Looking back on writing Breathing In Manual I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by compassion for the person I was just a couple of years ago, or to be more specific, for the person I thought I had no choice but to be.
By 2020, even before people had begun throwing the term “pandemic” around, I had firmly accepted that anxiety would always be a defining feature of my personality, that neuroticism was a concept that would always be equated with the name “Jill Blutt”. It wasn’t really a solemn acceptance as much as a playful one—I’d concluded that my best defense against people judging me for this anxiety was to get ahead of it, to own it in a way that I could build a brand around. So I made a home for it among other identifying factors of mine, nestled right between “Jewishness” and “existentialism”. I found ways to play it off as charming, trying desperately to spin it into a kind of Seth-Cohen-style nervousness.
In reality, I knew at the time that it was a lot deeper than overthinking everything and occasionally stumbling through interpersonal encounters. People who had known me for a long time prior knew, also, that my fear of the world around me and my inability to understand or connect with it manifested in a myriad of limiting behaviors. Behaviors that at the time were perhaps merely embarrassing from the outside looking in, but from the inside, fortified the walls of a prison the outside of which I had never really known. I struggled deeply and often publicly to escape this prison.
At the time of writing Breathing In Manual, I thought surely I had found my escape in acceptance. With the help of great support systems, I had long since stopped using unhealthy coping mechanisms in attempts to eliminate the distress and was living relatively comfortably with the belief that panic attacks and social dysfunction would be a regular part of my life forever.
Even as the pandemic made these factors worse, I maintained the belief that this was as good as it could get. And I was fairly happy. I wrote Breathing about this level of functionality that I thought many would be able to relate to. I think many did and still do. I experienced several moments since then that tested my ability to survive without the help of old coping mechanisms. I also experienced several moments which seemed to confirm all of the fears I’d had about the world—especially, that I was “weird” in a way that was still weirder even than self-proclaimed weirdos were, that my anxieties were character deficits that I simply had to learn to accommodate because they weren’t going anywhere. I felt immovably that they were somehow, deep down, my fault, and people around me seemed to echo that, whether they intended to do so or not.
With all due respect to those people and their good intentions, I reject that version of myself wholly now. In doing so, I found that the anxiety subsided substantially. I realize that my acceptance of that anxiety was not radical or nuanced or dialectic at all, that I was still carrying around the shame of my weirdness and the guilt that it was my fault, still trying to make myself palatable and understandable for a palate I could never understand, and in doing so only reinforcing the problem.
I now refuse to associate with anyone who is not themselves weird in a way that is compatible with my own. I refuse to give airtime to the voice in my head that was taught to speak by people who had already set out to dislike me from the moment they met me. I think everyone that’s ever turned their nose up at someone for displaying signs of neuroatypicality—everyone that’s ever giggled at someone’s behavior with their friends because of the ways it failed to meet their standards of normality, everyone that’s ever responded with judgment rather than sympathy to the ways that someone’s internal struggle might sometimes ooze out into the open, everyone that’s ever believed for even one moment that they’re better than someone else just because they intuitively know exactly how and when to laugh during a conversation—enjoy rotting awesomely at the absolute hottest table in all of Hell :)