Sunday, January 19, 2014

Anxiety Adventures: Part 4: Attention, Please!

Anxiety is a funny beast, especially when mixed together with my personality, which craves attention and interaction. I am torn between wanting people to pay attention to me and wanting to melt into the back of the room. I hate it when no one comes to sit by me, but sometimes I like to be alone. Often I want to say something important, but I also want to keep my mouth shut so no one will look at me. 

It's a little insane, isn't it? 

I'm kind of awkward socially. I feel like I say the wrong things-- I either share too much (ahem... like this blog) or not enough. I fidget and touch people's arm or shoulder, not knowing whether they might not like to be touched. I laugh loudly (HA!) or completely miss the joke. I'm pretty good at tact and I think I avoid offending people for the most part, because I am careful, but sometimes I walk away thinking, "idiot idiot idiot!" 

Like the time I complimented my boss (with whom I have a strictly professional relationship) on his tie and I reached out to touch it-- against my will, seriously-- my stupid hand just lifted up and grabbed it. He's rather tall, so his tie is about eye level to me. It was very, very awkward. I blushed and about died of embarrassment. I said "Nice tie! I love Star Wars." and let go and walked away quickly. Later I punished my hand by not letting it have any of my M&Ms.

While I'm articulate in writing, sometimes while speaking, I get jumbled and flustered and my tongue messes up. Particularly in a social setting, without a script. Blurting out "My abusive mom left when I was 12 and my dad had to raise 7 kids by himself" when someone asks me about my childhood probably isn't the best opening. Or worse, when a stranger in public verbally dumps on me about their pending divorce, flesh-eating bacterial infection (yes, that really happened) or wayward children and all I can say is, "huh. That's... too... bad..." because my mind is both blank and filled with colorful chaos at the same time.

I do really well giving a talk or reading aloud, but social conversation eludes me. I don't like small talk. I don't like being asked how I am when I'm not doing well, because I know that's not what people want to hear. They don't want an honest answer, but I don't like to lie. I do often talk about the weather, because it's a legitimate, current topic, but I'm usually painfully aware that we're talking about the weather and they must think I'm inept if that's the only thing I can think of to say. 

Maybe some of this is just me-- maybe it's not anxiety so much as personality. I've always said and done the wrong things. In high school, when I went to a girls-choice dance with the boy I had had a 5-year crush on, I hardly said a word. All night. My mind was simultaneously blank and filled with visions of our future marriage and the beautiful children we would have (he's very good looking) and the only words I kept thinking of were, "I'm on a date with George! I can't believe I'm with George! Everyone can see me with George! We're dancing! It's George!" *

Yeah. I'm still embarrassed about that one... 

I didn't marry him, by the way, but I do have incredibly beautiful children anyway. 

Then there was the one boy who asked me to a boys-choice dance-- it was Homecoming our senior year and I hardly knew him at all, but I guess he must have liked me a lot, because he crushed me during a couple of slow songs and I was mortified. I didn't like him and I wasn't attracted to him and I was (and still am) modest to the extreme, so to be physically squeezed (mildly assaulted?) on the dance floor made me VERY uncomfortable. So did I say, "Hey, man, loosen up, I can't breathe!" or make a joke, like "Scott- you're crushing me! I'm not a... something you crush!" 

No. I did not. I told him I needed to go talk to my friend, James (who was gay, but I don't know if Scott knew that) and I went and sat at a table with James for most of the rest of the night. Scott felt really bad, I could tell, but I couldn't bring myself to care, nor to articulate an apology, though I really should have. I was just incredibly uncomfortable with him and couldn't think of words to say. Maybe I should hunt him down and apologize now... 

Or maybe not.

Anyway, it's all a roller coaster ride. At least I (mostly) have fun along the way. And at least I give myself lots of things to look back and laugh (or cringe) at... 

*I changed the name of the 5-year crush in that story. I doubt he will ever read this, but I prefer not to be so obvious if he does. It's not like it was a secret, though. Everyone who knew me knew I had a massive crush on him. Sigh... see? AWKWARD.


Stephanie Paxman said...

Steph--that was totally me at a dance in 10th grade! 2 year crush...but still hardly a word all night! Not sure who felt more uncomfortable, him or me, but I still couldn't stop thinking.. This is the best thing ever :)

Steph said...

Ha ha, I'm glad I'm not alone. :)