A girl in a group I belong to recently told me that I should be the one to organize the next event because “I don’t have trouble dealing with people.”
I am really glad that I come off that way, but it is not something that happened without a TON of work.
I just needed to confess somewhere that I have social anxiety, and that I always have, because the way she said “you don’t have trouble dealing with people” really got to me, and I needed to deal with that somewhere.
My parents met at a First Edition Dungeons and Dragons quest at Berkley. My mom was the Dungeon Master, and she killed my dad every game. He always had to roll up a new character before they played again. I guess that was her version of flirting.
They were extremely awkward people.
My mom never wore makeup, high-heels, or skirts. She said it was because she was a feminist, but I suspect that it was because she didn’t understand all that stuff, and she didn’t care to learn.
My dad was an engineer. I know they aren’t all obtuse and awkward, but the stereotype that engineers ARE socially awkward comes from people like my dad. He had this laugh like a donkey that always made everyone stare, and he never even noticed that they were staring.
Seriously, it sounded just like a donkey.
Growing up with parents who bought an isolated farm on purpose to raise us on, and who had no friends, did not help me learn to socialize.
Having a younger sister who was a sociopath as basically my only playmate didn’t help either. She was really frightening. I remember one time when she squeezed a baby chicken until its head came off, and then tossed it aside as if she had done nothing worthy of concern. I was so upset I cried hours in one of my secret hiding places.
In my teens, my parents kicked me out of their house.
I lived on the streets for years, and awful shit happened to me. I was a naive and pretty girl from a small town, so you can take some guesses as to how that worked out for me. If I hadn’t had social anxiety before, the PTSD from being homeless and all that came with that would have ensured that I developed it.
All the while, I had Grave’s disease, so my body was attacking my thyroid gland. This caused my thyroid to overproduce hormones, and made me live in a constant state of fight-or-flight.
I couldn’t afford healthcare, and anyway, I thought it was all in my head when my heart started racing if I had to deal with a person. It felt like my heart would rise up in my throat and I would sweat and feel light-headed.
I just thought everyone always felt that way, you know? People all talk like they struggle with social stuff, so I always assumed they all had the same panic that I did. When I read the definition of a panic attack in one of my Psych textbooks, I remember being confused and thinking “that’s not normal?!?”
The thing is; I am fucking stubborn.
So because I am fucking stubborn, I worked in a dungeon called Madam Tracy’s and taught myself to act confident and be a Dominatrix. I went to events and talked to strangers. I joined organizations and groups and made friends.
And because my husband is in the military, I have to keep making new friends, because we move away from the old ones. I have been making new friends constantly my entire life, and sometimes the fear of rejection is just crushing.
It has never gotten easier for me.
Just a few weeks ago I was hanging out with a new friend that I met through a hiking group I started. She is cute, and smart, and interesting. So naturally I feel big and dumb and awkward around her. And I remember thinking “I am so glad she can’t tell how freaked out I am. I hope I am not acting weird.” And I always feel that way. All the time, my entire life, for 35 years.
It didn’t stop me from having a promotions company and throwing events, owning an art gallery on the First Friday Art Walk in Phoenix, or being the managing editor of S.L.A.M. Magazine. It didn’t stop me from planning fetish proms, play parties, and camping trips. It didn’t stop me from speaking at conventions in front of rooms full of people.
As I said, I am stubborn.
But no matter how stubborn I am, I still have social anxiety.
It’s not easy for me. And I know after all these years of practice that it never will be easy, because it’s exactly as bad as it always was.
The moral of the story is: Don’t assume that other people are more confident or more comfortable around people than you are. Just because they don’t talk about how they feel, doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings.
I am pretty fucked up inside and my nightmares are worse than any horror movie I have ever seen. There are places in my head that I can’t look because I will cry for days. I am glad that I come off as together, friendly, and good at planning. I am glad that people feel like asking me to take charge of events because I am “so good at it.” I am glad that I inspire confidence and motivation in others.
However, it’s not easy.
I guess if I were to give this story a moral, the moral would be this: Just do the things you are terrified of. Push through the panic attacks and the sweat. Push through the sheer terror and don’t let yourself give up.
It never gets easier on the inside. That much is true. On the inside I am still the little girl hiding in a cupboard from my little sister because she was so scary. I am still the homeless teenager who was hurt too much to feel anything for a long time. And I am still the person who panics and says stupid stuff at inopportune moments in my head.
However, on the outside, years of public speaking classes and practice have paid off. Outside my own head, I actually manage to convince people that I am cool and confident. Outside my head, I am the girl who stitched up my friends’ head after he got beat up by a gang. I am the girl who kept my calm when they pushed me out on stage in front of thousands of people to do a count down to Midnight at one of my shows on New Year’s. Outside my head I manage to speak at funerals, make friends, and plan events.
So I am living proof that someone who grew up with social anxiety and geeks for parents can still have friends and do stuff. And if I live as much as I possibly can outside of my head, I can even enjoy some of that stuff. And so can you.