The Cost Of Social Anxiety

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So my car’s battery had died two-tenths of a mile away from my house. Why had I stopped to get that sandwich before heading out on my date?
The car was the concern.  Me, I could walk home.  But leaving an unattended vehicle in the mall parking lot overnight meant that it would be towed.
I turned the key again: rrr rrr rrr.  Dead battery.  Chilled to submission from the subarctic temperatures, no doubt.  A jump would get me on my way.
I called American Express, thinking I was still on their automated car-service plan; I was not. It would cost me $100 to have a car come out and jump-start my battery.
Or I could do it for free by asking people in the parking lot.
No I couldn’t.  The idea of asking a random stranger for assistance chilled me more than any battery.  I watched the people going by for a good fifteen minutes, mouthed conversations silently to myself, trying to figure out what to say to them.  Sometimes I even put my hand on the car door handle, ready to fling open the door and just talk to them…
But that hand sat on the door, paralyzed.  Like me.  My words died in my throat.
I called Gini, seeing if she might call a friend to come help me.  Gini gave me the numbers of three people on this side of town I could call.  These were long friends of mine; we’d chatted at parties, gone to movies, attended weddings together.
But calling them up?  Solo?  To ask for a favor?
Another twenty minutes passed as I tried to dial up.  I thought about calling American Express again.  $100 isn’t so much.  Even if it was a three-hour wait.  And the shops would be closed by then.  And I was already starting to shiver as the car lost heat.
That $100 seemed so easy.  It was so worth a hundred bucks and three hours not to have to call someone and feel that terror of fumbling my way through a phone call.
And I thought: This is just because you’re middle class now, right?  You have a decent job as a programmer.  You can afford $100.
But no; I remembered back when I’d just moved to Detroit for a new job. I was living in an apartment that cost way too much because I didn’t understand money, and my credit card debts were sky-high because I couldn’t afford groceries consistently, and the only people I knew were a handful of work acquaintances.
My car battery died in the parking lot where literally everyone at work parked, I could have walked in and asked any number of people in the cubicles next to me, asked my trainer at the job.
I put it on my credit card.
And I would have paid that $100 again, too, except for the pressure of my wife.  She knew she’d given me the numbers.  She’d think I was incredibly stupid for wasting $100 when I had friends to call.
I contemplated lying, saying I’d called and no one was home.
I contemplated how foolish that thought was: lying about talking to three friends of mine so I could pay $100 and freeze in my car in isolation.
I still wanted to pay $100.
And I’m lying to you, actually.  Gini gave me four numbers.  But one of the friends was notably grouchy, hated being pulled out of bed specifically because she had a hard time turning down requests for help, and she’d bitched to me any number of times of how damned needy all her friends were, and even though I knew she was home I could not call her because I trembled at the idea of her secretly loathing me for it.
I wanted to pay $100.
I thought about asking Gini to call for me, but that would be even worse – I imagined conversations where Gini would be saying, “Why am I calling you and not Ferrett?  I don’t know.  He’s… timid, or something.  Anyway, can you go rescue my rabbit of a husband?  Yeah, I know he’s weird.  He’s always weird.”  And that was even worse, knowing she might actually do that for me.
Eventually – too long – I did call around. Mostly because I was pretty sure that I couldn’t get away with lying to Gini.  And the irony was that I did get some good friends to come out (thanks, Karla and Anil!) and it turns out the battery was so dead that no friend could save it, and in the end we just phoned the mall and told them we’d get our mechanic on it in the morning.
Now, all that is pitable, and pathetic, and this is me having improved at this after twenty-five years of practice and therapy.  Ten years ago I probably couldn’t even have called my friends.  I’m getting better, even if I know the problem will never go away.
But when I think of the cost of social anxiety, I think of $100.  I would be willing to pay $100 not to talk to people, when I feel scared.  I probably could be negotiated up to $150, under the right circumstances.
Money is so much easier to deal with than people, sometimes, and I wish it was otherwise.  But there you have it.


  1. Yet Another Laura H
    Feb 17, 2015

    I suspect there’s an interesting distinction of social anxiety vs. classical introversion, that is, negative experiences having a greater impact upon one’s anticipation than positive ones, there.
    Not to enable, but mall services often keep jumper cables (and Slim Jims for the unlucky absentminded who lock their keys in) in their pickups for just such eventualities. I kind of get the vibe that this is the sort of extra mile which gets them in trouble with their bosses, but saves them hassle in the long run, if it’s easier for a hypothetical anxious person to speak to a professional.
    Anyway, kudos to Mr. Steinmetz for making the difficult choice.

  2. Shona
    Feb 17, 2015

    Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
    I know this column in the ledger of Argh.
    When I was a student (officially filed as a “student with a permanent disability” purely due to anxiety), I always took umbrage with the fact that I could not file cab fare under “expenses associated with your disability”, because that’s what they were. Certain streets at certain times, for a million tiny reasons, were a terrifying prospect, so although I could have walked to the shuttle bus or even all the way to campus, I spent a terrifying percentage of my student loans on cabs.
    …And twice I had the unlikely experience of being proposed to by cab drivers I had not hitherto met, but that’s probability for you. Apparently my real name in Bangali means “gold,” which provides a prefab pickup line.

    • Yet Another Laura H
      Feb 18, 2015

      Oh, man, being female would add a whole layer to it, wouldn’t it? Sometimes I just want to hand out “This Person Has Endured Through Enough Caca That Her/ His Existence in Your Presence Is Proof of Heroism” buttons. Here’s your button, spiritually speaking.

      • Shona
        Feb 18, 2015

        Snazzy! I’ll put it on my spiritual backpack.
        When I was little I fantasized about being a hero when I grew up. I had no idea I would manage it without knowing. 😉

  3. Jericka
    Feb 20, 2015

    And this is why I have had AAA ever since my dad signed me up on his membership in high school.
    It’s also helped with travel stuff and notary service, but, having a phone number to call, 24 hours ever, is fantastic, and worth the money to me.

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