This post is not entirely about funeral service, but it’s about who I am and how that occasionally affects my job as a funeral director.
Today, it’s fashionable to be an introvert, to be socially anxious, to be awkward…or rather, to SAY you are.
You are not an introvert. You agree, “Oh ya I totally HATE ppl LOL, there [sic] so stupid!” But last night you went out to a bar with a few friends (people) and you met some others (people) and you invited them home (your sacred space) to consume more alcohol.
That’s pretty cool! Driving around with a cracked windshield for six months because to file a claim and get it fixed, you have to talk to a person…not as cool.
You say you can’t stand pointless conversation? I once got laryngitis and could not make a vocal sound for a whole week. I was worried about how this would affect my job, only to find out that no one even noticed. Not talking for a week isn’t exactly out of character for me.
You think I go through a fifth of 151 proof rum every day because I’m a “party girl?” I got a lot of criticism for my recent bodybuilding win; people said that no one who “parties” during preparation for a show deserves to win her class. Where’s the “party” in being dependent on a substance just so you can face the world? In hiding a bottle behind the embalming fluid and knowing your co-workers will look the other way because of how useless you are without it? [Speaking with five months sober at this time]
You like alcohol because it helps you loosen up and have fun with other people. I like it because it helps me deal with the fact that there ARE other people.
It costs an extra $2000 per class to complete a university degree online at the school I attended…and that is what I paid, in order to escape the torture of being informed at a moment’s notice that rather than handing in our essays, why don’t we read them aloud to our small groups?
“Why do you have headphones on?!” Because I’m an incredibly anxious person and I find music distracts me from those feelings. Why are you approaching a complete stranger and asking a question about her lifestyle?
“I know what u mean; I’m afraid of crowds too.” You know what I mean? You go grocery shopping at 2 AM and then make sure the aisle is completely empty before going to get what you need? And keep circling the store until the other person is gone? And if the aisle is never empty, you just try again another day? Yes, I hate crowds too.
“Why r u like this?” I don’t know. Why are you the way you are? Why do you like macaroni and Peter Gabriel and raising saltwater fish? Why are you afraid of snakes even though we don’t live in an area with poisonous ones? You know that tarantula that will not harm you at all, but that you don’t want near you because it’s creepy? That’s how I feel about you.
“LOL I like dogs way better than ppl!” I hate dogs. Dogs like people, and I hate that. Being anywhere with a dog also invites conversation from people. “Oh wow what’s your dog’s name??!!” What’s your mom’s name? What’s your wife’s name? Why don’t we just stand here and list the names of the people and things in our lives?
So…what about life? Work? Dating?
Yes, I leave the house. There was a time when I didn’t. I was nineteen and a literal shut-in. Lived off a boyfriend, could not even step outside without full-blown panic that put me in the hospital. I had been using heroin and other drugs for a few years and simply did not know how to get along in the world without them. It took several months of staying clean and talking to a counselor (the boyfriend had to drive me to appointments) before I could do things like take a bus alone or go to a job interview. Eventually I learned. I can’t walk outside and stand in my yard, but I can open the door and stick a leg out. Tomorrow I will try a leg and a hand. Then I will stand on the porch. I can go back into the house at any time this becomes uncomfortable.
This is my life. This is not “Netflix is better than ppl, lol!”
I don’t really “date.” I have a man. The men I end up with tend to be people I have met in some manner, known for a while, made friends with (often out of our mutual dislikes) and then chose for a relationship. But if I want to do something like set up a dating profile and meet a stranger, that takes large amounts of alcohol and usually I get so anxious I do not set up a second date. And, it goes without saying that men who stick with me tend to be a little weird themselves.
I work, of course. My work is one of the few things in the world that matters to me. So, how can I do it? How can I force myself to interact with people, in those situations where I have to attend a funeral? (Many people do not realize that a job in funeral service involves a lot more than just the dead body. We deal with clergy, police, hospitals, nursing homes, newspapers and most importantly, the still-living family of the deceased.)
Number one: Drugs. Now that I’m not drinking, I rely more on my anti-anxiety medication. It works quickly, it’s cheap and it’s fairly weak, so I am still able to drive and to work with sharp tools. I have seen several therapists for non-drug help, and while I find most of it to be of some use, meditation and relaxation exercises do not provide quick relief right when it is needed. The medication takes the edge off and I don’t think people can tell I am “on something.”
Another thing that helps is no one really wants to be at the funeral. They want to be at the funeral like I want to be left alone at a party you talked me into attending. Many anxious people get along well with other anxious people; people who would really rather be at home. No one at the funeral is wondering what my problem is or why I’m not interacting and talking.
Absolutely no problem for me: telling a family that, honestly, their child probably suffered as she died. I can have that family laughing and hugging me (yes, I’ll allow it) within an hour. Excruciating: “Let’s all go around the room and introduce ourselves!” I will hide in a closet for several hours. Not joking; I’ve done it. With a small child in tow. No one told me I was going to have to talk at the thing.
Being introverted does not mean I have no confidence in my abilities. I know I am the best person to be serving that family. If I did not believe this, I would have passed them along to another director.
Introversion does not mean self-hate or false modesty. I can easily wear a bikini on stage in front of thousands of people because I know I am better-looking than most of the competitors and have great presentation…even if people think someone who “parties” like I do does not deserve to win.
On stage, I do not have to talk. I have rehearsed my routine multiple times and know what to do. I know it looks great, I know I have it down pat, and I can run through it and exit stage without having to interact with anyone. I can easily follow a scripted set of instructions. Ask me to “freestyle” and we have a problem.
“But u can’t go thru life like this!” Are you sure? Like this, I’ve managed to live independently. I got my first apartment at 18, not 26. I make more money than most people I know. I accomplish everything I say I will do, within a reasonable time frame. I earned two college degrees and have raised two children who, as of yet, are not druggies or flunkies. I have the EXACT career I want; not just “a job in the field.” I cannot name one thing I want that I cannot do, buy or have.
So I can’t go to that party. I still have a cracked windshield. (I finally filed a claim online.) I can’t freestyle a posing routine, so my contest preparation will cost a lot more for me than for someone who doesn’t need a professional choreographer. My controlled substance prescriptions need to be filled via a phone call, which sucks. I still have the life I want.
If one day I am very discontent with my life and everything in it, that is when I will consider making some changes. As of now, I have no reason to.