I am lucky that I can wear headphones when I’m in my office, so long as there isn’t a client visiting that day. Music and podcasts are essential to helping me get through some of the more mundane parts of my job. Yet sometimes the headphones are simply a barrier between me and the rest of the world.
Fortunately, most of the people I work with are decent. And by decent I mean they don’t talk to me often, because then that would force me to think about what to say back to them and that is just exhausting, especially on top of an already long day. Yet luckily my headphones offer an added insurance policy against them talking to me. Sometimes I just put them in without listening to anything, just to ensure I’m not bothered. And the sound of silence is wonderful for my anxiety.
It might sound a little unusual. After all it’s just small talk. But for someone suffering from social anxiety, small talk is incredibly draining, and on more than one occasion I’m pretty sure I just walked away at the first awkward pause to prevent people from talking to me more.
And there is a part of me that hates it. I feel ridiculous, trying to isolate myself from people who are just making conversation, just like I feel ridiculous passing on a social invitation because I know my anxiety just can’t handle it that day. But it is what I need right now.
Because self-care like this is important. It is essential in fact. Taking care of yourself is the first step to improving yourself. And it does get better, even if in the darkness it doesn’t seem like it. Because tomorrow maybe I need to hide behind my headphones a little less. And the day after that maybe even less. And maybe, someday, I’ll manage my anxiety to the point I can engage in small talk like a normal person and not need to hide behind my headphones at all. But until then they offer me a shield, even if the shield consists of nothing more than the sound of silence.