A huge part of my social-anxiety is my self-consciousness, especially in social situations. Those situations can range from interacting with someone I know well, to talking briefly with someone at the supermarket checkout. Annoyingly, it isn’t enough that I feel nervous in these situations but I also become quite noticeably awkward. I wanted to write a bit about it, so for those that interact with me will understand me a little better.
There are several characteristics people might notice (or not, if they’re not really paying attention) I have during face-to-face interaction. There are a handful that really stand out for me, about how they make me feel, and then some that don’t bother me so much. I want to first focus on the things that really stand out. I am hyper-aware of them myself, which often makes matters worse.
I have a tendency to fidget a lot when I’m talking with people. I shuffle my feet around, lift my legs, cross my arms, uncross my arms, pick at my fingernails, bite my lip, pull the skin under my neck, scratch at my face… etc. I am sure I just look generally stupid, and being as aware of myself as I am, I end up fidgeting more when I notice it.
Stuttering & “Brain Freeze”
It can be rather frustrating that when I finally feel comfortable to talk to people, I say the wrong words, can’t get the words out (stuttering) and quite often get anxiety “brain freeze”: my train of thought freezes and I can’t get it going again, so I kind of just end up staring into space trying to kick my brain into action again.
It doesn’t make sense
I have a big issue with understanding people, and it’s worse when it comes to accents. I often need to somewhat translate what people are saying, and sometimes (all too often to be honest) I get it completely wrong. Most people don’t realise that I’ve not actually understood what they said, or they do but don’t say anything (thank you if that is the case). I’m not sure why this happens, but my theory is that my subconsciousness is so busy analysing the situations I’m in that I’m not fully paying attention.
This has the effect of making me feel utterly dumb even though I know I am far from it. Quite often this affects my reading as well: I may have to re-read things over and over because I’m subconsciously too busy thinking about something related to anxiety and self-consciousness, like the constant worry that maybe I am dumb and am I understanding this and am I going to remember it and and and…
I blush. No, I am not embarrassed. I just blush uncontrollably for no reason. It happens in all situations, no matter what is being discussed. Sometimes it just happens because someone is talking to me (say, at the till in a shop). I’m much more likely to blush at things totally benign than something that should actually be embarrassing. The worst thing about this situation is that when it happens, I can feel it, and feeling it makes me blush more because then I actually become embarrassed!
Once I start blushing, I start feeling paranoid. I know other people can see it and it makes me wonder what they’re thinking about my blushing. It’s all very silly but it’s a horrible thing to have to deal with when it happens every day. If you have the absolute pleasure (heh) of ever speaking with me face-to-face, please don’t ask me why I’m blushing. It’s likely to make me run away crying! 😉
This one is a very big problem for me. Making eye contact with those that I’m speaking to is probably the one thing, next to one other, that bothers me most. It’s not even like people wouldn’t notice, it has been mentioned before. Basically, I can’t maintain eye contact for long (and that’s even if I manage eye contact in the first place). I feel it’s completely disrespectful and I often worry that those that I talk to, especially friends, see it as me being uncomfortable around them. Obviously this isn’t the case, otherwise I would not consider them a friend.
Worse still, this actually happens in professional situations. In job interviews I really struggle to maintain eye contact. It happened in my previous two interviews. I would maintain eye contact for a moment, then I would set my sight on something else, anything else. Out of a window, the ceiling, my feet, my hands. I’m very lucky that people have seen past that and I landed both of those positions. But that isn’t always going to be the case. I have missed out on one job in the past because of my anxiety (though it wasn’t an eye contact issue).
Finally, my reactions. Like my lack of eye contact, this one really bothers me and upsets me quite a lot, though I don’t let that show outwardly. I don’t know how to react to some social situations, or to other people. Perfect examples:
- When given a gift, I often do say thank you but it never feels natural, like I am not doing it properly or isn’t genuine, and I don’t know how to show my appreciation properly.
- When given a compliment, I don’t know what to say, I often just ignore it or say something negative.
- In emotional situations, I don’t know what to do. I freeze up if someone is upset, for example.
- When I show excitement over something, it doesn’t come across as excitement, but rather flat.
Those are just a few examples and should give a good idea about what I mean.
What does it all mean?
Well, I guess the whole purpose of writing this is to explain myself. The more I’m getting myself out there, trying to improve my life, and the life of Zeta too, I am opening myself up to more situations that I have avoided for a long time. I’m opening myself up to others more and that is a vulnerable position for someone like me to be in. I am fully self-conscious about all of the above things and that makes all of these new situations worse for me. Making a new friend, for example, that may not fully understand why I do (or don’t do) certain things is really hard and is likely to make me want to crawl into a hole and hide.
But obviously I don’t want to be like this. I am well on my way to working on some of these things. Working at the Theatre in particular is proving useful as I have no choice but to be around A LOT of people. There are people everywhere! It is helping me open up somewhat and try to deal with some of my issues.
I still feel I need a lot more though. I’m still somewhat “hidden” from situations and social interactions there, it’s much harder for example to observe how other people interact with each other and learn from it. I’ll get there though. Obviously the blushing is not something I can fix, it is a psychophysiological response that I can’t influence directly. Everything else though? I can try.
I would just like to say, if you notice anything I’ve mentioned above, please don’t take it personally. It isn’t personal. It is uncontrollable for me. If I don’t make eye contact or get fidgety, it’s my anxiety, not you!
I’m sure I’ve missed out something that I wanted to say but it’s more than long enough now.