A little difficulty

I didn’t attend the AUOB rally in Dundee yesterday. While I don’t imagine the St John Scotland volunteers were overwhelmed by people suffering the effects of extreme disappointment, I had assured a few people that I would be there so I really should apologise. I don’t like letting people down even in what most would probably consider a very trivial way.

It is not my customary practice to write about personal stuff. Apart from anything else, it’s hard to imagine anyone would be interested in my doings. The stuff of soap opera it ain’t. And that’s the way I like it. If there’s drama in my life it means I’m doing it wrong. Or for the benefit of pedants, ‘wrongly’. I neither need nor desire excitement. I don’t crave novelty. I prefer routine such as others would almost certainly label dull as dishwater. Or for the benefit of pedants, ‘ditchwater’. All I want is a quiet life. The last thing I need is stress.

That’s the problem. I find things stressful that I really shouldn’t. I get stressed by the fact that I’m getting stressed by things that should not be in the slightest stressful. This includes social interactions of any kind. I don’t cope well with other people. It may not be evident to the ‘untrained eye’. But every social situation is hard work for me. And getting harder.

While isolation as a precaution against viral infection was very easy for me, it does seem to have occasioned a worsening of the social anxiety that I have been coping with quite well for many years. It is not the only factor. I’m seriously deaf in one ear and this makes conversation very difficult when there’s any background noise. A situation aggravated by face coverings which both muffle voices and deny others much of the non-verbal communication that we can come to depend on more when our hearing fails. People quickly get pissed off with being asked to repeat themselves. And it’s not always possible to fake it. All of which is quite stress-inducing. Consequences absent control means stress. Or is it that stress means consequences without control? Both?

Then there’s my memory. My ability to remember names is almost non-existent. My capacity for associating faces with names has deteriorated to the point that every passing stranger looks somehow familiar while the person greeting me like an acquaintance of long standing looks like nobody I recognise. Names are important. If you’re aware of how important names are and how people react to their name being forgotten or worse still to being called by the wrong name then you’ll know that being obliged to converse with these people is very stressful.

My coping mechanisms have broken down under the onslaught of age and the general deterioration that accompanies it – as well as a few aggravating factors. I don’t for one moment imagine that I am alone in this. Or that I am exceptionally afflicted. The social awkwardnesses I describe will probably ring a bell with most people over a certain age. But I can no more feel their pain than they can feel mine. We all have to cope with our own ‘issues’ on our own and as best we can. I have long been quite adept at developing coping mechanisms. To discover that this ability has abandoned me is very… stressful!

The upshot of all this is that I tend to avoid social situations as much as I can. Especially large gatherings. I’m not sure this counts as a coping mechanism. But it’s what I’ve got. It’ll have to do until I get something better.

It is not always possible to avoid social interaction. One of the more unlikeable things about other people is that the fuckers are everywhere. Were I younger and fitter I might head for the mountains and moors to find the solace of solitude. But that’s not an option. If I don’t choose to be housebound, I just have to put up with the stress as best I can. Which is effortful. And stressful.

That’s it! That’s my excuse for not turning up at the AUOB rally in Dundee yesterday. The more functional bit of ma heid wanted very much to be there. The other bit looked at the prospect with something approaching horror. Yesterday, the dysfunctional bit won.

Kindly file this excuse away somewhere handy so you can pull it out the next time I fail to turn up as promised. Because it will happen. I know it will. And that knowledge is also stressful. Ye jist cannae win!



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11 thoughts on “A little difficulty

  1. Thank you for sharing this, I sympathise, really! I fear the lockdown may have brought out a latent isolationist tendency in myself. Maybe try something as simple as just saying “good morning” etc. to passing strangers, If they reply it does at least validate your existence in this world, without usually committing to any further interaction. It may just be me, but it feels like people are more inclined to such basic interactions in these present trying circumstances, so perhaps we need to make the most of it. Good Luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this Peter! You’re wise to take charge of your social interactions; the when, the whom, and the where. I used to be gregarious in the extreme. My wife used to say I was addicted to people. Lockdown has forced be to act on the verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10, I have more appreciation for solitude.

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  3. This article is a pretty good description of getting old and that’s only the emotional bit. The physical bit can be just as pressing. Where will I get a seat or where’s the toilet are questions that younger folk don’t need to ask? It all affects your confidence when going out and it slyly sneaks up on you over time.

    “Auld age disnae come itsel”, so the saying goes and it’s bloody true. Most folk under 60 think they can imagine what it’s like but they don’t have a bloody clue what coming next.

    It’s always struck me as strange how we talk in depth about things like mental illness, living with cancer etc.. but somehow getting old and how it feels is out of bounds, never up for discussion. Maybe there’s just no point in confronting some of lifes truths. Or maybe we just can’t.

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  4. I find a great way to get past the ‘name forgotten’ business is to exclaim “it’s yersel!”.

    Say it like using their name would be too formal for such an old and valued acquaintance. It always works, with the person in front of you clearly feeling special for the friendly informality of your greeting.

    The conversation which follows gives your brain time to (perhaps) remember the person’s real name. Or even, in my case, who the f*** this person is whom you’ve no recollection of seeing before, ever.

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    1. Or how about “Hello, remember me, I’m Tom (?). You’ll have to excuse me, but I’ve got some much accumulated information in my head that I am having trouble accessing your name, so please be kind enough to help me out”, or words to that effect.

      We all do it, we all forget things, especially as we get older and for some reason we get embarrassed by it. I used to tell young work colleagues to remember that older people have lived much longer than them and have so much accumulated information in their heads that it might take them longer to process stuff.

      I actually acknowledge more people when I am away from the town where I live. It is so easy to have conversations with complete strangers.

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  5. I’ve copied your words in there entirety for future use. I’m now 73 and have suffered from stress and anxiety since long before I got there. Some folk think this is an old person’s affliction but their wrong. My depression earned me early retirement at the ripe old age of 52. Hang on in there!

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