My wife and I were with our daughter at baby swim class recently and my wife, quite naturally, struck up a conversation with the mother next to us. And objectively speaking I will admit that it is easier when you have an adorable baby and you are talking to a fellow parent, comparing milestones etc. Nevertheless, I was completely flummoxed by this. For extroverted people, like my wife, the world is full of friendly people to meet. For me, and introverts like me, people are terrifying (especially when they say hello).
Another case in point was a women who complemented my shirt while grocery shopping. I smiled (which she couldn’t see since it was under my mask), thanked her, and then ran away like she was a serial killer as opposed to a friendly lady saying hello. I mean I didn’t run run, more of a quick determined walk, but in my mind I was fleeing a terrifying encounter. Because that is what my mind makes of unsolicited interactions with strangers.
And it is an incredibly isolating way of living, looking out on the world, watching it go by, strangers meeting and becoming friends, while you stand off to the side. Sometimes you can manage to be social when a mutual friend introduces you, allowing you to feel like you belong instead of being someone who is simply “interrupting.” Yet when the anxiety is at its worst the most I can handle is a smile, a nod, and basic pleasantries. Sometimes I will hide behind my phone, which is admittedly a horribly assholish way of avoiding people, but one that allows me to regain some sense of calm.
Yet when I mentioned that this seemed like an impossible task (saying hello to someone in baby’s swim class), my wife challenged me, in a way that only she can, reminding me that it might be harder for me, but it isn’t impossible. And she is right. After all, once upon a time I said hello to her for the first time.
I can overcome the terror of saying hello. And if this type of horrible social anxiety is something you struggle with as well, know that you can too.
Thanks for reading.