I can’t go one day without doing something and cringing internally over it even if the situation lasted mere seconds. Today is one of those days, but I’m trying to move past it. I realize that, with my mind works, I tend to blow things up and replay it in slow motion in my head, scrutinizing every minuscule thing I felt I did wrong.
Here’s a list of some of these things:
*As a cashier was ringing up my items that I originally put in a cart basket, she asked me to put the basket back to the front of the store later. I agreed to do it, but after she gave me my change and bagged items, I got very distracted when she looked at me and smiled as she told me to “have a nice day”. I don’t know what made me more socially anxious; the fact she gave me a genuine smile, that I was flipping out thinking she could see into the depths of my soul by making eye contact with me, or that she was addressing me directly and I was so not prepared in the moment to say anything back. Of course, I have experience with wishing a cashier a good afternoon, and on my better days, I can say the words back without feeling as anxious. Just the other day I had the standard interaction with a cashier, one in which I said only three things to this person. “Hi” (when she greeted me), “Um, paper” (when she asked if I wanted my items in a plastic or paper bag), and “Thank you” (when she handed me my change and receipt). After that, I was putting away my change into my wallet and at the spur of the moment as I went to take my bag, I said, “have a good afternoon”. The cashier has her attention elsewhere at the moment I said this to her, but she heard me and smiled before wishing me the same in return. However, today’s interaction felt like a disaster. I had seconds to push myself to respond after she spoke to me. I also felt really uncomfortable and kinda wanted to run away. I would have but felt obligated to say something back. I guess that’s why I said really fast, “you have a good afternoon too” and walked off. I have no idea if she heard me clearly. Probably not, or maybe that’s what I assumed based on how awkward I felt. I was a few paces away when I realized I forgot to grab the cart basket from the counter but I was so embarrassed about forgetting in the first place that I just kept walking. Ugh.
*Walking down a crowded street for several blocks, I mostly focused on looking ahead of me to see what street I was approaching or looking at the names of the stores I passed. I used to not be fully aware of when my heart was beating faster during moments of mild anxiety like this one. For the people walking in the opposite direction, meaning they were actually walking towards me, I felt a little skittish about any one of them glancing my way. It’s easy for me to not be self-conscious if someone literally looks at me for not even a second before their gaze falls on someone else. Those times I think, Phew, I’m safe. But I’m most scared of the people whose eyes stay on me for more than two seconds. This is such a deep seated problem I’ve always had. I want to be seen and heard because although I’m so socially anxious, I crave fulfilling and lasting social relationships. It’s one thing to be nervous when I actually have face-to-face conversations with people, but somehow I’m already even more nervous than I should be just from a person looking at me. I’m that scared of people without even talking to them. This in itself made me feel ashamed and like a failure at life in general.
*There was a special promotion at French crepe cafe that offered $1 crepes. I intended to stop by there today, but I looked up the store on Yelp first to see if I could get an idea of what was on their menu. All their food names were really French sounding. Immediately I dreaded the idea of trying to order something and butchering the French words in my miserable attempt at pronunciation. Yep. I freaked and decided not to go, even though I was like two streets away from the cafe at this point.
*As I waited on the platform for my subway ride home, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything for the afternoon. I had a few chocolate wafer sticks that I finished off as I stood there. For a moment I was so hungry and stuffing my face without caring who was looking. This coming from me, who used to prefer to starve for whole afternoons than eat in public because I was too terrified of being noticed. Then I saw two guys on the platform across from me looking my way. Aaaah. I went from not caring to wondering if I was being judged for eating in a subway station. Not that I can genuinely say I know that’s what they were thinking, but my thought process always swings onto the negative side of the meter.
The key thing in these four situations I dealt with today is perception. My perception is very flawed anytime I feel I’m being noticed in either small or big ways. I cringe internally at how I react because it’s my way of beating myself up for my perceived social failures. What I hate most is the presence of my anxiety in the situations I described above and feeling like a fraud trying to cope by responding and doing my best to pretend to behave normally, but then obsessing about whether I did indeed come across as “normal” to these people.