I came home and my neighbors were out with their adorable children, enjoying the sunshine still lingering at 8:17 p.m. Why am I pissed? Well, now that they’re out I have two choices:
(A) Ignore the racing heartbeat and steadily building anxiety, work up some courage, and walk to my door — politely stopping to give an awkward greeting — before playing my “unlock the door as fast as I possibly can” game and isolating myself.
(B) Walk for an hour or so until I’m certain they have all gone inside.
On this particular evening, I choose Option B. I walk to the Safeway about a mile from my apartment to pick up some diet tonic water (my substitute for the Maker’s and Jameson I shouldn’t buy/drink), and immediately recognize that I’ve walked fifteen blocks only to encounter the same dilemma: other human beings. (It is a grocery store, after all.)
“The sheer audacity of someone else existing,” I think to myself. “What nerve.”
Of course, I am being sarcastic. Those two choices were not the only two choices. That situation was, in fact, a self-manufactured conundrum. But “the problem that isn’t a problem” — that is, the problem with my brain cataloguing a non-issue as an issue — remains. There are people in that store, in every lane (even the Express Lane), and I am at the same damn crossroad of co-existence or avoidance.
Maybe it’s because I walked there, maybe it’s because the guy in front of me is attractive, or maybe I’ve just got too much pride to take the path of least resistance twice in one night, but I choose to wait in line. My hands are shaking, and my brain begins to sift through possible conversation topics with the checkout woman.
“How was your day? Long shift? Did you get to see the sun today? Any good Redbox recommendations? Have you been vaccinated for anything interesting lately?” Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the gist.
Then, in horror, I listen as the dark-haired twenty-something with football shoulders turns out to be the world’s best casual, “bullshit-you-ask-in-checkout-line” conversationalist, and goes through a list of every single talking point with said cashier.
Well … so much for that.
“How’re you?” she asks.
“Good, how about yourself?” he says.
“Oh, pretty good. Just a short shift today,” she replies. “Started at five, only working until ten.”
“Nice. Any plans?”
“Oh, I’ll probably watch a movie and go to bed.”
“That sounds good. I’m gonna do the same.”
This continues for a few more seconds until his groceries are bought and paid for. Then it’s my turn.
“How’re you?” she asks.
“Good … Thanks.” I say. I would ask how she is, but that just seems silly … like when the ticket holder at the movie theater tells you to “Enjoy the show” and you absent-mindedly reply, “You too!” Seriously though, I was standing right there as she told the hottie in front of me how her day was, when her shift ends, and what she plans on doing later.
What more could there possibly be to say? Hell, she might have even mentioned her retirement plans, if she has children, and what her favorite color is. In any case, it’s hopeless trying to think up something new and just insignificant enough to be socially acceptable. And I can’t think under (social) pressure for the life of me.
So silently and defeatedly, I enter my Safeway card ID, get my deal (2 for $3!), and feel badly that my main contribution to her day and wellbeing is a sheepish smile. The only interaction we end up sharing is a series of facial expressions and an awkward line about how I don’t need a paper bag because I’m going to put my purchase in my backpack.
Unfortunately, my hands are shaking a bit so it’s a little difficult to do this in a timely manner after paying, so I take my purchase and backpack to the nearest in-store Starbucks’ table so as to not take up unnecessary time from the person behind me whilst manhandling my laptop in order to fit my frivolous beverage procurement.
This is stupid. This is so incredibly stupid. But this is me. This is my brain on …. People. Or, more specifically, interaction with people.
Realizing that you have social issues is kind of like realizing that you’re allergic to cats or pollen, except that no one babies you and agrees to put their beloved pets in the garage so that you can chat with them in their living room without sneezing and looking like you just snorted a line of cocaine.
No. You just suck it up. You deal with it. You stand there and socially wheeze your way through daily exchanges as if you’re just fine, when what you need is a huge dose (or, in my case, a constant IV drip) of extroversion Benadryl.
The pathetic and ironic thing about social anxiety is that facing your fears on a daily basis is exhausting but ultimately the only medication other than, well, medication. And medication just masks your symptoms, like it would for any other ailment or imbalance.
In a way, it’s nothing to complain about. It makes you value the friends you have who don’t take excess energy, those moments when you don’t overthink every syllable that comes out of your yapper, and it keeps you humble on a regular basis. You also learn a lot about yourself and others that might otherwise go unnoticed. Social details stand out more when you’re hypersensitive to social interaction of any kind.
Think of social anxiety like wearing 3D glasses all the time. Your eyes don’t need 3D glasses unless you’re watching the latest Blockbuster shit show requiring visual enhancement in lieu of an actual plot. Likewise, your brain doesn’t need to overanalyze what “How are you?” actually meant when that coworker who hasn’t spoken to you for days stops you in the hallway. Chances are, they’re just being social. (There’s that word again …)
The sad fact of it all is that avoiding people altogether is avoiding reality. Realistically, people are meant to be together. We’re meant to mingle in a flurry of viewpoints and attitudes and personalities and functions, and avoiding all that is avoiding life. And yes, there are days for that, but like all methods of distraction (TV shows, alcohol, dessert, tabloids), it must be done in moderation.
I guess this is the epitome of a first world problem, but fortunately it’s got a first class solution: Get out. Live. Listen. Talk.
In other words, just go to happy hour once in a while — even if it’s initially nerve-wracking.
(Feature photo by Claudia Gestro)
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.