If this is your first time here, you’re starting at the end of my wee trilogy. Nothing wrong with that, I’m not one to judge ya in how you decide your reading order, just letting ya know you might want to maybe go read the other pieces first? I was hoping to have 3 posts up within a week but I got distracted by my son’s party, which put my thoughts elsewhere.
This has been an attempt to explain the differences between the Introvert and the Socially anxious. I think the first piece went ok? I didn’t mind it on a re-read myself and now I wonder if I should have just left it there. But no, I sold out and decided what the heck, let’s make this bad boy a trilogy!
So, on then to my second piece, where I discuss what I felt lead me to become an introvert. This was to be my Empire Strikes Back, my The Dark Knight. I think that one got away from, but as I professed, this is my first time trying trilogy pieces, so don’t hold it against me.
This being the internet, of course you’ll hold it against me. But please do stick around.
It’s too late now but I think I should have maybe ended with that one as it ends somewhat positive. I just can’t see this having an overly happy tone. As a warning, I expect this one to get rambly.
Because today, we’re gonna talk about that bitch bastardly known as Social Anxiety.
Putting the “I” in AnxIety
So in episode II, I discuss the Three Notches and how I feel they lead to my journey into Introvertism. I’ve already linked to it so I’m not gonna repeat any of that here. As I type this, I feel, quite strongly, that there are similarly 3 notches that I can attribute to my anxiety. Two of which can be easily tied to my introvert traits so won’t bear repeating (it’s a trilogy people, do the homework!) Some have the same point of origin but one is simpler and possibly more universal to digest.
So let’s begin there.
Let’s begin with Bullying.
No big surprise with this one, right? I’m sure some of you thought
No way! There is no fucking way that a person this insecure was ever bullied!”.
Alas, that is not the case.
The year is 2001
I am 12 years old.
And I am feeling… Scared.
I’m in a single-sex secondary school that is run by priests and very big on their rugby. I have as much an invested interest in rugby as I do religion, but I attend this school because it’s the closest one to home.
Not quite true as I’ve used 6 winged angels and such in DnD, but I’ve never used rugby in DnD. A failure on my part, to be sure.
I suppose we need a bit more detail on who I am at 12 years old.
A bit more detail
I stayed back in my final year of primary school so all my friends spread out to varying schools, meaning my final year of primary school starts off with me the stranger in a class of people who have practically grown up together. I make new school friends, but not actual friends. These would be people I’d see on my Monday to Friday excursions from home, but never would I have gotten acquainted enough to be invited to parties, or vice versa.
Four people from that school are going to the secondary school I’m now attending. Of those four, one is in my class, so we sit together, as these are those old school desks intended for two.
Within a month, he leaves the school.
One of my closest friends is in the year ahead, but over the strange hierarchy of school, that means we can’t hang out at lunch. Stay in your lane and all that. Now, I hang out with the other three at lunchtime, but that’s it. Kids form their groups fast, so once my deskmate left, the seating arrangements were very much in place. So I sat at the front, in the top right corner.
Sitting directly behind me, was Ross.
I think he was a year older? Not sure on that, but I do know that puberty did him way more favours than it did me.
He was bigger, wider (but lean), stronger, and he liked to box. With nothing soft to practice on at school, my doughy form was the perfect replacement. He had started the year by sitting at the back, but he had pissed off the teachers so much that they moved him up, but they put him behind me, rather than vice versa.
Throughout the remainder of my time in that school, I’d often wonder how different things would be had he been made sit ahead. Would he have tormented me? Absolutely, but he’d have had a harder time of it if directly in the teacher’s line of sight.
There is a danger of this becoming the whole article, so I’ll try to spare you that.
What he did.
As I said, he enjoyed boxing. Every day, he’d punch me. Just drumming his fists into my back.
I’m trying to make a drum noise, it’s a narrative technique used here to try build my sense of dread and isolation. Please play along.
At first, I’d flinch, or react. Curse at him, try hit back, tell him to stop. It made no difference.
He gave me a nickname at school.
“Hey, your head looks like a Jug” he informed me, and the class laughed. The name stuck.
Unless a teacher was saying it, I never heard my name on school grounds.
Once, a teacher called me by my name in class, and Ross shared that the kids call me Jug. The teacher asked if it bothered me.
“No” I said, as I didn’t want people to think they could affect me.
” Alright, Jug…” the teacher said.
How a person with such a void of emotional maturity became a teacher, I don’t know.
Feeling desperate, I finally tackled him during P.E. I was sick of it. I wanted to hurt him like he did me. We tumbled in the dirt and I was quickly defeated. In the aftermath, he threw me up on one shoulder and carried me like an unruly child.
Puberty did this lad some serious favours.
What I did.
Having now stuck up for myself, only to experience such fertile humiliation, I turned to adults for help.
I had gotten in trouble for fighting him in P.E. Nothing major, the teacher who witnessed it just made us bring home notes to our parents to sign. The teacher himself didn’t think much of it so it went no further than that.
Tears in my eyes, I gave the note to my mother to sign. She was shocked that I would act up in such a way, as I was by any account, a timid child. She signed it and asked how this could have happened. I didn’t cry, as that’s not what young-fellas do, but I shared. I remember being in the back seat of the car when I finally find the courage to ask for help.
Mom, I’m being bullied at school.
She was quiet for a time. My mother is generally kind and quick to laugh but can also be described as a tough, stern and sometimes scary woman who is not one to accept nor make excuses.
If anyone will know what to do, it’s her.
My head hangs low, as I was too ashamed to make eye contact, but I will never forget those words.
No, your not.
If I couldn’t turn to her, where the fuck do I go from there.
So I gave up…
What someone else did.
There are roughly two months left in the school year and I have submitted completely. I no longer defend myself.
Homework is stolen, if not outright ripped up.
He wears rings now, so the punches leave their mark. All I can think to do is try my best not to react. That maybe if I don’t flinch or squeal or squirm, it’ll stop.
It just has to stop.
Now, this a school culture where everyone believes you don’t “rat” on people. things had gotten to such a stage that his friends began to encourage me to tell the teachers. To have them say that, to talk that way around his back, really exemplifies just what this had become.
I wonder how many teachers saw this husk of a child and chose to ignore the issue.
A classmate named Bobby offered to come with me to the principal’s office. I remember another fella called Shane spoke a lot with me on the day I finally went. He, along with Bobby, was doing his best to encourage me to speak up. As he finished talking, Ross came into the room and barrelled through me, slapping my head off the ground.
That moment, when I lay on the floor and Shane is looking at me with such open pity, that’s the part that still hurts most to think about.
So I go to the principal.
I tell him about the punching, the frequency of it, that he stabs me with pens if I refuse to react.
That I’m scared in the yard, or how I’m afraid of bumping into him in town.
That I feel like I’m going to throw up when he first enters the classroom.
The principal is a kindly man. Soft-spoken, shy of 70 years, and leaving soon.
In other words, utterly fucking useless.
They don’t even move his seat in the class.
The remaining two months went as well as you can imagine.
During the summer break, I return to my mother. I’m not sure what changed for her, but this time she listens. Maybe it’s because I asked that I move school so it was easier to deal with the current one than arrange to move.
When I return to school in the new year,
He’s no longer in my class.
He’s still in the school but whatever happened, he leaves me alone. The name Jug, sticks. In 3rd year, a teacher uses it yet again. It still hurts, but at this point, its become my norm. Besides the nickname, my time in school is normal. Even make a few friends for life there.
When I was in my early 20s, I run into Ross again.
He comes into the shop I work at.
While I’m at the counter.
We make some polite small talk.
“How have you been keeping?”
“Oh, you’ve a young-fella? Congratulations.”
Even now, I’m appalled at the audacity of what he says next.
I remember after first year, I heard you said you’d leave the school if we shared a class together.
He laughs. There’s no cruelty or malice there. Just him laughing, as if catching up with a friend.
Just reminiscing on the good times.
I don’t laugh.
I did say that.
I try to say it flatly as if I’m indifferent about the whole thing, I’m not sure how well that goes.
He looks surprised.
I wish I could say I ranted at him. That I let him know precisely how he made me feel. That I somehow make him feel as small and worthless as he made me feel.
But I don’t. I just give him his change and move the fuck on with my day.
What put all of this in my head to begin with, was an invitation. I was invited to a get together by friends and it has proceeded to mess with my head ever since, causing a cascade of mental frustrations ranging from anxiety and sleep loss to intense migraines. Ever since I learned of it, most functioning mental synapses have been consumed by the ruddy thing. “Why?” I hear you ask. Well good fellow, let me tell you. That day is now charging forward, and the chance of it being cancelled or postponed is fading by the second.
On this coming Sunday,
I will be forced to socialise.
For not one hour.
Even three hours would be a mercy.
They want 12 hours.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends. But at this point in my life, I feel it’s a big ask for me to be available for precisely half our Earth’s daily rotation. I dunno how lenient or cavalier you are with the “F” word, so I’m going to explain what it means to me.
There are people I see quite often, who even come into my house roughly once a week, whom I see as “hobby associates”. If we all didn’t like DnD, would we actually engage with one another?
Now, a lot of people make friends through hobbies, no different to how I assume some people start dating and then they go from there. I am friendly towards them, the same way they are towards me, but I guess I would be unwilling to share with them.
That’s what the line is to me. I can welcome you into my home, offer a drink, share a laugh, but I wouldn’t divulge my fears. If at my lowest point, you do not pop into my head as someone to turn to, then there’s the cut-off for me.
At the same time, there are so many subjects that polite society would deem taboo that I will happily engage with, that it is easy to assume I’m being candid with you. So I can see why someone would consider me a friend, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to reciprocate the sentiment…
At this point, I won’t be surprised if you feel like I’m an asshole. Between us, I can’t exactly say you’re wrong neither but there are many subjects that I only share with an intimate number, and even some of those people, I’m not completely open with. This small harem of 4, maybe 5 people, is who I would deem my friends. And of those, I would confidently say there are 2 that I would be willing to open up to.
Anxiety and Perception
Anxiety fucks with you in any way it can. There are the minor worries that we’ve all had, from thinking you left the oven on to worrying if you remembered to lock the car. The pang in your chest is brief, but it’s the same thing. It’s us subconsciously twisting the perception (or reality) of events.
It’s what makes you worry when someone who usually says “Hi!” instead only gives you a curt nod, and rather than assume they are just in a hurry or something is going on at their side, you must have done something to piss them off.
Anxiety is when you are talking in a group chat and it suddenly goes quiet. People are busy these days, simple as, but it couldn’t be that, no no no it must be that they are talking elsewhere without you, possibly in another chat.
Anxiety is you telling yourself that people talk to you out of pity, or a need for something from you. That they can’t just want to talk to you.
Because who would want to talk to you?
Anxiety is living in an alternate reality where every terrible thing you think of yourself is true.
Roughly a month ago, where all this began was as such. Trying to gather 6 of us all together for a whole day of board-gaming and such. The text reads as follows;
Hey, two of us were thinking of trying to arrange a get together. Gonna push the date out by 5 weeks or so, that way no one should have plans.
That message is possibly meant to be read as;
Hey guys, I know work and life can make it really hard for us to all find time to hang out so I figured if we push the date far out enough, hopefully all of us can make it. 🙂
So, how come all I see is;
Hey guys, we all know that if we book it for this week, Paul is likely to make an excuse that it is too short notice, so let’s push it out and that way ever-building external pressure of dissapointing his friends, will guilt him into going.
The introvert in me read the message and shrugged. While it may take energy out of me, I’m still gonna go. To me, anything past 5 hours is a BIG ASK but I’ll try, as one of my friends is feeling low at the moment, so I know the distraction would be a blessing.
However, from the moment this date was settled on, my anxiety has taken over. I’ve muted the chat as I don’t want to keep up the pretence of being all “Getting the gang together, holla holla!” and such.
N.B I never say “holla holla”. Not even ironically.
In less than a month,
I am giving myself up for the day,
So I can hardly stomach more evenings doing that, be it some preliminary texts or otherwise. I’m saying this now, sharing this with you, and I just feel bad. These are my friends.
They trust me.
So why do I so often feel that talking is a burden?
The Art of Conversation
Talking, we do it all the time. But how much of is valuable to us? How much of it matters. It can be so hard, can’t it? With the wrong person, it can feel like you are just chucking words out there to try and thwart the silence.
But no one is listening.
Just a group of people waiting for their turn to talk. So we stifle, we slip up. We embarrass ourselves.
And when that does happen,
I promise to you that it’s fine. When we have anxiety, those moments and memories cling to us and come back in all hours of the dark. We laugh at it, at the cringiness of it all. Nevertheless, it leaves a mark.
And it makes us less sure how to talk with others.
And less able to engage.
That’s the thing with anxiety, or at least with mine. There are absolutely defining external factors in its creation and how it metamorphosed me from one person into another.
And yet, when my head is clearer,
And I’ve managed to make myself socialise in a healthy manner, I truly believe that so much of it is a prison I built for myself.
I just wish I could convince myself long enough to find the key.
The Wrap Up
Like I figured, this thing has become a wee bit of a mess. I knew I should have talked about this fucker second, as I’m fighting so hard here to find a positive way to end this piece. I was hoping that by the time I got here, I’d have an answer, maybe even some words that could help.
After a week or so of coming back to this, I’ve accepted that I have no answer. I even changed the title, so you’d understand that there will be no resolution here.
There are days that you just can’t see what you have to offer.
On our best days, we know that there are things we just don’t know.
Or just can’t do. Remember those thoughts.
Remember those days.
And when that dread begins to build. That dread that tells you your friends don’t like you or that no one wants to talk to you.
As a personal favour to me,
Tell it to shut the fuck up.
The best explanation for anxiety I’ve heard was that it’s just conspiracy theories about yourself. Here’s the thing, a conspiracy theory cannot exist without making some large leaps of logic.
The next time someone gives a nod when they’d usually say “Hi!”,
move on from it.
The next time the group chat goes dead once you’ve said something,
Spam that chat with gifs Goddam you!
And the next time your anxiety tells you that yer worthless
Remind yourself that you are worth more.
This one was hard. Mostly because I had delved into it already back in Episode I and didn’t want to re-thread ground, nevermind the fact that I tried to find a conclusion to something unique to each of us, and therefore inconclusive.
Stay well, and always feel free to get in touch.