On status anxiety, roots, and even more inner work

I write about rejection sensitivity, the notion of losing love, and the resurfacing of younger selves. (Originally posted on Substack.)

Dear you,

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. I wanted to ponder on something that’s deeply personal and vulnerable: rejection sensitivity.

I learned about rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD) from the ADHD community, but it’s not exclusive to us. It’s also not an officially recognized condition, though it is very widely experienced.

I’m going to start by saying I handle rejection and failure very poorly. So poorly, that even the notion of potentially facing them makes me spiral and paralyzed. Badly put, if I don’t do the thing, I can’t be rejected for doing the thing.

And then you ask (as one does in cognitive therapy), “And then what?” What happens after rejection and why is it so bad?

“Well,” goes my spicy, wobbly, wonderful brain, “the people I love won’t love me anymore.”

The line of questioning ends there. There’s very little that needs to be unpacked afterward because everyone knows losing love means losing safety, warmth, company, and all the things that make life worth living.

On my birthday, I picked up Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety. In the very first chapter, he goes straight into “Lovelessness.”

The predominant impulse behind our desire to rise in the social hierarchy may be rooted […] in the amount of love we stand to receive as a consequence of high status. Money, fame and influence may be valued more as tokens of – and means to – love rather than ends in themselves.

Perhaps we can define love […] as a kind of respect, a sensitivity on the part of one person to another’s existence.

The book goes on and on about the concept of status with its consequences and depictions throughout history, but in that first chapter, I knew what I needed to know. Most of the things I chase can be dumbed down to this: “Our presence is noted, our name is registered, our views are listened to, our failings are treated with indulgence and our needs are ministered to. And under such care, we flourish.”

A few pages later, Botton covers why we seek that love and care from others. Simply put, because we’re unable to determine our own value by ourselves. Though I can push that further. Even if we could, in our minds, assign ourselves value, we would still be treated in our community according to the value that the community assigned us.

The marketplace won’t give me food simply because I’m naturally deserving of nourishment, and the hospital won’t treat me on the plain basis that my life is worth preserving.

There is a Tumblr post I can’t find at the moment that goes, loosely, “Think about how a person, who lives alone and has no friends or family, could possibly die of an illness or accident simply because there is no one who likes him enough.”

We are all, always, assigning status and trading value, and that’s how we move through our lives. Isn’t that terrifying? Suddenly, it doesn’t feel so silly when we want somebody to like us – ergo, to determine our value as enough. And suddenly, “They just want attention” isn’t the insult you thought it was.

I think about this as I foray into (among other things) content creation — reviving my Substack and Instagram, wielding pretty privilege as a makeshift weapon and trying to “game” the algorithm, even as my inner teen screams “Poser!!”

I’ll be honest about my goals. I want to be a writer. Not only that, I want to be a beloved writer. And nowadays, it seems, it can scarcely be done without being beloved first and a writer second.

There have been two things that helped me avoid the anxiety of the blank page. First, I don’t use my journals as heavily as I would like and only occasionally have to refill them. Second, I’ve only ever bought dotted notebook inserts for the longest time.

I bought a completely blank notebook for my diary insert recently and, upon opening the page, immediately met my old foe. Thankfully, I also had an old ally in my corner.

A few things have made a return to my life lately: collage, photography, tarot, journaling, and punk/alt music. Though the latter two never left, strictly speaking, I’ve started to become more aware of them and their relationship to my roots. And I love that word, because in 2017 when I started “coming alive” from my longest winter, I dubbed “Roots” the theme of my year. More on that later.

Photography and collage were a nice surprise, especially collage. I’ve had my camera since maybe 2017 or so, after my old one broke. It went unused for most of the year, most years, and I would have sold it at some point, only it has such little value by now that I might as well keep and use it. My collage tin – a metal box of magazine scraps and cutouts – has been unopened since maybe 2018.

I’m a word diarist by far, which means when I start writing, I’m only writing until my hands are tired or my stream of consciousness is dry. My diary pages very rarely have any decorations or doodles on them. It simply wasn’t me.

But today, when I opened to that blank page and immediately doubted if I had it in me to stain it, there was only one solution. I stuck a sticker on the cover page and drew an orange line on the first line.

Finally, the page is not blank, and I can write.

Maybe this is what they mean when they say “You just have to start.” Maybe it appeals to the disgruntled, productively defeatist voice in our head that mumbles “Might as well” when you’ve already taken the first step. When you’re halfway between Point A and Point B and it starts pouring rain, you begrudgingly sprint to Point B instead of turning back.

Louie and I trekked a muddy, freshly post-rain trail to our mountainside staycation and only halfway thought maybe we should have just waited for the 4×4. But trudging forward would be exactly as difficult as trudging back.

And so we marched on, muddy to our shins, regretting certain choices — but never the destination, never the company, and never ever the core memories that sprouted on that journey.

I don’t have quick access to my old blog posts, from before I took down my hosting and let it expire. But I remember in 2017, at the start and peak of my Medicated Era, I tried theming my years after a word. And 2017 being a Year 1 in numerology, I pronounced it a year of roots.

At the time, it was about fresh starts, trying new things, building my life from the bottom up. And yes, those things happened. Come to think of it, a lot of my life as it is began during that era, and I don’t regret it.

But there was an unspoken part to my new beginnings: a desperation to escape and erase the past. I wanted so badly to not be defined by the years I had lost, the wounds I used to have, and the naivete I wore like a flame attracting shame. I was planting new roots because I wanted to dishonor my old ones. I wanted to disown who I used to be, believing that it held me down.

It’s a complicated process, that I must also acknowledge and care for that younger self, the one who was trying to push away the rest of us. The one with a certain arrogance, the one that built herself a facade we could not eventually keep up. She grew layers and layers of skin that we soon shed because it was too thick, too heavy, too needy.

But I love her, because I owe a lot to her mistakes. Only she was brave enough to test our limits, and only she was reckless enough to try getting some help and being seen. All of us, all versions of me, want to be witnessed, and only that version of me looked directly into the spotlight, eyes bright and flaws on display like cheap jewelry.

I love her, and she loved me back.

Apple of 2017 started this tradition of writing an email to the following year. She wrote this on December 31, 2017, to be delivered to my Inbox exactly a year later:

I’m pressured to not place too much pressure on you, but I have so much banking on growth. The biggest thing I have to say about this year, with all its fears and failures, is that I grew. And I don’t know what I’d do if I found out that I stopped growing in the future. I write this in hopes that I turn out wrong, and somewhere in the future you’ll feel proud of yourself for keeping on going and you’ll wonder why I was ever worried.

I have so many questions. What projects did you do this year? Did you get ACD? Are you even still with Fitch? Are you still with Louie? Who did you meet this year? Which people are you holding close as 2019 begins? Where have you traveled? How is your mental health?

Are you well?

Are you happy?

2017 was the year that mental illness became reality, and I know 2018 brought in some new realities for you. I hope you managed. I hope you’re proud of yourself for making it through. I’m tearing up just at the thought of you reading this a year from now because then you’ll be reminded of the greatest achievement of them all: you made it through. You didn’t give up on life. I know things got bleak and scary, but you pushed through and survived. Thrived, even! I’m so proud of you no matter what.

There is so much I want to say to you but there is too much I do not yet know. I love you more than a year can hold.


You see now? I love her, and she loved me back.

And so I must trudge on, mind heavy with status anxiety and feet muddy with my mistakes, to complete the journey that I’ve already started.

I’ll see you all at the top.

With all the grace I can muster,

Apple Nocom Avatar

Let's chat.