I feel kind of pathetic writing this, but on some days I feel as if I just about barely exchange 5 sentences with anyone and I’m lucky if I even manage to interact with someone at least once. Yesterday was this exact type of day.
I stopped by the dollar store on my way to the subway station. The place was bustling with people although the lines got very long since there were only two cashiers. Just seeing how busy everything was made me want to walk out empty-handed without buying a thing. Even after I meandered down every aisle and took my time picking out snacks, I felt I did my fair share of pretending as a way to cope with anxiety. For example, every time I was walking and heard someone behind me with a shopping cart going down the same way I was, it inadvertently gave me the feeling of being “chased” or hurried along so I opted to stop in front of a shelf and make it look as if I was contemplating buying something or looking for a specific item just so the person with the cart could go past me without interruption. Similarly, I spent more time than necessary in the candy section when two women were blocking the way with their carts as they stood there chattering idly for about a minute before lazily grabbing their candy and finally moving on.
Then came time for me to get on line to pay for my items. I actively avoided the line for a different cashier because I had observed her earlier on multiple occasions greeting each person by asking them how they were. For me, this kind of customer service is not bad exactly. I get that the question itself is an invitation for a brief pleasantry that the person can respond to with whatever they want, however, I’m the type that would rather just say, “I’m fine, thanks” or “I’m good”, and end the conversation there while battling my own thoughts about whether I sounded too curt or too unfriendly by not saying very much. Of course, I want to be polite by responding but I feel super stiff because I don’t know what to say besides a generalized answer. Specifically, I avoided that particular cashier because I wanted to avoid the inevitable awkwardness I would feel about my own minuscule response. Even with this cashier, who appeared to be genuine with her greetings, I couldn’t bring myself to interact with her. Being on line puts me in the mindset of a robot. Sometimes I think of cashiers as robots too since from what I’ve experienced as a customer in the retail industry, most cashiers will give the minimal “hi” or “hello” before they get right to work with scanning your item(s), saying your total owed amount, ringing up whatever amount you give them, and handing me my change before I’m expected to leave so they can service the next person. So there’s very little actual interaction there. Sometimes I prefer it this way because it gives me an excuse to indulge myself in believing I’m not actually being seen. To me, not being seen equals comfort and safety and it also gives me another reason to avoid feeling anxious.
What also made me freak out a little is seeing the cashier playfully comment on one male customer’s purchases, which were all treats for his dog. I imagined myself in that very situation; standing there and trying not to fidget or play with my hair out of discomfort while forcing a smile to my face. I get truly uncomfortable whenever someone engages with me verbally in the presence of onlookers who are observing what is going on. I can hardly behave or speak a word without being super conscious about these other people looking at me. My thoughts always go to, What must they be thinking of me? Naturally, I always assume it’s something negative.
When it was my turn on line, I feel as if I had dodged a bullet after the cashier said hi to me but went through my purchases quickly since I had only a few items. For a beat, I dreaded the moment I placed my items on the conveyor belt since there is always a part of me that worries if the people behind me are judging me for what I buy. I never know how to posture myself in the few seconds that come during when I simply have to stand there and wait for the cashier to tell me my total owed amount. I hate that being in the front gives the person behind me full access to seeing me. My fear is persistent yet I know that what I am imagining might not be real. I didn’t even look at the person behind me but for all I could know he/she wasn’t even looking directly at me or if he/she did look at me, it probably wasn’t for very long. The crazy thing is I realize the chances of only myself, out of everyone who shops at the same store, having this kind of anxiety is very slim, meaning others might have had similar thoughts. That’s my assumption although I have never spoken to anyone in there about whether they feel socially anxious as they wait on line.
Next, I got on the subway to yoga class. A guy in the next seat over to mine asked me for a tissue. I was surprised by his request since I was in the midst of a game on my phone and also had my earphones on to audio from a podcast. Out of some weird instinct to respond verbally even though I felt surprised, I said, “A tissue?” Then I fumbled around in my bag for a few seconds since I had stuffed the tissue packet near the bottom. I gave him two sheets and only nodded in response when he thanked me. I remember I didn’t look at him directly when he spoke to me. Again, I had the same problem as the previous situation. I felt myself being watched by bystanders and this time it was a couple sitting across from me. Had they not been there, I might’ve felt more comfortable when the guy thanked me and I would have said, “No problem” and actually looked him in the eye. It really sucks that my perception of being seen makes me withdraw so much. I also noticed for the first time that often when I’m prompted with a question that requires me to give something to someone, I would much rather just begin searching for the item than take the time to respond verbally first.
Yoga class. I arrived early and went up the steps to the studio. There was a girl sitting on the top step and she was typing on her phone. I assumed she was also there for the class. When I noticed the door was closed, she told me that the previous class hadn’t ended yet. I did not say anything in response to this and did not make eye contact as I went to stand by the door. At first, I felt fine with not saying anything. Then a beat later, as it usually happens in my brain, it entered my frame of mind that I could’ve thanked her for the info or said “Oh, ok” or at least something to show I heard her. By the time I realize I could have said something, I typically don’t end up saying it at all. The door eventually opened. Two students from the previous class were still there talking to the instructor. I mistook one of the guys (who was sitting down as he put on his shoes) as the instructor and said hi to him. I quickly realized my mistake when he left and I noticed the remaining student conversing with the actual teacher, a woman. I was going to greet her, but she and the student were still talking when I had finished putting away my things and preparing to find a spot to set down my yoga mat so I went past them wordlessly. A part of me felt relieved that I didn’t have to say anything. Ugh. There was no one else there with their mat yet so I was content to sit there in solitude. The instructor flashed me a smile as she went by, commenting that the music was too loud before she lowered the volume a little. I guess she didn’t want the noise to surprise me since she actually told me she would be testing out her microphone. I said ok. That was the jist of my interaction with her until after the class was over when I put two dollars in the class donation box and said bye.
Afterward, I went to eat my lunch at Whole Foods. I had packed a banana and large apple, in addition to the snacks I bought at the dollar store earlier. I did not intend to buy anything except coffee but since it was only a dollar I got a bagel too. My mind had a second of panic when I didn’t see iced coffee listed on the coffee bar menu but I didn’t have time to let it sink in since I was next on line. Instead, I just asked if there was iced coffee. There was, thankfully. I made my way to find a seat at the food court after that. I had to pass the general checkout area to get there and almost didn’t go through because I didn’t want to give the impression to the people on line that I was going up to an available cashier by skipping the line. The fear was real and I half-expected someone to shout at me to stop but I kept walking and eventually got past the cashier counters. It is a little weird to reveal my train of thoughts in this situation because I’m sure if anyone reading this had seen me in real life during the incident, I most likely didn’t even look nervous or afraid as I sauntered past the line of people. This proves that just because someone isn’t having a meltdown by crying/shaking/breathing rapidly or showing signs of physical distress, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing there.
Lunch was a quiet affair. While I ate, I was also waiting to see if anyone sitting near the wall outlets was going to leave since my phone was getting low on battery and I wanted to charge it. I ended up taking my things with me for a restroom stop but then came back to take a different seat near an outlet. As I plugged my phone in, the lady at the next table over said something to me in what sounded like Spanish. She gestured to her own phone charger and seemed to be offering it to me. Unsure if she understood English, I responded with my own gesture of declination. I started working on one of my cross stitch projects but then a guy with a cart came by and asked if he could sit. My habit of doing rather than saying kicked in and I simply moved my rolled up yoga mat so he could take a seat. I would have been fine with this but I started wishing he would leave when he began talking to himself and making a variety of noises like he was acting out sound effects to a movie. He seemed to be bored or hyper because when a male employee came by, he stood up to go over and talk to him. Shortly after he left and took his cart with him.