After decades of working through depression, personal issues and unhealthy relationships -- with people and with food -- I feel like I've come out on the other end. (See my previous post for one version of a summary of those years.) Now most days I'm in a remarkably good mood and I'm very grateful for it. After spending most of my life baffled by people who answer "How are you?" with "Never been better!" I finally feel like one of them. I finally understand that life is good and I am good. Many days I suspect I never have been better, in terms of mood, spirit and physical health.
Yet in my happiness, I find myself pissing people off. My enthusiasm for life has turned many of my opinions into almost rabid passionate stances. My energy for connection and interaction with others drives me to root out other's opinions, engage in rigorous debate, and sometimes take the exercise too far (on topics such as how generations differ in their approach to technology, whether pitbulls are good dogs, why eating meat is important or why someone would say to me, "I don't think of you as in an interracial marriage." Et cetera.) My cheerful vigor seems to have made me more insensitive to how others are feeling and when it's time to drop the subject.
The good news is that after a while I usually realize I've made someone uncomfortable and I go back and apologize. Sometimes the other person accepts the apology graciously. Sometimes she doesn't know why I'm apologizing because our debate didn't bother her at all. And sometimes I lose a friendship.
My therapist says this doesn't mean I'm an asshole (my term, not hers), it means that not everyone can handle my personality. When I'm happy and the meds are working and my life feels good, I apparently become friendlier, but I play rough. I'm like our pitbull who leaps into the dog park ready to make friends, but whose rough-housing can be too much for other dogs. Those dogs back off and find somewhere else to play while the dogs that can match Ozzie's dominant energy happily meet him growl for growl.
Likewise my pointed statements and critical conversation might not appear as friendliness, but as antagonism, especially in the Midwest, where people tend to be more polite than on the coasts (my completely subjective opinion). As a Coast-er in the Midwest, this gives my life a slightly bull-in-a-china-shop dynamic. I made Chicago my home partly because I love how nice the people are here and, believe it or not, I've become a nicer person since moving here 19 years ago. Yeah, I know: can you imagine what I must have been like when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York state?
But the good part of my sometimes gruff personality is that I'm very good at taking criticism and tend to ask (beg) my friends to tell me when I've pissed them off so I have a chance to apologize and correct my behavior. It's not a popular characteristic of American friendship, but I need friends who aren't afraid to tell me in clear (blunt) terms what they need and what I'm doing wrong. I relish someone pointing out to me how I can improve my relationship with them. I crave communication, good or bad, two-way or one-sided. Lay it on me.
Fortunately my personality doesn't grate on everyone or I'd be a very lonely person. Some people don't mind my blunt, domineering assertions, nor do they mind stopping me when I've gone too far. My friends are flexible enough to bob and weave through a debate with me, tell me when I'm being a jerk (and accept my apology), or they just tune me out. I am very grateful to everyone who suffers me as a friend (thank you!). As much of a bitch as I might seem sometimes, this really is my best effort at friendship. You just need a thick skin to be a friend of mine, especially when times are good for me.