Clueless (aka: Verbal Communication With Real Live Humans)

real live conversations with peopleIt happens nearly every time I am speaking with other real, live human beings. “What’s your favorite color?” someone will ask.

“My favorite color?” I will repeat, blinking in bewilderment. Wait…what’s a color? Think, brain! But my uncooperative brain will begin to spin in panicked circles, unable to pick a single color from an apparently infinite spectrum. “Um…blue?” I will blurt out, the first color to leap out of the void.

Green and brown, you idiot! I will mentally scream at myself moments later. Because duhhh – green and brown have been my clear favorite colors for years. So why on earth couldn’t I remember when put on the spot? Duh Facepalm

It happens more often than I care to admit. Someone will ask me a question – a simple question, even, but suddenly, my mind will go completely, utterly blank. My outstanding vocabulary, which flows so easily when I write my thoughts, shrinks to the size of a fourth-grader’s.

It is not as simple as poor memory, nor is it a lack of intelligence. The truth is that I have always had (and still have) a very strong memory. I can easily memorize and recite long speeches or poems or important historical facts. I can then dissect said speeches and poems and historical events, analyze them deeply, and write impressive essays regarding theme, inference, and cause and effect. However, should the topic of said speech, poem, or historical event come up in a real, live conversation, then all will be lost, as though someone has reached into my head and clicked off the light switch.

Person: What do you think is the theme of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening?

Me (heart racing, panic): Um…

Person: Do you think that he was referring to death?

Me (blinking rapidly): Um…I don’t know.

Of course, an hour later, when I am feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caring for children, and work, and school, I will glance in longing at my comfortable bed and pile of books for pleasure reading, and I will remember how much I identified with Frost’s character, and recite to myself:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

It is strange, I know. Though perhaps it is a common occurrence among shy people. One quick Google search for “My mind goes blank when talking to people,”    and one will stumble upon a myriad of sites and forums for the socially anxious, filled with other people who experience this. And perhaps it is made worse by my long periods of isolation, during which I barely speak at all to anyone besides my own kids. It’s almost as though, when I am finally presented with a real, honest-to-goodness grownup to talk to, my mind freaks out. What? Are we live? Now? Wait! I’m not ready! I forgot my lines!

Sigh. Well, I guess I could always try answering questions in writing.

put it in writing

Advertisements

Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

Shy adult can't make friends(Okay, a brief pause from poetry appreciation to address this confusing and overwhelming topic of friendship).

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Okay, well, maybe it isn’t hard for most adults. Maybe many adults make acquaintances and friends easily, thanks to adept social skills, more outgoing personalities, etc. And certainly for many adults, it is less devastating when friendships end, because it is not so difficult to move on to the next friendship. I wish that I knew how to be that way.

But here I am, 38 years old and feeling once again like the misfit kid on the school playground, reading a book instead of playing tetherball – not because I don’t love to play tetherball, but because no one has invited me. Or because I asked to join the game and was told, no way, not you. So what do you do? You sit on the bench and read a book, and pretend that that is what you really wanted to do all along. You watch the other kids run and laugh and play together, and you study them, trying to absorb their happiness and companionship as your own. You listen to their conversations, trying to figure out the “right” way to talk and the “right” way to be, so that you will be accepted.

Because we all just want to be accepted.

So I decided to ask Google. “Google, how do adults make friends?” Well, Google had all kinds of ideas.

  1. Join a Club

Okay, great idea. After all, in the past, I made friends by being part of college Christian clubs and young married couple church clubs and new mommy clubs. And so I have been attending (almost) monthly Meetups for around a year for people learning Spanish. Unfortunately, the faces often change and many of the people are retired seniors. Recently, I joined a group for single parents. My kids and I attended one event. I had a lot of fun, thanks to my kids. But after the initial introductions, most of the other adults engaged in conversation while I hung back, observing and listening, not sure how to break into the other people’s conversations. (Blame it on extreme shyness. I hate being shy).

  1. Invite a co-worker out for lunch or drinks

This would be so great if I had that kind of job. The truth is, I work in isolation in a cubicle jungle, surrounded by empty cubicles. I get most of my job assignments via email and often go days without saying much more than hello and goodbye to my supervisor. Not conducive to one’s social life.

  1. Plan a party and invite all of your acquaintances

The last time I threw a party was four years ago, during the last World Cup. I invited more than a dozen people. Three came (not counting children). It is very hard to throw a party when you don’t know people well, and very disappointing when no one shows up.

  1. Ask your friends for recommendations

Hahaha! Good one.

  1. Seek out friends of friends

This makes so much sense, as friends of friends may also share your common interests. But practically speaking, this doesn’t work when you don’t already have friends.

  1. Take a class

As a college student, I take many classes. But most of these are online, and the others are mostly filled with teens and young adults.

  1. Join an adult recreational sports league

I have been playing recreational indoor soccer for a few years. I love it, and it is a great stress release. But my teammates and I never get past the acquaintance, small-talk stage. Maybe we just lack that certain vibe, who knows?

 

Some of the advice I’ve read online is simply ridiculous. For example, on the site http://www.adultsocialskills.com/howtomakefriends.htm, written for loners like me, the authors give the advice that other people prefer those whom they perceive to be social. Therefore, it is better to pretend as though you have other friends. It is also better to pretend that you are interested in those things which other people are interested in, to make yourself appear to be more like them. In other words, fake it. Is this really how other people build friendships, based on insincerity? No thanks.

The Help Guide had this suggestion:

Attachment and relationships

How you bonded with a parent or caretaker as an infant will determine how you relate to others as an adult. Those who experienced confusing emotional communications during infancy often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others. This limits your ability to build or maintain successful friendships. Read Attachment & Adult Relationships.

Of course, I followed the link and read all about attachment – a topic which I studied intensely my first time through university as a Child Development major. And yes, I recognize within myself my own insecure attachment issues, which probably continue to make it difficult to form meaningful attachments, or to detach from them once I have bonded with others. It also explains why I feel so mistrustful of other people, and fear a bandonment, and have trouble reading social cues, and blah, blah, blah. But knowing and knowing what to do about it are two separate issues.

So thanks, Google, but I am now back to square one, stuck in a constant loop of loneliness. And so I retreat to my cave, where I will bury my nose in a book, occasionally looking up to observe the rest of the world, and try to absorb the contentment they must feel from being so connected and accepted. And I will tell the world and tell myself (because it is less painful to convince myself), that this is all I really need.

 

how to make friends

 

Forever a Wallflower (aka Social Phobia vs. Shyness)

This week is filled with social obligations. There are kids’ soccer games to attend, Back-to-School night at my kids’ schools, and taking my daughter to a playdate at a friend’s house. Maybe these don’t sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but to me, they are a huge deal. My stomach feels twisted in knots. The very idea that I have to be around groups of people I don’t know makes me feel somewhat nauseous and dizzy. The idea of actually talking to people I don’t know makes my throat close up, until I feel like I can’t breathe. I have developed this awful habit of looking anywhere but directly at people, unconsciously discouraging them from talking to me. It is very hard to get to know anyone this way, believe me! Every now and then, someone will smile and say, “Hi, aren’t you so-and-so’s mom?” I can usually manage a smile and a quiet, “Yes, I’m Tiare. Nice to meet you.” But the conversation rarely ever gets beyond that.

Am I shy? Well, yes, I have nearly always been shy. Since childhood, I was the one sitting on the sidelines with her nose in a book, occasionally observing the world and people around her. When I had friends, I was not at all shy with them. But making friends has never come easily for me. In fact, recently, it has felt nearly impossible, as my shyness seems to have grown into something much larger than simple timidity. Could I be dealing with a social phobia? I wondered. Out of curiosity, I took an online assessment by the Social Anxiety Research Clinic at Columbia University, which assesses and rates anxiety according to the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS-SR). I answered as honestly as I could, then submitted the assessment.

The possible scores were:                  0-30 SAD unlikely

                                                                30-60 SAD probable

                                                                60-90 SAD very probable

                                                                Score 90 or higher SAD extremely probable

My score? 102. Interesting. So now I am not only shy, but frightened to death of people.

The other day, I discovered a fabulous new iPhone app, called SAM.  ,developed by the University of the West of England to help people to manage their anxiety. Here is what it looks like:

iPhone Screenshot 1iPhone Screenshot 2iPhone Screenshot 4

I have been using it lately to help me to manage and track my anxiety. It has been a surprisingly helpful tool – like an imaginary friend or therapist in my pocket, reminding me to breathe through my panic attacks, and slowing down the world for a moment while I regain perspective.

Now I know, SAM is only a tool, and not a true treatment for anxiety. Talking to a real therapist or friend would probably help, too. But there lies the paradox – finding either would mean talking to people. Ugh.

Time is Ticking, Ticking, Ticking…

Me in high school (age 15)

I am running out of time. Only two more days. No, not until the start of the Olympic Games. No, it’s not an illness, or a birthday, or the start of a new school year.Two days from now will be the very last day I can choose to buy a ticket to attend my 20-year high school reunion. Time is ticking away. The deadline looms, like a sharpened guillotine above my head.

But wait…it’s a high school reunion. There will be food, and old friends and acquaintances, and dancing. I love dancing! Isn’t this supposed to be fun? Something to look forward to? One of those rites of passage I promised myself I would not miss out on? Why am I not jumping up and down, waving my $50 ticket in the air with excitement? Well you see…I am shy. Dreadfully shy. When I am around groups of people, especially those whom I do not know very well, I find myself fighting off panic attacks, taking deep breaths to try and dissolve the gigantic lump in my throat. I have always been this way.

But wait a moment…wasn’t I the coordinator for my high school class reunion ten years ago? Didn’t I head a committee of people to actually put on the entire event? So why the insecurity this time? The answer is simpler than it seems. When I was the reunion coordinator, I had a role. I did not have to be me. I was The-One-In-Charge. The one who is supposed to smile and be chatty and walk around the room to make sure everyone is having a good time. Somehow, when I have a role to play, being outgoing is as easy as performing on stage during my high school days in drama classes. I do not have to be the dull, awkward, strange Girl From Jupiter who can never find her place in life. When I have a clear role to play, I get to pretend that I am outgoing, talkative, even bubbly. I get to be that Woman Who Everyone Else Wishes She Could Be.

But two weeks from now, hundreds of former students from my high school class will be gathering together to drink beers and dance and reminisce about the good old days at Fairfield High School. And I — who has never even drunk a beer before, and loves to dance but is actually afraid to step out on the dance floor most of the time — will probably be sitting alone at some table in the corner, marveling over how much fun everyone else seems to be having, and how different everyone looks twenty years after those good old days at Fairfield High School. And maybe someone will recognize me — and maybe not. But in my imagination, I will stand on a table and yell something really cool, like “Fairfield Falcons For-evah!” And everyone will be so drunk that they will cheer, and…okay not even in my imagination can I be that outgoing.

Oof! Two more days to decide. The clock is ticking. 48-ish hours. 2,880 minutes. 172,800 seconds. 1.728e+14 nanoseconds…

Performing was easy when I had a role to play. It’s being myself that is hard to do.