Monday, May 13, 2013

Anxiety of the Social Sort

I tell people sometimes that I am socially awkward. Other times I say I'm antisocial. Occasionally, I call myself an introvert. Almost always people argue.

"But, you're really not!" they wail.

"But I really am." I answer back.

People don't think I am any of those things because I am a talkative and energetic conversationalist, a constant story teller. I like to make people laugh and I sort of like to be the center of attention. Those things are not at all part of those words up there. The words I use to describe myself.

I had a boss once that described it as "holding court." As in "Jessi's holding court at the other end of the table." And yeah, I guess I do that.

What people don't see, or understand is that it's more complicated than that.

For one thing, talking to people... is exhausting. Especially people I don't know well. Meeting someone for the first time is terrifying and oh so tiring. Sometimes I say really stupid things because  I'm so nervous about talking. Sometimes I forget a person's name moments after learning and rather than just admit I forgot it, I'll carry on a relationship with that person for months or occasionally years without ever knowing their name.

That's not say that I don't enjoy being around people. I do. But I don't want to be around people. I'm not sure how to explain the difference, except that I avoid social situations, but once I force myself into one, I generally enjoy myself. There are exceptions. Sometimes I am so out of place, so floundering that I can't have fun. Sometimes all that fear and awkwardness looms up and keeps me from talking at all. Then, because I have other issues and neuroses as well, I spend the rest of the time believing that they must think I'm psycho-killer-weird because I never talk.

A few years ago, I realized something very important about myself. I cannot spend an entire day at home. I will go stir crazy. I have to break out at some point. Go to the store or pick up dinner. Just drive around. Flop down on the couch at my mom's house. I cannot stand to be completely insulated for that long.

Recently, I began to understand that the flip side is true, too. I don't do well if I don't have some quality time with my own couch. Too many days of coming home late, rushing around to get the kids ready for bed and then collapsing and I really and truly collapse.

And the thing is this: I'm not typically anxious in social situations, but I am extremely anxious about  social situations. To the extent that I very often just talk myself out of having any social situations.

This has led to a life lived without a great deal of outside contact. A life filled with acquaintances whom I like and enjoy, but few real friends. If a friend is someone who will help you bury the body, I need to buy myself a good shovel and some work gloves, because I may just be out there myself.

And let's face it, with my temper there's bound to be a body at some point.

I've been working on this post for a little over a week, and part of the reason why is that I'm just not sure why I feel like this part of my story needs to be told. I hope that someone reading this can relate and that it's a little "Hell yeah," for someone who needs it, but beyond that... I'm just not sure.

I want to be different. I want to connect and relate to people the way that I used to. But I'm just not sure how to start.


Suze said...

I think that's the definition of an introvert. I'm the same way. I need social time, but it's draining.

Read "Quiet" by Susan Cain. You'll feel a lot better about yourself!

Jessi said...

Suze - It's nice to know that someone else is like this. I've always come out sort of half and half on the "are you an introvert" stuff. Which makes me feel like a particular brand of weird. :)

Suze said...

Like when someone says "Oh, she's really talkative once you get to know her!" That's exactly what it means to be introverted. You draw energy from within, not from external stimulus. If I was always alone I'd go nuts, but too much socializing is exhausting, especially in large groups.
Know thyself, and to thine ownself be true. Is that how it goes?