anxiety · life · social anxiety

Nothing bad happened

Surprisingly, Tuesday’s social anxiety coloring book meetup #5 went well. I truly feel like I engaged in conversation with people more and actually enjoyed talking to them, which is a feat I never thought I could accomplish. Of course a bunch of awkward things happened that I’m still mulling over even now, but I’ll get to that later.

I grew concerned about being late since I had got off on my train stop a few minutes later than usual. After several blocks, I arrived to my destination with perspiration on my forehead and my heart hammering from both the physical exertion of speed walking and panic over whether any of my event guests had showed up yet.

The event location, as it has been for the last four meetups, was held at a public atrium, where anyone can occupy a table and have lunch or whatever. Instantly when I walked in, I felt several pairs of eyes on me from people at nearby tables that had me thinking, Don’t look at me, don’t look at me! It’s incredibly jarring that people’s instinct is to stare when they see someone. I guess it’s not technically wrong to stare, but being stared at can be intimidating and unbearable. I start thinking people are staring because I look strange or they dislike me. I avoided holding my gaze on anyone specific and instead focused on continuing to look around for an empty table I could claim for my meetup group.

Eventually, I found a large table and got settled down by pulling out my books and supplies. After some minutes, I happened to glance over at the atrium entrance and saw someone come in. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but from the second I saw that person, something in my gut made me perceive he was here for the meetup. A beat passed, and I shoved this feeling away as I looked away, wondering if I was mistaken.

Nope. Seems like he sensed something too since he walked over to me right away. With him closer to me, I recognized his face from his profile picture on the meetup website, as he had left me a comment on the event page some days ago. His name is Francois.

Talking to him was very interesting because as typical of me when I meet someone new in the group, I feel curious and have the urge to ask questions to better know the person. Usually, these questions never make it out of my mouth because I get so conscious of whether I will sound stupid, or if somehow my curiosity and questions will inevitably cause a negative reaction from the person.  I remember shaking his hand after he introduced himself with a huge and very open smile on his face. Francois. I said my name in return after his introduction. He mentioned trying to call me by phone, but that he got my number wrong, and how he wandered over to me after noticing me and my coloring books. As he sat down, I got the usual burst of anxiety brewing in me as I juggled the questions popping up in my head.

I don’t know what made me take a chance. Was it because he seemed so nice and open after I had only just met him? Or was my brain learning to change after previously hosting the event four times, and each time, feeling perpetual anxiety over wanting to ask someone a question in an effort to get to know him/her better, only to be too afraid to ask it?

I remember the very first question I asked him. Where are you from? A simple question, but in that millisecond that his eyes locked with mine before he answered, I felt frozen and half-contemplated (in a very social anxiety ridden way) whether the ceiling would fall on me or if a bomb would implode around me because I dared to go against my fears. That’s how badly I assume the outcome will be for me if I ask questions. Toronto, he answered. My heart gave a jolt of relief. Nothing bad happened. I felt a small twinge of stupidity at my question, but I also felt compelled to continue the conversation. Before I could allow the negativity to set in, I said my next question. Where do you live? 

I think I felt braver with each question I asked. Sometimes I sprinkled in a response to some of his answers. I also found myself enjoying the conversation. I did feel slight discomfort when he asked me questions. I tried to keep my cool and not omit my answers. The whole time I spoke as I made eye contact with him and could see him paying attention as he listened to me, I was waging an internal battle against my negativity. God, you sound ridiculous. You are most definitely boring him with this story you are telling right now. You should quit while you are at it. Stop embarrassing yourself. That’s what I heard my conscious telling me as I spoke. Yet I persevered. I kept talking. And when Francois did not have a bad reaction to what I said, I shouted back at the negative voice in my head. See, nothing bad happened. I’m fine. I did nothing wrong. I’m capable of making conversation. 

Annelise came next. I was so focused on talking with Francois that I almost didn’t see her until she called my name. After her came Michael and Rose. I had greeted Michael before when he came to my prior meetups, but never really spoken to him. Rose was a first timer. Annelise had been asking Francois about his day job before Michael and Rose arrived, and after introductions, Francois continued explaining his job to Annelise. He works at a convenience store. Anneliese implied this might be something I could do too since I mentioned to her through text of my interest in finding a retail-type job and my worries about if I could be hired with no prior experience. So I got to talking to Francois about how he got hired. Rose chimed in at one point and asked me if I was looking for a job. An inexplicable fear gripped me when I was given the opportunity to tell her what kind of job I was looking for and what I wanted to start out with right now. I did tell her, and to my relief, nothing bad happened again. My thought distortions were proven wrong again. She advised, from her own experience, that networking is the way to go, and it might be easier to get hired if I can get a friend (who already works somewhere) to put in a good word for me if the place is hiring.

I got a dose of awkwardness when a woman I had never seen before arrived for the meetup, but I didn’t see her at first. By the time I did, she had already said hi to the people nearby to her but nothing to me, before she sat down at the opposite end of the table. I could have asked for her name or introduced myself, but the awkwardness kept me from it. I was worried about people looking at me if I began a verbal interaction with her. See, in some ways, I still struggle with aspects of social anxiety and don’t know how to deal with the issue except revert to my old habits.

Later on after even more people arrived, the space at the table got tighter. Annelise suggested we all move to another table that had an empty table next to it so we could push the two tables together and have more room. I  was so indecisive about whether we should move or not. I felt especially self-conscious about having to announce this change to everyone since the group seemed to be engrossed in coloring already. I hate this about social anxiety. I understood that the right step seemed to be to move to the other table but actually thinking about having to announce it made me afraid. I felt stuck and pushed into a corner of inaction by my own fears. Strike number two for me. Of course I didn’t tell Annelise any of this and instead feigned indecisiveness about her inquiry. In the end, she then asked everyone else if they wanted to move and everyone followed in agreement by getting up and moving to the other table.

Things got shuffled up at the new tables, in terms of who sat where. Rose had been next to me at the original table, and Francois had been across from me, but they ended up sitting next to each other at the second table while I was at the other one, with Annelise on my right and Michael on my left.

I wasn’t sure what to say to Michael. The previous times I’ve met him, we only said hi and bye to each other. I didn’t have much of an opinion of him at this point, aside from him being a quiet person, but that’s not unusual to be this way in this group. Surprisingly, he started talking on his own. I think someone at the other table made a comment about an “illegitimate cat” and he expressed doubts about ever seeing a “legitimate cat” born. I quickly caught onto the joke, which is that all cats are technically born out of wedlock. He responded in turn to my observation. It was interesting to share that moment with him.

I was also caught off guard when I was talking to Annelise about Game of Thrones (we both love the show) and I said the show has a lot of sex and violence. Annelise pointed out that the depiction reflects the nature of humans. I quietly echoed in agreement, and then Michael noted jokingly that I said it like it was a bad thing.

At some point, the discussion turned to talking about the movie Suicide Squad, which Francois brought up at his end of the table. It was hard to hear Francois and Rose because they were so far away. But Michael told Annelise and I that the movie was terrible. He spoke of Will Smith’s nonexistentt and useless character. The conversation delved into the comic book that the movie was based on after I asked him about it. We lapsed into a calm silence sometime after, but a thought popped into my head. I recalled Will Smith had worked with Margot Robbie in a previous film, without remembering what it was called. Normally the voice in my head would tell me to keep my mouth shut and not voice such a potentially stupid inquiry, but in the next instant I found myself thinking, What is the actual harm in saying this?, and the words flew out of my mouth. Relief washed over me again when Michael didn’t react negatively as the paranoia in my head was telling me he would, and instead he told me the name of the movie. Focus, it was called. I mentioned that I haven’t ever seen Will Smith in anything besides Men in Black.

Later I got up the nerve to ask another girl, Winnie, how old she is. This was during a discussion about Andrew and how old he actually is. Winnie is 36, but she doesn’t look it, at least not to me. I told her that she looks 25.

It was only after the event I realized I was less nervous during the meetup than I was the previous four times. I definitely still felt an imbalance in the conversation flow, though. Some people were just too faraway for me to hear or they were only talking to those next to them. I’m also disappointed I didn’t get to talk with Francois more since he seems like an interesting person. However, I am proud I managed to converse with some people, even if it was just asking a question, because of how hard it’s been for me to feel safe enough to reach out to people in that way.

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