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‘Help! I’m Annoying’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

I’m a Taurus enby, I’m gay, and yes, I’m annoying. Sometimes I think it’s one of my endearing traits. But that doesn’t make it any less hurtful when life reminds me that, no, really, I’m actually annoying. I feel like I can’t help it! I tend to project my insecurities onto other people, and that can be tiring for others. I try to be aware of this tendency and not let it rule my life.

But one incident this morning tripped me up. I accidentally signed into the wrong Instagram account where I hadn’t unfollowed this boy I have a history with. I couldn’t resist the urge to check on him, and doing so made me feel genuinely anxious because I saw some, uh, what do they call “subtweets” on Instagram? “Substories”?

Anyway, I saw them, and they wrecked my day. I told one of my best friends about this to vent, and he told me “No one cares about you that much” and that my antics made him feel “tired.” Papi, that hit me in the gut. A person I truly cared about was calling me annoying.

I spent most of the day crying in my office’s bathroom, feeling worthless and shitty. What do I do with this pain? What should I say to my best friend, and how do I either stop being annoying or stop caring so much about it?

Annoying Enby

Howdy, AE!

I have a lot of people in my life whom I love dearly. I want the best for them. I worry about them. When they succeed, I’m happy. When they fail, I try my best to be there for them. There are many people wandering this earth with whom I feel I have a sacred bond; relationships I hope to keep until my dying day.

And yet, no matter how much I might love someone, no matter how much I respect them and cherish them and would be willing to sacrifice my organs for them if they asked, there is not a single person alive I’ve known for a significant period of time who hasn’t, at some point, annoyed me.

Here are some “fun” facts about me, AE: I’m crabby. I hate loud noises. I am a terrible texter. Catch me making entire threads on Twitter while my loved ones are asking me if I’m alive. I like attention, but only of a quiet, specific sort. Other kinds make me nervous and hostile.

I’m not done! I tend to “pick” at things. When I’m anxious about something I ask a million questions, hoping I can probe the problem to death. I am a poor team player. I don’t like working with others, and I don’t think they like working with me. I am prone to fits of passion for projects that excite me and I will stay up day and night to complete them at a breakneck pace. But then, when I am assigned something, I become flighty, distracted, and less than trustworthy.

Whew, that felt good. The point is, I am annoyed quite a bit, and I provide ample reasons for other people to be annoyed with me. Humanity is an enormous group project, and we are all unwilling partners in it, and that means we will often (often) be annoyed with one another. Being annoyed has been, like, half of my existence so far. That’s a conservative estimate.

We all have different personalities, AE! Our lives come in different shapes with different jagged edges, and in the necessary act of moving past each other, we will inevitably grate on one another. In a certain view, this is kind of a cute, funny thing. I think it gives texture and depth to our relationships. Taco meat without vinegar, without some element of acid, is pretty bland.

Having said that, I’ve historically struggled in this department. It used to be the case that when I knew someone was annoyed with me, it was the end of the world. My best guess is that because I suffered abuse as a kid, it rearranged the ecosystem of my emotions: If I displease someone, they might hurt me. If someone doesn’t like me, they might be violent with me.

As a person with a big(ish?) platform, I’ve seen a lot of negative things said about me, and over the years I’ve noticed which part of my brain lights up when I do. It’s the “fight or flight” office. My body stiffens, my heart rate increases, and I either want to run away or overreact with aggression. It’s a horrible feeling, AE. It’s the kind of feeling that should be reserved for, I don’t know, a bear attack or something. It makes me want to vomit.

I’m not saying that’s your experience, necessarily, but some of the coping mechanisms I’ve stumbled upon might serve you too. In this safe, controlled environment, I want you to entertain the worst-case scenario: To some people, including your friend in this situation, you are annoying. Sit with that, and then ask, So what?

It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy of friendship. It just means you agitated someone. And more than that, it could be the case that a projection of you agitated someone. Someone might hate me, but it doesn’t mean they have a more cogent view of who I really am than anyone else does. We bring a lot of personal baggage to the act of perceiving another person. The same is true when people look at us.

I’m not saying we can’t be mindful or do our best to rein in our worst impulses. Over time, I’ve become better aware of the things I might do that are inconsiderate or that might make people uncomfortable. This is normal and healthy. It’s less normal, and less healthy, to torture ourselves over someone else’s (often temporary) opinions of us. This serves no one, and is more often than not our own Trauma Response Team working overtime.

All I can do, AE, is my best. And after going down the “decent person” checklist, I always reach this bedrock: I am not in control of how other people respond to me, nor am I willing to diminish myself to satisfy them. Even if they’re wrong, even if they’re being unfair, and even if I don’t agree with it, they have the right to feel how they feel about me. That doesn’t make it my problem.

I think your friend could have responded better to you, and I think you made the right call in the first place by unfollowing that other guy. Sometimes temptation wins and we make mistakes, as you did. But we can learn and grow from those and move on with our lives. I support you communicating to your friend that what he said hurt you. Try having an open, honest dialogue about it with him. If he’s not receptive to that, or worse, downplays your feelings, then maybe he’s not a great friend.

I’m rooting for you, AE! Now get off my lawn.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on February 18, 2020.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Preorder JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, out June 8, here.

‘Help! I’m Annoying’