real and perceived judgement

I get bogged down by others’ expectations of me, real or perceived. In fact, the perceived (i.e. false) expectations weigh more heavily on me because they’re what I actually believe. As I’ve written about previously, any sort of judgement of myself ties into my worth as a person. So the stakes are high: it’s not just a specific skill or ability that’s being judged, it’s my self worth.

I feel some of this judgement (actually from myself, perceived from others) about foreign languages. Languages are one of my main hobbies/passions/interests; it is a double-edged sword, because although I get a lot of enjoyment and excitement out of them, I also keenly feel so much discouragement brought on by judgement of my ability. I get overwhelmed mainly by what I “should” know.

There is a difference between my idea of what I “should” know regarding German and Spanish vs. French and Japanese. German I should know because I’ve been studying it for many, many years. Spanish I should know because I have been surrounded by it for many, many years and have had opportunities to learn from native speakers. So, I’m much harder on myself when I lack knowledge about these two languages. Contrast that with French and Japanese. I only took French for two years, and that was over a decade ago. I think I can still speak it reasonably well though, especially considering that I haven’t really studied it formally since. I have been taking Japanese classes for almost a year, and I can’t speak very much at all. But there’s no reason I should be able to speak better—I haven’t been surrounded by Japanese speakers or in any situation where it would be obviously useful.

So, according to the context, I speak French and Japanese relatively well. Relatively well for what’s expected, that is. But who exactly is even expecting it? Mainly me.

I used to go to German meetups frequently. It’s fun for me to practice languages and learn new things. But some of the habits of the other participants directly aggravated these insecurities for me, so I haven’t gone lately. The main habit I’m referring to is starting with small talk about how you learned the language and how long you’ve been studying it. AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAHAHAGHGHGHA.

I realize not everyone would hear my answer and think, “I expect her to speak flawlessly then!” But somehow that’s what my mind assumes. [There is a lot of divide for me between what I understand intellectually and what I feel emotionally. I often realize a perception is incorrect, but I still keenly feel it and it distresses me.]

I don’t ever want to say the actual number of years. I especially don’t want to say that I have a degree in it! So I have usually said something noncommittal like, “I don’t know exactly, because it has been off and on.”

I don’t like adding the context of how many years, and I think it’s actually a fairly useless question to ask! I get that it’s an applicable question for everyone at such a meetup, so people gravitate toward it like other small talk questions. But everyone’s context is so different! Someone could have studied German for five years, but it was every day and intensely, while someone else spoke for 30 minutes once a week in German for five years. That’s why I say it’s useless, because it’s not enough information. I just get the feeling (and I admit I could be completely wrong) that people often ask because they’re trying to figure out how long it takes to get to different proficiency levels. It’s not that they’re judging you to condemn you—it’s more like “They speak better than me, and since they have studied German for two years longer, I can expect to get to that level in two years.”

I would say that these meetups could be more enjoyable if there were no useless small talk questions, but I’d rather learn to be more resilient to those questions. I’d rather not care if someone analyzes my ability based on number of years I’ve studied it. I’d rather not care if they think that I am hopelessly incompetent.

I would say I’d rather just focus on myself and how I enjoy speaking languages, but the truth is that a lot (most?) of the judgement actually comes from myself. Whether the fellow participants are actually looking down on me or not, I think that they are, and that affects me. I think resiliency to judgment comes from lessening the judgment from myself first. I want to be more compassionate towards myself.


Misfortune Collage

I have spent much time sad without channeling it into anything (relevant information: I have major depression). There are long stretches of time I can’t remember very well because I didn’t write about how I was feeling or leave any other sort of expression of it. All I can vaguely remember is that I was sad, and the nuances of that feeling are forgotten.

I want to try more to express myself artistically when I’m feeling well or bad alike. I don’t want to heap even more expectations on myself when I’m obviously already not feeling well, so instead of saying I should do it, or need to do it, I will try to just point out to myself that it will be helpful for the future, to keep track of time and to create some sort of tangible expressive artefact.

Recently, I did attempt to qualify my mood with a collage. It is called Not knowing in her fear what to begin with, full of sad apprehension, she expected some misfortune.

About the title: several years ago I bought a Russian grammar book from a deeply discounted used book sale. I like using book excerpts for collages, and my intention was to find interesting phrases to use (and find out how to write them in Russian!). The title was a sample sentence in the book. This was a gem of a line to find as it was so representative of how I was feeling.

misfortune (1)

In the top left is a page from the book Hang in There! written by Lucille Boesken and illustrated by Fran Kariotakis, copyright 1972. It’s one of those books that is sincere and means well (it reassures you of the book-giver’s friendship, for example) but contains dismissive language like, “Tomorrow your worries/And troubles will ‘scat’/Just trust and believe/It’s as simple as that!” I chose the page because I felt it was descriptive of having depression, and there was a certain satisfaction to just including that one page without the syrupy “encouragement.” I think the sad sun is an interesting image–I’ve only seen drawings of suns with faces that are either happy or neutral. I feel like this sun could be a symbol of me–maybe because I can smile and be extremely friendly and laugh sometimes, but then I have extremely hopeless and despairing moods too, sometimes simultaneously. Someone who only knows the happy-mood me could be surprised that I actually have serious depression. You don’t expect the sun to be sad.

The gas mask is there as a symbol of horror (for example, of what awful things humans can do to each other) and fear. The hearts and definitions reflect the connotation of the heart as the centre of emotion. They are part of a dictionary page that is layered on another dictionary page, this one missing the definitions for ‘worriment’ and ‘worry’ (and replaced by the collage’s title in Russian). ‘Worriment’ and ‘worry’ are toward the bottom left (pasted on top of the Hang in There! page to add to the sentiment of the rain not quitting and cares pressing you down).

Underneath that is a couple of scrap excerpts from the E.E. Cummings book Tulips and Chimneys, from the section entitled “La Guerre” (“the war” in French). One of the poems in this section is “Humanity i love you,” which actually expresses the opposite as it progresses to the last lines, which are the ones I’ve included. (What interesting bookends to a poem: “Humanity i love you” and “Humanity i hate you.”) I do tend to obsess about seemingly insignificant things, but part of my being depressed also includes a heaping helping of existential angst and despair about the state of the world.

In the middle, above the gas mask, is a selection from a book of proverbs and quotations. The full quote is, “He who is virtuous is wise; and he who is wise is good; and he who is good is happy.” Messages like this, conflating virtue and wisdom to happiness, have hurt me–because then what are the implications if I’m chronically not happy? Luckily I don’t internalize those messages as much anymore, but I definitely used to–especially when I first started feeling down and didn’t know the cause. I thought I must be doing something wrong or must be a bad person. When I see thoughts like this, it still angers me a little though, which is why I pasted the word ‘lie’ beneath it, along with synonyms (it was from a thesaurus page).

This simple collage packs a powerful meaning to me. Represented are aspects of depression that affect me, like chronic worry about day-to-day things (‘worriment,’ ‘worry’) as well as worry about the state and nature of humanity and how flawed and unjust the world can be (the gas mask, “Humanity i hate you”). Perhaps I should make some photocopies and hand them out to strangers who nonchalantly ask how I’m doing but don’t really care about the answer. That is how I’m feeling, buddy. Thanks for asking.