I’m sitting in the car, ten minutes early for the event. What kind of event? Doesn’t matter. There’s a bunch of people there I barely know or who I don’t know at all… Ten minutes early isn’t too bad, it’s usually fifteen. I’d wonder why exactly I’m here so early again, but I already know the answer. It’s because I have to be. Because it’s part of the plan, and if I’m not here early enough, the plan won’t go as planned.
Staring at the digital clock on the console, I’m going though everything in my head again. My friend should be here in a couple of minutes. If I was late, I might have missed her. Then I’ll have to go in by myself and scour the room for her. That would look really awkward. That’s not part of the plan. We’re supposed go in together and then hit up the bar, then we can make the rounds and I can get out of here. Stick together. Divide and conquer is overrated. Stick together and make it better.
I look into rear view mirror to see if her car has pulled into parking lot yet. Nope. Maybe after this next song. I rap my fingers against steering wheel to the beat, running through my head again who I need to talk to, what conversation starters I have up my sleeve. Not many, but hopefully I can get someone on about something they’re interested in. That’s what I’ve learned over the years, get someone talking about something they care about and go with it. Shocking news – people like to talk about themselves and stuff they like.
Five minutes left.
I see my friend pull up.
Let’s get this over with.
Social anxiety has always been part of my life. I was always a socially awkward, introverted, nerdy type growing up. I had friends, but they were all pretty much introverted, socially awkward, nerdy types like me. My people. But new social interactions always filled with this special sort of dread.
I have a fear of talking to people I don’t or barely know because of a gamut of different reason that I shouldn’t worry about but can’t help. What if we don’t have anything in common? Why should this person care about my opinion on anything? What if I offend them somehow? What will they tell everyone else about our interaction? I’ve found the best course of action is to find someone I’m comfortable with and make my acquaintances that way. Being the third person in a conversation makes it much easier to chime in at points when I feel like I actually have something relevant to contribute.
I’ve become more social and outgoing as I’ve gotten older, but engaging in large social events with people I don’t know or know very well still gets me nervous. I hate going into one of these situations alone, and always try to make sure I have a buddy system in place beforehand. I have an obsessive need to be punctual as well, I cannot (will not) bear being late for anything. And part of being early for everything is getting myself ready to deal with everything I’m early for. This has all gotten easier as I’ve become more confident and accepting of who I am and it’s allowed me to be less concerned about how others might perceive me. But it’s still there and it’s never really going away.
Five years ago I would have never thought I’d have blasted out 17,000 tweets about my writing, my interests and the general mundanities of my life, but come to find out people do care! Twitter has shown me there are tons of people who care about the same things I do, and also have the same fear of exposure and expression that I do as well.
Sharing in this space, a safe space for the most part, has helped me express myself in ways I never have before. My meticulous need for planning is also satiated too, because I can take the time to make sure what I’m going to say is really what I want to say, before I pull the trigger. Each tweet can be crafted the way I want it, for as long as I need to. The fear will always be there, it’s part of what makes us who we are. It’s part of what makes me who I am. But having an outlet to navigate around it, to help cope with it, is invaluable.
So to is the support of others around you, those you know are facing the same or greater challenges than you. You can find kinship and solace and inspiration in them, in likeminded people who have shared the same experiences – the same fears as you. That’s why sharing these stories are important. Openness about our fears, allowing them so we can expand the circle, help bring awareness and acceptance to our fears.