I used to be one of the most confident, outgoing people you could ever meet. My mother feared at how bold I was approaching people the moment I could speak. ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ was not something I took to heart.
Now? I am still confident, but quietly. And I am outgoing when I have to be but I mostly choose not to put myself in situations where it is necessary.
What changed? When? Why? How? Looking back, I think some of my introverted nature began as an older child.
I was often grounded to my bedroom for not cleaning it or not doing my schoolwork. So my socialization happened in my imagination. Or by fighting with my sister.
Our school didn’t really allow for interaction in class either. We each had our own ‘office’ and we did our own work at our own pace. Self taught unless you had a question. You would put up a flag in your cubicle and the classroom supervisor would come and help you with your question. But you didn’t interact with the other kids unless it was recess. If you had a habit of not doing your schoolwork? You didn’t get recess. Detention meant staying at your desk while everyone else got to play for 15 minutes.
I only vaguely remember my teenage years. I worked so there was a degree of socialization there. But I was obese by teenage and I had restrictions that made me kind of an outcast, for lack of a better word. I felt like an outcast.
For example? Our school uniforms were chosen by the students. And they all had great figures. They picked them out at Mariposa. But I couldn’t fit them so I had to have my uniforms specially made at a seamstress. And they sure didn’t flatter me. Without actually being rejected, because that wasn’t allowed in my school, I felt rejected . So I didn’t really have close friends.
My school dynamic had changed to be classroom style by Grade 10 so there was interaction that way but it was still a lot of ‘work quietly at your desk’. I was known for skipping class. I spent a lot of time in the girls bathroom. It’s even in the yearbook, “Shaunda was known for leaving class to take her meds”.
I didn’t have boyfriends and that didn’t bother me. My crushes were on both boys and girls. I was too busy being confused to act on anything. Felt too ugly to act on anything. Mostly spent my time praying God would take my sexuality away so I wouldn’t act on anything.
My sister, who was my best friend, had left our home by then so I didn’t have her anymore. I had one close girlfriend who turned out to be a bit psycho. Very troubled. And some metalhead guy I met at the baseball grounds on church baseball night who seemed to care about me.
But mostly, I felt like I was alone. I felt like I should get used to that because it was my destiny. So I developed my personality around driving people away and staying to myself. Avoidance turned into a habit. And when confronted with other life issues avoidance turned into social anxiety.
At least I think that is what happened after pondering it for a few days.
My anxiety is not managed now. I used to take medication when I had anxiety attacks. However I haven’t found a doctor or renewed my prescription for a couple years now. So I avoid things that make me anxious. I try to shop on weekday mornings to miss crowds. I skip out on events I think I would enjoy so I don’t have to talk to people. I have my ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign up almost 24/7.
Even with my avoidance? Lately my anxiety is over the top. Part of that comes from hearing things said about me that I know aren’t true. Part of it is just my nerves. Part of it is wanting to develop healthier friendships and not knowing how. (How can you get to be 42 and not know how to develop lasting friendships? I feel like an epic fail, socially. That doesn’t help either.)
But I really want to grow past this. In an effort to overcome my social anxiety I attempted micro-dosing social interaction yesterday.
How do you do that? Well, you go sit on a park bench, close to the high school, at lunchtime, with a kitten. Yep, for two hours Sami ran after every group of teens or teachers that walked past. So many people stopped for a two minute interaction to pet her or ask about her. One lonely looking girl even sat down to have her lunch with me. And thanked me after for letting her play with Sami.
The kitten buffer helped. I didn’t get nervous at all. I actually enjoyed all the little interactions. And by the time it was time to go do the grocery shopping? I felt more calm. The store crowds didn’t bother me and I didn’t get grocery cart aisle rage.
I’ll have to learn how to do this without the kitten but one step at a time, right? I felt like I had an anxiety success day yesterday!