes were higher, so they didn’t necessarily fare any better. In fact, when deeper interactions went wrong, the final results could be crushing. That was was why in school I avoided like the plague all the people I had a crush on: they were simply too dangerous to me. I was only willing to date people I didn’t really like, which went about as well as could be expected.

Things eased up a little when I hit university, but not enough to make me enjoy the company of all but a handful of people. Essentially, I lived in a world where interacting with people constantly took more than it added – which, incidentally, is why I genuinely can’t tell whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert. I honestly don’t think that those labels make any sense when applied to someone like me. Or someone like the person I was, anyway.

Now my social anxiety is gone, and its absence has left me a stranger to myself. So much of what I know about myself is built upon false premises. I can’t anticipate how certain situations will affect me, so I don’t know how to decide what to do. What kind of interactions do I want to make room in my life for? Do I want to try and get closer to some of the people I really like, but may not like me back? Do I want to expand my social circle to include people I’m not likely to ever be close to, because I might now be able to enjoy their company? Do I want to maintain turbulent relationships, even though the low points upset me? How will I react if things go wrong? Hell, is my concept of “wrong” still valid? It’s an interesting position to be in, and I’m not complaining, but it’s definitely weird. The weirdest thing has been realizing how much my anxiety has skewed every aspect of my past; or, rather, that “normal” people don’t live like that.

I’m tempted to look back at my life and count all the things I’ve missed out on, and I don’t mean just the things I didn’t do. I actually did quite a bit, all considering: I’ve lived on four continents, I’ve studied, I’ve worked, I’ve engaged in hobbies, and I’ve had relationships of all shapes and sizes. I did all of that while hurting, though. I had the experiences, but much of the enjoyment was lost. It’s the difference between walking up a mountain wearing well-fitting hiking boots and concrete shoes: in the latter case, you might still make it to the top, but I can guarantee that you won’t enjoy the trip half as much.

You’re also probably going to stumble a lot more. If people don’t realize what the problem is, they might wonder what the hell is wrong with you. Why do you turn everything into an issue? Why can’t you just get on with things, same as everyone else? Why are you so reactive? Do you gotta be such a fucking chore?

I recently read a post by an autistic person in which they made the distinction between “high-functioning” and “high-passing.” Before anyone decides to jump down my throat, I am not trying to compare autism with social anxiety. Similar issues around being “high-functioning” apply, though, and they also apply to depression, PTSD, chronic pain, and a whole host of other issues. You’re often evaluated as to whether you can perform to the satisfaction of “normal” people, regardless of how much that costs you. You Did The Thing! Hence, you are capable of Doing The Thing. The fact that you might have experienced huge levels of discomfort all the way through, or that Doing The Thing today means that you’re gonna be fucked for days, is utterly discounted: you’re evaluated for your performance in the moment – or, rather, for whether your performance in the moment inconvenienced any passing normies.

If you can Do The Thing, that often means that you won’t get any help or consideration. What do you mean, you need a day off today because of what happened yesterday? What do you mean, you don’t want to Do The Thing again? What do you mean, you can’t Do The Thing? I just watched you Do It! And you did great, which means that you can do it all the time! Or, conversely, you did really badly, and you ought to be punished for that, because I just know that you can do better.

I pushed myself to do so much in my life, even though I suffered through much of it, and I’m increasingly unsure as to whether that was a good thing. Maybe if I’d fucked up more visibly I might have gotten help a long time ago, and have lived a better life. Maybe I would have been left to fester with my problems in private, instead of festering with them in public. Who knows? The world has changed so much since I was a kid that I honestly can’t tell. What I’m fairly sure of, though, is that if I’d been given the right words to self-describe, I might have been kinder to myself. Maybe I wouldn’t have “achieved” so much, but I might have actually enjoyed myself in the process. For me, that matters.


A person I still feel unworthy to call a friend wrote this a couple of days ago. I’m sharing this with their permission. It’s a hard read, but it’s important.

CW: the following meditation contains references to sexual and emotional abuse, gaslighting, and other material that may be triggering in the context of self-accountability and community accountability.

“I’ve been contemplating this week on a period during which I was really traumatized and having PTSD symptoms that massively interrupted my ability to function in the world, as a result of ongoing sexual trauma that I was unable to escape for about a year.

During that time, I started becoming increasingly paranoid and critical of other people because of how triggered I was. I was being legitimately violated and gaslit, but because of hypervigilance I was also less able to be charitable and fair toward people who were NOT violating or gaslighting me, but having much more normal levels of conflict with me. Some of the people who were hurting and gaslighting me started informing others that I was known to be a malicious liar who habitually made up hurtful stories about others.

During this time I was dating a young man who was definitely not a bad young man, but just kind of exuberantly heterosexual and invested in normative stories about how heterosexuality and romance work. When I broke up with him he said things like “I’m going to win you back” and I treated this as if it were itself an assault because I was very easily triggered at that moment. I was like “this dude is maybe stalking me and I’m in danger” and the reality is he wasn’t, and when I told him to leave me alone he absolutely did. Later, he started dating someone who had her high school listed on her Facebook as current and I told a mutual friend that he was clearly a pedophile abusing this minor child. The young lady simply had not updated her Facebook profile. This was IMMEDIATELY used to prove that in fact, nobody had ever abused me and I was simply a mean, bad person who lies to destroy Good Men.

I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep at that point in months, and was in reality just not a functional person. The people who suggested that I was a mean bad person who lies to destroy perfectly innocent men were in fact NOT perfectly innocent men, but a lot of the people for whom that story landed had pretty good reasons to believe them. Because at that point I was visibly in a mental health crisis. I was unable to tolerate the stress of even SEEING some of the people who had harmed me. I regularly broke down crying in public. I would launch into unregulated recitations of suffering at seemingly random points, often just having NO control over my emotions. I was visibly very ill.

And because I was clearly unwell and some of my readings at that point were genuinely bad, that story landed for a lot of people. And it was CERTAINLY easier than sorting through the ugliness of figuring out which of the things I experienced that were real and which were mistaken perceptions. As a result, I was basically disposed of.

I think about this a lot because part of what made it possible for me to recover was building community with people who 100% believed in my reality. Having people who believed and valued me and had unflinching commitment to my right to have boundaries, particularly about my body, and who said “as a community our job is to believe you” gave me the space to recover enough to revisit everything that happened and be able to reassess that some of the judgments I made were fair and some weren’t. That was a brutally terrifying process, because it required grappling directly with the accusations about my character and really evaluating whether it was possible that, as people said, I had made everything up just to hurt people.

Ultimately the PTSD became its own touchstone of reality. Okay, sure, let’s say I was paranoid and even delusional because of the PTSD. But whence the PTSD, if none of the abuse was happening? I cannot believe that I was so paranoid that I lost the ability to judge whether my body was being molested, or that I had imagined multiple lengthy conversations about boundaries and harms. I do not have any reason to believe I had experienced the kind of break from reality that might explain discrepancy of that size. But you can believe I checked my work.

It has made me very cognizant of how gaslighting works to validate the abuser, not just in the mind of the victim, but for the community. Paranoia is a very natural reaction to being gaslit–and paranoia naturally leads to unreasonable and unbelievable readings of events, which in turn damages credibility (thus protecting the real abuser from accountability because That Person Is Always Saying These Things). I’ve been thinking a lot about how this works for people of color and how “they think everything is racist” narratives might fit with this pattern. A lot of my work in cultural competency has to do with breaking this pattern by validating patient/client suspicion and taking it less personally by being more informed about patterns of trauma.

Since then, I’ve been through similar conflicts from other standpoints, including both being unfairly accused of things that were best explained in terms of traumatized lack of charity and watching traumatized others accuse people who they later realized had not done what they genuinely believed at the time.

It’s hard to navigate from any standpoint. Particularly because of the realities of gaslighting as a feature of abuse, there’s really no point at which you can say “hey have you considered that you’re actually wrong about your experience and just having some mental illness symptoms right now?” Because from inside that experience, that is literally indistinguishable from being gaslit. That’s the whole deal of gaslighting. It replaces functional community checkins with abusive editing of reality, and that makes functional checkins unpossible.

It has been really crucial for me to keep my own experience with trauma and gaslighting in the front of my mind as I’ve encountered others who seem to be in a place where they might be having similar experiences, or where they are making visibly dysfunctional attacks on community members. It is so easy to EITHER say “oh this person is a cruel jerk” or “oh this person is crazy and thus has nothing of value to say.”

Part of this for me is that there are people who believe things about me or about others that I think are very much not true things, but I think some people should believe them anyway, because being believed is necessary for them to get better. I’m not sure, given that, how to react to people who say “this person says you did x.” I didn’t, and also like. Go love that person so hard. Go believe that person. Go be that person’s sense of safety and community. Go tell that person that you’re not going anywhere. Maybe someday they reassess and maybe they don’t, but definitely they have very real hurts and they deserve to be loved through it.

I don’t know what it looks like to say “this person is hurting so much that their judgment is visibly compromised, but something real hurt them and we need to fix it.” But I know that it is crucial to healing our communities.”

NEW BOOK OUT, and you wanna read it.

We interrupt this hiatus (sorry, life’s been happening) because a new book is out, and I want people to read it. If you are someone who teaches martial arts/self-defence, you need it. If you are someone who wants to study martial arts/self-defence, you probably want to read it, too. If you do, you might end up knowing more about pedagogy than your teachers.

Don’t get me wrong: I love MA/SD, and I understand that the field has its own peculiar reaching flavour due to the way in which people rise to instructor positions. I’m all for meritocracies, and I’m not terribly appreciative of situations where “those who can’t do, teach.” Having said that, there are basic issues with rising through teaching positions by being very good at doing a thing. First of all, doing and teaching are actually two very different skill sets. People who have a natural aptitude for something can actually be appalling teachers, because they have not had to deal with the stumbling blocks other students encounter, and might not have solutions for overcoming them. Secondly, every teaching methodology creates a selection process. The students who do best under a specific teaching methodology may be good at the subject, but they are also good at learning in that particular way. Conversely, students who do badly under a certain teaching methodology may have no aptitude for the subject, but they may also simply not respond well to a certain learning environment.

I could go on here, but hey, I know someone who’s just written a book about this. It’s a damn good book, too. If it doesn’t revolutionise the way in which MA/SD is taught, then there’s something seriously wrong with the field. So, yeah, check it out.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: an innate or emergent property of neurodivergence?

Sounds kinda like a scientific paper, doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s just me swallowing some random concepts and, huh, ejecting some ideas.

I just finished “The Silent Guides” by Prof Steve Peters. I think it’s a terrible book at a number of levels and I am absolutely NOT recommending it. However, it raised (and promptly failed to prove) an interesting point: that an adult’s ability to emotionally handle rejection is a skill learnt in childhood, and is dependent on several factors including:
– secure attachments with one’s care giver(s),
– self-confidence in one’s ability to handle situations, 
– and self-worth independent of achievements.

It also stated that children’s self-worth can be encouraged by validating their concerns and experiences, and that in order to foster children’s trust in their own abilities, it is essential not to face them with demands that are age-inappropriate.

The book blithely ignores the existence of neurodivergent people, but it made me think about whether rejection sensitive dysphoria is a symptom of ADHD per se – as in, a manifestation of the neurodivergence itself – or a symptom of the emotional damage a person with ADHD can incur by being raised in a family/school/society that does not validate their experience or accommodate their needs.

I mean… I have sensory issues. They’re not as pronounced as those of many people, but they’re definitely there. Most of my childhood consisted of me saying that something was too loud/too smelly/too scratchy/too sticky and being told that no, it wasn’t, and that I was being rude or difficult by suggesting that it was. I was making a fuss over nothing. That’s basically sensory gaslighting: I’m being told that my perception is wrong. As a result, it isn’t worth of being considered, and neither am I unless I learn to ignore it. Needless to say, the experience didn’t make me feel terribly secure in my relationships. It also didn’t teach me to respect my own sensations and needs as an adult, or to use them as guidelines on how to live.

I was also ahead of the curve for certain things (e.g. reading), but waaaaaay behind the curve for a ton of things (e.g. anything involving gross motor skills). I literally COULD NOT meet certain demands; in some cases, I still can’t. For instance, my inability to tell left from right used to drive my gymnastics teachers to distraction, and used to get me yelled at on a regular basis. Was I not paying attention? Was I doing it on purpose? Alas, the fact that 40 years on I still have the same problem suggests that my failure was not solely due to a lack of application on my part.

Throughout my childhood, I was constantly measured against criteria created for people with a brain that worked differently, developed at a different rate, or needed a different type of input. I had no idea that my brain was not standard issue, though, so I had no idea that other kids weren’t going through the same experience. I just figured that they were all better than me at most things, and that it was absolutely critical that I was perfect at the things that I could do to make up for my shortcomings.

Growing up like that has had a huge influence in how I see myself and react to the world. It has taken me years to realize that 100% is not the pass grade. I don’t know how to convert my past achievements into a sense of self-trust. I have only recently discovered that feeling constantly overwhelmed by absolutely everything isn’t how everyone lives. And, yes, I find rejection unbearably painful, and I’ve been told by experts that it’s “just” my ADHD, that it’s a common symptom and it’s normal – for the likes of us, anyway. But is it? Is it one of my inherent shortcomings, or just one of many skills I’ve not been given a chance to develop? If it’s the latter, can I, like, start working at it now? Because it’s no fun at all, and I’d rather leave it behind.

So, yeah, that’s my thought for the day. I could be full of shit. I’m not particularly looking for a debate on this, just presenting a theory I developed from a handful of statements I found in a terrible book I’m advising you not to buy. So yeah, pinch of salt or three, and please don’t shoot the messenger.