At the intersection, study the situation carefully: does it seem like a person can just park, without getting gas, and go into the store? Maybe the store is only for people getting — but no, come on, I know better. I’ve stopped at plenty of these stores. But where ARE you … oh, okay, there are parking spaces along the side. But there’s some sort of utility vehicle right there, like they’re working on something at the back of the store, and that means I’ll have to walk by the workers. Shit. Okay, that’s fine. It’s not like … shit.

Okay, I’m parked. Not too close to that truck. They seem busy, anyway. But what if you’re not supposed to park here because they need this space for — nah, there would be a sign or something. Right? Although maybe it’s just obvious: like, here’s a cherry picker truck thingie, doing stuff, this is a work area. Oh fuck it. I’m getting out.

No one’s looking at me. Okay, I guess this is fine. This is a public space, it’s okay for me to be here. There’s the entrance — oh god, there’s someone heading in at the same time. We’re going to end up at the door at the same time. Walk slower. Walk slower. Stop and dig through your purse like you’re looking for something. Make a little distracted frown: where is that wallet? Okay, she’s in. Go go go go, before someone else walks up.

Quick visual sweep: two clerks behind the counter (ugh: two), one woman at the coffee station. Head for the wall of beverages, whoops, this one’s all beer, what if someone glances over at this exact moment and it looks like I’m staring at beer, shit. Milk, soda, okay, here’s the garish energy drink section. God, am I really buying a Red Bull, and it’s not even noon? Maybe I should buy something else, something a bit more wholesome, so I don’t look so trashy. A banana? Here’s a little basket with bananas in it. Yes, I’d like to be the sort of person who goes into a convenience store and buys a single piece of fruit. Just natural, whole foods for me, thanks! Honestly though I’m not going to eat that banana. It’s super green, for one thing. All I wanted was this drink, why am I circling a banana display like a zoo animal? Just PAY. Just GO.

Well, but there’s that woman from the coffee area, and now she’s in this same aisle. Too awkward to walk right by her. I’ll just walk over to the dairy … take a calm, assessing look … then go up the next aisle. Casual. Breezy. I’m just a regular person in a store, doing regular things. Normal. Certainly not hugely, painfully, freakishly aware of myself.

Okay, time to pay. Worst part. WORST. It sucks so much that it’s two young dudes, whose conversation I have to interrupt. The one who takes my money doesn’t even make eye contact, which is both a relief and an irritant. Am I even here? How can I not be here when I feel so uncomfortably present? And now I’m overcompensating: “Thanks! Have a good one!”

Have a good one. What even the hell. Retreat to the car — sweet, sweet relief — and just sit at the wheel for a while, evaluating and criticizing my actions, before sighing out a great gust of who cares, nobody cares, why do you care and driving away.

It’s so easy to joke about being this way. I mean, it’s ridiculous! It’s comical! It’s also suffocating and relentless and keeps me isolated and I hate this part of myself, which is so prevalent it’s like hating all of myself.

I have read books, done exercises, paid for hours upon hours of therapy. I have sat with the sponsor who talked earnestly about this specific character defect and how I might rid myself of it with the help of a higher power. I have considered, carefully, the fridge-magnet wisdom that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I have, of course, spent years self-medicating all of my fucks straight out the window.

In the end, I’m tired of fighting against it. All the pep talks, the scrabbling for perspective, the effort to apply reason against the unreasonable — it’s too discouraging, trying to battle against the way my mind works. The results are always that I feel even worse about myself. It seems better to laugh when I can, breathe when I can’t, forgive myself for that which I cannot help.


23 Responses to “Social phobia and a Stop-n-Go”

  1. Erin on September 15th, 2017 12:53 pm

    You mean the above isn’t normal? Hmmm, maybe I’m looking at my life the wrong way lol! I think all those things. Plus more! I’m pretty sure many of us do. Don’t we, people?!

  2. Ginger on September 15th, 2017 1:29 pm

    I think that many of us are like this to some degree sometimes. And, bless you, how much I prefer that approach to the people who park across two spaces, who push to the head of a line, who trample people to always be the first, who look at others with an internal dialog criticizing their race, gender, size, looks, clothing, accent or the fact that they take up space. If you are concerned about how I might perceive you, we actually have a chance for a real conversation, a real connection. Given my druthers, I would choose to sit next to you on a plane, in a theater, in a restaurant, or at work. And I would love to talk with you because you would not be trying to impress me but would be open to knowing me.

  3. Jen on September 15th, 2017 2:25 pm

    Wow, this is exactly how I feel EVERY DAMN TIME I’m in public. I keep thinking I should see someone to fix it or medicate me, but the idea of reaching out for help makes it hard for me to breathe.

  4. LP on September 15th, 2017 2:48 pm

    Yes. A thousand times yes.

  5. Kyla on September 15th, 2017 3:47 pm

    Ugh, it’s so true. I hate feeling this way but – I always feel this way. Just did a year of counselling which somehow helped me stop the Nightly Tape Loop of What I Did or Said Wrong Today and Does Everyone Hate Me Now. I don’t how it helped it, it just did.

  6. Mary on September 15th, 2017 4:21 pm

    This is me. Except I wouldn’t have gone to the store. I much prefer to go places with my Hubby or even my kiddos. But on my own… not so much. There was a time when I did, but I’ve slowly retreated, and now at 38 I have too many of the same over-powering thoughts and just general uncomfortableness. What’s funny though is that I love to go places with my family, so it’s not like I’m a hermit. I just don’t like to go alone due to me obsessing over every decision, action and word spoken.

  7. Rachel Newton on September 15th, 2017 7:49 pm

    For me, it was social anxiety in group settings. But one night, I found myself alone, heart pounding, listening to the group’s laughter from the next room and knowing that the laughs would come easier now that I had left. Of course, I was berating myself for something I said, or should have said, or meant to say – bit didn’t convey clearly enough. And something just flipped, and I said, “Why are you thinking this way? Stop.” And so I did; it was kind of unreal, but – it worked.

  8. Alison on September 15th, 2017 10:40 pm

    Same. Convenience stores are the worst. I feel completely observed. I’ll just die of thirst, thanks. In some ways I’ve gotten better since having kids in that I have no choice. I have to go places, do things, acquire snacks and drinks at unplanned locations. But they’re also a weird crutch. Like I feel naked and incredibly self conscious going grocery shopping by myself now. Its like I need the social shield of this little person in the basket to interact with.

  9. Lisa on September 16th, 2017 6:03 am

    This is me every day on my commute. Almost an hour and a half total, starting with a walk to the subway (in front of and passing by people!), then the subway ride (jam packed with people!), and then a walk from train to office. Every moment is painful, and it feels like the hordes of people passing me or sitting near me are watching and judging, sizing me up, finding me wanting. Once I’m at work I feel ok; it’s a smaller and safer sphere and I know everyone. But many days the thought of leaving the house and entering the big world to go through the gauntlet of the commute is paralyzing. And then at 5pm, getting ready to leave work, it starts all over again. Ugh. Such a shame. Such a waste of energy and emotion. It’s draining.

  10. Andrea on September 16th, 2017 9:24 am

    “It seems better to laugh when I can, breathe when I can’t, forgive myself for that which I cannot help.”

    Your words.

    Other people will certainly have opinions about what you “should” do. Ultimately, you get to decide.

    Though not everyone talks about their “stuff” I bet a lot more of us have “stuff” and ways of compensating with the anxiety and worry of it than we are willing to talk about.

  11. Lisa on September 16th, 2017 9:45 am

    I know several people who’ve battled anxiety like this. I am anxious myself and grew up shy, but I forced myself out of my comfort zone again and again until I could do things that previously made me quake in fear. My mentor, who is just like me in this respect- he was my former teacher & I learned from him when I became a teacher myself. Learning how to lead a class was terrifying at first, but I learned to relax into it. Not gonna lie- it took years and has been the most difficult challenge I ever faced. I think it’s also okay to give yourself a pass sometimes too- go get a 6 pack of Red Bull at the grocery store and use the U-Scan. I often do that to avoid talking to people. Hang in there, you are not alone in these feelings. We all know how you feel.

  12. Nellig on September 16th, 2017 1:47 pm

    You’re right, it never goes away. But you’re fine. I’ve ready you forever and you’re wonderful, you’re doing fine.

    Please be kind to yourself, just as you’d be kind to someone else who felt like this. When you talk to yourself in your head, just be kind.

  13. Mary Clare on September 17th, 2017 8:40 pm

    As always, you put yourself out there in your writing. You ARE so brave.

    I have so much social trouble with strangers and acquaintances, and sometimes even good friends. If I feel someone is judging me in the slightest way, I become so shy. It’s awkward. I try to make up for it by being extra friendly, but, alas, most social interactions are very awkward. I suppose if that’s my worst flaw its not so bad.

  14. sandy on September 18th, 2017 4:00 am

    This is who you are…..embrace it……it gives you the insightful way you look at the world, your hilarious sense of humor…..your self awareness. Don’t fight it……it is you and girl……I wouldn’t want you any other way!! HUGS!!

  15. Lisa on September 18th, 2017 6:15 am

    So…true! You are so brave and thank you for putting words to my feelings. I do agree that I prefer being like this than to be the pushy must always be first kind of person.

  16. Sara on September 19th, 2017 7:00 am

    As I read this I could picture the parking lot the cars and trucks in the parking lot the two doors at the front the clerks at the counter the people in the aisles the cold cases and the narrow space between the things and the people. I could smell the inside of the shop the people and the hot dogs rolling on their rollers and the just dried cleaner mopped into the floor. My heart raced as you described all of it and I identified with all of it and then I fell deeply in love with your writing again.

  17. Jess on September 19th, 2017 1:03 pm

    This is amazing. I can identify with all of it. Just today I bought extra stuff that I didn’t need at the drugstore because there were people around and I was so uncomfortable. Many times I’ve pulled in to the grocery store lot and left, in near tears, because there were so many cars in the lot and I knew I couldn’t face all those people. One thing I found that helps, a little, is keep my sunglasses on inside. Then no one can see me, right? It’s like straight out of Big Daddy! Props to you and all the hard work you have done on yourself. Your voice is needed, and, rest assured, it reaches people.

  18. Jessica on September 20th, 2017 3:48 am

    YES YES YES you once again put into words so perfectly how I feel. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love your writing. It gets me every.single.time.

  19. Donna Plumley Brubach on September 20th, 2017 7:45 pm

    Here’s the thing honey, those people don’t give a shit about you and don’t even notice you. But here’s another thing, if you fell or something, they’d notice and help you. Wouldn’t you? Yes you would, because you are kind and decent and most people are as well.
    Worst case scenario? People helping you.
    Hold your head up, look people in the eye, and smile. You’ll see honey.

  20. Sara on September 22nd, 2017 5:21 pm

    Me. Everyday.

  21. Niki on September 23rd, 2017 8:11 pm

    I read this and thought….”does she know me?…was she the lady walking into the store, pretending to look in her purse the other day while we were approaching the door at the same time?…I was so glad you stopped, because I didn’t have a purse to look for an imaginary item”.
    Yes this is me to a T. I’m an introvert. I use to be upset about it, but now I’ve embraced it because it beats being stressed about it all the time. I take social anxiety/depression meds that basically make me not care what others are thinking of me. I’m happier. Thank you for posting this…well done friend, well done.

  22. Katherine on October 3rd, 2017 1:16 pm

    Okay, I have a suggestion you’ll think is crazy–and it’s fine if you do. I can’t just not suggest it though. Find a good reputable group with which to take a basic improv class. Seriously. They’re all about play and building a story by adding your idea to the ideas of others. You can’t focus just on yourself–you can’t stay all in your head that way. And it’s a GOAL to explore where that story goes right until it fails spectacularly. Everyone cheers when that happens. The part of you that is watching so carefully isn’t a part of you that you should squash or fight against. AND it’s not the whole of you and you can learn to make space for the rest so the watchful part isn’t so dominant and overpowering. You’re already a storyteller; you’re just dealing with an overly powerful narrator. PS, if you want to pursue this, hit me up and I’ll see if my theater peeps know of some contacts in your area.

  23. Kizz on January 17th, 2018 1:16 pm

    I was telling someone the other day that I was an adult, at least in my 30s and probably older, before I realized that most people don’t rehearse what they’re going to say all the way to a coffee date with a good friend.

    But I do.

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