The Curse of My Life

The following is a post I wrote in September of 2007. I wrote this before I realized that what I suffer from is not just shyness, but social anxiety. Those feelings I had seven years ago, are still very much a part of my life today.

Sep. 2007

My whole life I have had to deal with the pain of being shy. It is a debilitating thing to deal with. It makes it hard to form friendships. It make participating in sports or other group activities nearly impossible.

I am not talking about just a casual shyness. I think most people view this as just being a little nervous about talking to new people. Maybe for some people, that's all it is. For me it has always been much, much more. I have always had a real fear of talking to anyone I don't know.

When I was little I never went up to a group of kids on the playground and asked to join in. It wasn't that I couldn't handle the fear of rejection. It was more than that. I was honestly scared out of my whits to speak to them. The idea of talking to someone, even kids my own age, was simply terrifying. I would watch them play and wish I had the courage to join them. It was somehow more comfortable to sit there on my own, watching their fun from a distance. No matter how much I wanted to join in, I just couldn't do it. If they were to come to me and ask me to join them, I would gladly spring up and go off to play with them. There was just no way I could initiate the conversation. I was very fortunate in elementary school to have teachers who made sure new kids were welcomed and that the other kids make an effort to become friends.

Later in life things were not better. I moved from a very small town to a very big city when I was twelve. I had been comfortable in my little town. I knew everyone there and I had friends. I could be myself there. People knew me, they liked me. Suddenly, I was entering junior high and I had to do it in a new town with new people. Nothing had ever scared me more in my life. I think I had been in school for a week before I talked to anyone. Then it was only because a couple of people had talked to me. Once that barrier was broken I could open up and talk and be myself. I made some good friends at that school. One of my friends tried to talk me into trying out for the cheer squad. I wanted to, I really did. I was afraid to get up in front of everyone for tryouts though, so I didn't.

I learned a few valuable lessons in that school. One is that the world has double standards. Two of my best friends were in my gym class in 7th grade. As most girls that age do, we did everything in that class together. If we had to jog, we jogged at the same pace. If we played a game we would be on the same team and put in the same amount of effort. When report cards came out I was in for a shock. My two friends received A's in the class, I received a C. I went to my gym teacher and asked her how this could possibly be. I was told "they are chubby girls and you aren't. You are capable of doing more than them in gym class". I was shocked. These were my friends. I had never classified them as the "chubby girls". In my mind they were just Dawn and Linda, my two very good, sweet, wonderful friends. I continued to get C's in that class. I was not going to snub my friends in class and I was certainly not going to tell them why I was expected to do more!
Sorry, I got a bit off track there. The point is that I had made some good friends in that school. After two years we moved across town. Moving across town meant switching schools, again. Now I was faced with the same problem as before. I was in a new school with people I didn't know. This time it was even harder to make friends. The kids at this school were just snottier than at my last school. Instead of getting in on the first year of junior high, I was getting in on the last. Friendships had already been formed and cliques were very well established there. It was hard to fit in anywhere. It was harder because I was afraid to talk to anyone. My 9th grade year was nearly over before I finally had a friend.

In the last quarter of 9th grade a girl moved to town and enrolled in my school. I was lucky enough to meet her. I was even more lucky in the fact that unlike me, she had no problems talking to people. She sat by me at lunch one day and started talking to me. We had no classes together that year but we became good friends anyway. I would soon invite her to spend the night at my house and our friendship really took off. We were best friends who did everything together. Wendy had come along just in time. I was so very unhappy in that school and I couldn't stand the idea of going off to high school the next year with no friends.

High school was still tough for me. Life outside school was great. I had Wendy, and thanks to her outgoing personality, a few other friends to hang out with. In school though, I was miserable. I had a friend or two in some of my classes. The classes where I didn't know anyone were horrible though. I would come in, take a seat in the back of the class and avoid eye contact with anyone. There were days I just wouldn't get out of bed because I couldn't face going to school. I hated not talking to people, but I still couldn't make myself do it.

One of the down sides of being shy that I think some people don't realize is that it can often be mistaken for something else. I have had several people tell me over the years that they thought I was snotty and stuck up. The fact that I didn't talk to people made them believe I thought I was too good to talk to them. That couldn't have been further from the truth. I have always been willing to be a friend to anyone. Looks, finances, race, any of the things people use to classify someone never mattered to me. I was just afraid to talk to someone I didn't know. So, on top of the pain of not being able to make friends, I had the pain of knowing people thought I was something that I wasn't!

As I've grown to adulthood they shyness still lurks in my life. It is my unwanted shadow, following me through every day of my life.

When put into a situation such as a new job my heart beats fast. I can feel my body producing sweat at an alarming rate. (nothing like adding the fear that you stink to already jumbled nerves) My mouth stays clamped shut unless someone asks me something. I am so nervous about saying something stupid or not coming across the way I would like to, that I just don't talk at all. Only if someone speaks to me, do I say something to them. I have been at my job for three years now. I hardly spoke to anyone the first year I was there. I was fortunate enough that my sister worked there and so I had her to talk to. I also worked with a truly amazing older lady, Deloris, who sort of sees me as a young version of herself and talked to me a lot.
After a year at my job some of the girls who work there started to invite me along on their girls night outs. I appreciated the invites and I did go a few times. They are younger though and only one of them has kids. While I enjoyed being able to talk to them and hang out, it wasn't always possible to go out. They are nice women and what I would call good acquaintances but not really friends. In the past year I had an amazing thing happen at work though. Another woman there, closer to my age who had a 1 yo daughter was moved to the desk behind me. We had known each other for 2 years and yet had never really talked. Being in such close quarters we did start talking. It's amazing how sometimes the right person come into your life at just the right time. Like Wendy had years before, Jane came along at a time when I really needed a friend.
The shyness has affected my life with my husband as well. He has (make that had) a job where he was very much in the public eye. I was constantly meeting new people. I hated it. We would have to go to events where I would have to meet dozens of people. It never failed that I would find a table in the corner and try to stay at the table as much as possible. I didn't want to be in there. I didn't want people to see me and I certainly didn't want to participate in anything that would put me in the spotlight. I know that the people at those events thought I was a bitch. Even the wives of the guys the husband worked with thought that. The truth was that I was just so damn nervous in those situations. I eventually stopped going and told the husband to go on his own. I was so miserable at those things and I know it got him upset to see me that way.
For those people who have no problems talking to anyone in any situation this probably won't make any sense to you. I am sure there are people who can't imagine feeling this way. That's part of why I wanted to post this. For those who have never been afflicted with shyness... try to understand. Maybe the next time you see that girl, teen, woman sitting there alone you might see her in a different way. Maybe you might even say hi!