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My spirit animal is a trumpetfish

Updated: May 31, 2023


I was diving this morning and I’ve decided my spirit animal is a trumpetfish. Trumpetfish are long, slender, goofy looking fish. They come in all different colors. They are graceful, glide through the water, and are very good at blending into the background.


Okay – so I'm goofy (like a trumpetfish). But, physically, I am nothing like a trumpetfish. I am short and curvy. I love to dance, but I’m not particularly graceful.


But see, I love to blend into the background. Talking to people I don’t know? Terrifying! I hate it. I mean – I am a therapist after all. I should know how to start a conversation! But, when I get around strangers, usually the only thing I can think of is, “wow – this weather is... (add adjective)”. I have social anxiety.


I mean, I’m not the worst of the worst. I’ve seen people even more awkward than me, but I’ve definitely said something inappropriate. I’ve scratched my brain trying to come up with something ­– anything – interesting to say. I’ve told an inappropriate joke. I’ve felt awkward and dumb.


So, what is that? The therapist who has social anxiety? Yep. I think you’ll actually find that most therapists have reasons why they became therapists. I mean, I didn’t become a therapist to deal with social anxiety, but having the skills of a therapist definitely helps me in social settings. Plus, I like therapy because I get to interact with people according to preset “rules.”


You know what is funny though? Depending on which friends you talked to of mine, some of them would have no idea that I feel this way. I’m good at faking it. I’m also perfectly fine if I have supports around me. In fact, I bet some of my friends would say I’m an extrovert (I’m not). Some of my friends think I’m outgoing (also not). But I’m good at acting like I am.


But there is a risk, right? Many of us who grew up in less than stable households learned that standing out is not safe. Many also learn that other people, especially strangers, are also dangerous. Add on to that the vulnerability of getting close to people who could hurt you. It’s a wonder some of us ever leave the house.


There is a rub though. Most of us want to be noticed by some people. We want to be appreciated for who we are. We want to be appreciated for our gifts and talents. We want to stand out! Wait, what?


I know. It doesn’t make sense.


Many moons ago, I had applied to be the Executive Director of an agency where I worked. Truth be told, I didn’t necessarily want the job. I just cared about the agency a lot and didn’t want it to be run into the ground. My therapist asked me if I wanted the job. She told me, exactly what I just said, that I seemed to have competing/opposing interests. I did not want to be the face of the agency (or any agency for that matter), but I wanted them to realize that I was smart, and talented and deserved the position.


And, for me – it’s merely social anxiety that causes this rub. It’s history. I know for many others it is literally not safe to speak up. It’s not merely their own history, but societal history.


I’ve wondered about that. What makes some people willing to throw fear aside and stand up or stand out. Some people take real risks, and not the inconsequential risk of possibly looking silly at a social gathering. They risk their jobs, their freedom, their lives.


I’ve asked my boyfriend about this before. He has often spoken up at times that I wish I could but feel frozen by fear. That’s one of the many reasons I think he is so incredible. He is willing to stand up for what he believes in. He said something interesting though. He said he thought it was that for many people, something snaps inside of them. They just can’t take it anymore. He brought up Rosa Parks. He laughed that she probably just couldn’t take one more day of being pushed out of a seat for a white person. Maybe he is right.


But, do we have to be pushed too far to stand up? Do we have to snap in order to stand out? I don’t think so. But how do we get to the other side of fear? Is there another side of fear?


There is a theoretical approach in social work/counseling called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The idea is that we don’t “get over” our (name that issue – anxiety, fear, sadness, depression, etc). We take it along with us if we are pursuing something we find meaning in. In other words, does the reward outweigh the risk? I like this approach. I borrow aspects of this from time to time. And I borrow it in my own life.


So, I quit my job and came to Roatan to pursue diving. Some have told me that they think this is ballsy. I think it was calculated. I’m definitely hoping that the reward is greater than the risk. But it’s nothing compared to talking with a stranger at a party. (ha!) We all have our fears.


To come full circle though – when it comes to the trumpetfish – the trumpetfish is amazing at blending in. It looks just like a blade of grass or a piece of coral. But the fantastic thing about the trumpetfish, is it can be absolutely brilliant and stand out when it wants to. Occasionally, the trumpetfish shines in glory all by itself. I strive to be that trumpetfish.


Photo courtesy of Mickey Charteris. You can find his work at https://www.caribbeanreeflife.com or on Facebook.

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