Who Am I?

I’m reading a book called Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First by Laura Tremaine. She also has a podcast called 10 Things to Tell You that inspired the book. There are ten chapters and Laura shares portions of her own life and then there are writing prompts and questions for your own responses; a conversation with someone, or a journal entry, or in this case, a blog entry. I’ve actually used prompts from her in previous entries, so I’ll try them again.

Chapter One is “Who Are You?”.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I’m Val and I am a blusher. This is at least one part of who I am. I guess I’ve always been shy, but my first vivid memories that I was turning VERY red – causing further embarrassment – were in 9th and 10th grade. I remember a teacher commenting about it in 9th grade – and it’s amusing to think that he was one of my favorite teachers. (Why didn’t his comments make me mad?) My first vivid memory of blushing and being very conscious of it was in 10th grade. It was English class and I can even remember what the room looked like at my old high school. Tall windows, sun shining in. I’m not sure what the exact circumstances were, but it might have been comments around my 16th birthday.

Over these many decades, it has been an annoying buzz in the background of my life; wondering if any given situation would make me blush, and knowing some situations or people would definitely cause me to blush. I would be dreading it, and the dread would cause it even when I was long past any anxiety or shyness with a situation or person. Erythrophobia is the fear of blushing.

Having someone – a non-blusher obviously – point out that one’s “face is sooo red” would then worsen the symptoms. Trying to avoid circumstances that I feared would put me at risk for blushing obviously had an impact one’s life. But when it was impossible to avoid the risk – like a job interview, a presentation, then I’d dress appropriately:

Blushing does not only involve one’s face; a blotchy neck and hives is especially noticeable. I’ve been asked if I was having a medication reaction, if I was sunburned, if I was “ok”?

I’ve generally avoided public speaking as much as possible. High school oral reports were dreaded. Spending many years at home with kids, I didn’t face a lot of situations where I’d blush out of social anxiety. Starting a job and college at 39, entering nursing school at 44, and over the years, having a job involving talking to patients or superiors – plenty of blushing times. (Following a husband into his pastoring world for a few years, music ministry as a barely adequate piano player – fun times.) Eventually teaching a breastfeeding class as a lactation consultant, ironically, no blushing. I guess when I was the authority and fully prepared, the risk is greatly eliminated. But speaking to my peers in a teaching situation, I start out pale and end up blotchy. Talking to anyone in authority = blotchy neck eventually. Having difficult conversations with anyone – there is just no hiding my feelings or anxiety.

Menopause and hot flashes in my fifties exacerbated this and in my current job, I spent nearly a decade wearing turtle necks or a scarf, and when a hot flash started, the heat under a warm shirt or scarf did not help reduce any blushing. I started wearing make up foundation to even out the tones on my face if I was blushing underneath it.

The most irritating and frustrating aspect of this trait: you cannot fake anything. Your anxiety or stress or anger is revealed for all to see. Fight or Flight, as I learned in anatomy many years ago, permits the blush to happen rapidly (sympathetic nervous system), but the blush has no way to disappear quickly (parasympathetic nervous system). Hormones are fun and uncooperative. Hormone Replacement Therapy during menopause helped eliminate some of the hourly (!) flushes for a few years, but when I stopped the hormonal therapy, I also decided to stop wearing the turtle necks at work, and just go with it. I think I was tired of worrying about it all the time. It’s not like people who were familiar with me were surprised at a red face or blotchy neck, and new people would just learn that I really was “ok”.

I’ve always been aware of how much this trait has impacted my life, but in typing it out, it’s rather frustrating to realize just how MUCH a part of me this was. The trait hasn’t left. I just don’t have a lot of energy left to over worry about it.