My Inside Is Not My Outside

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When I posted about my anxiety over the upcoming block party, I got many helpful suggestions, most of which were redundant.
Now, I don’t mean to discourage you from posting comments, as I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from y’all over the years.  And the people who told me how block parties usually go (I can attend for just fifteen minutes and leave?) were particularly awesome. Thank you.
Yet in general, despite my flailing, I do know how to make small talk: I read How To Win Friends and Influence People years ago, and that advice is timeless.  Listen.  Ask questions.  Be interested in people.  I even have a small stockpile of sports knowledge, utterly of disinterest to me otherwise, that I haul out for such occasions.  And so when I go to a party, I’m usually quite normal, sometimes verging on “charming” if the crowd is right.
Yet inside, I still boil with terror.
That’s the thing one must remember when dispensing advice: it is one thing to know what you are supposed to do, and quite another thing to do it.  I’m aware, sometimes excruciatingly so, of what I need to do – which sometimes makes its worse, as I have all the instructions and am still bollixing it.  But in any new social situation, I’m battered by such terror that you’re doing it wrong and you look so stupid that even if I manage to function, the event is totally unenjoyable.  On many – nay, most! – occasions I push past the discomfort and emerge into a nice, social experience; on others, I pretend for a sufficient period of time and then withdraw to have my panic attack in private.
(And to those who said, “What the fuck do you care what strangers think?” should recognize that you have come to know me upon the Internet because I do very much care what strangers think, and have written my blog in an accessible way so as to make it comfortable for strangers like you were, once, and should perhaps reflect upon the possibly poor idea that strangers are people to be ignored and rebuffed instead of people to be welcomed whenever possible.)
The anxiety I was trying to describe in my post was not “A guy who doesn’t know how to do this,” but rather “A guy who knows, and yet is still besieged by really stupid concerns.”  Yes, I’m aware most folks don’t pay much attention to me, as I am background noise to their much more important “All-Me” channel.  That awareness doesn’t negate the emotional reaction I have, nor the growing panic I’ve felt over the past week of “How do I do this properly?”
That’s why I always tell people with my advice: “I didn’t say it was easy.  I said it needed to be done.”  There’s a lot of people who tell me, “Well, you write every day, you get out and socialize, it’s easy for you to say” and my point is that it utterly isn’t.  I’m still barraged by insecurities, hampered by swells of idiotic reactions I can’t fully control, pushed down by laziness.
I just recognize that those inside emotions aren’t as important as what I actually accomplish, and then do it anyway.
…Most days.  Some days I break down.  I used to break down a lot more.  But once you get some practice recognizing that your emotions are not objective reality, and are confronted with evidence that you may have felt like an isolated clod but people enjoyed talking to you, it becomes easier to fight it.  But you have to hunt for the good evidence, because otherwise you’ll do the social anxiety thing of overanalyzing every awkward pause as a condemnation of your entire being, and then you’ll never leave the house.
Will I go to the block party?  Probably.  Will I do okay if I go?  Probably.  Will any of that prevent me from shaking, quivering, and quailing?
Not a chance.  That’s my reality.  Yet all I can do is fight against that terror and keep shoving forward.
Keep fighting, my friends.

3 Comments

  1. Rachel
    Sep 12, 2013

    Courage: the ability to go and do, even when afraid.

  2. Ron Johnston
    Sep 14, 2013

    I beleive severe social anxiety is a medical issue. Please consider discussing it with your doctor if you haven’t already done so. Maybe something as simple as a mild sedative can make a huge difference. Off topic now, I want to thank you for writing Sourkraut Station. It really moved me. Of course I enjoy your blog posts or I wouldn’t be reading them. But I never would have found your blog if not for that story.

  3. Susan Montgomery
    Sep 17, 2013

    It’s finding the courage that’s the thing. I have an intense social anxiety. Going to work often requires me to just disconnect myself from my feelings – if I reconnect then I have an overwhelming desire to return home. Leaving the house – indeed, leaving my bedroom sometimes – requires a distinct effort of will.

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