Am I really here? Do I really exist? Am I truly being seen? What do people perceive when they look at me, when they interact with me? Do they remember me still after time has blurred the edges of a memory?
These questions came up in my mind at the most random moment ever. I was having a very quiet Thursday morning as I caught up on some cross stitching. For the last two Thursdays, I was volunteering for an environmental organization where I worked with my supervisor, Carla, both times. I wasn’t planning on signing up again this week because, yes, I was starting to feel I was fast approaching the bridge of social norms where I’m caught in the space between “I’m a general acquaintance of this person” and also having the potential to change it into “I’m an acquaintance of this person but I am getting to know him/her better now”. And that made me very nervous. With any relationship, I have the choice to make it into something more. This is the trouble I always have with people who I know I could become friends with if only I weren’t so terrible at communication.
These thoughts led me to consider how relieved I feel after I have successfully navigated a social interaction without being a complete mess. And the internal cringing I do as I’m finally out of the situation and on the subway or in a cafe or wherever place that allows me time and space to consider all the things I f*cked up on during whatever conversation or verbal exchange I had earlier. I’m a person whose mind always goes there even if things went well in the situation, so the alternative I have for not getting stuck in my own negativity is to know I’ll still think bad things about myself but I won’t mull over them to the extent of allowing one perceived “bad” thing that happened to ruin my mood for the rest of the day. That is usually the consolation I use to move on from the internal beatdown I give myself and to not try to delve into the “mindreading” technique of imagining what the other person thought of me. It also helps to be physically away from the person so it is easier for me to feel safer with the mantra, “out of sight, out of mind.”
Today I felt strangely guilty for not volunteering at the usual place. I even wondered if my supervisor noticed I didn’t sign up to come. Or maybe she didn’t since I have only been with her one day out of a week for the last two weeks. I really am self-deprecating with how little value I sometimes put on my own presence. For example, the times I am present for something, I assume I’m just a one-off person that people can see but will forget about later in the day. I don’t think it’s sad because it happens to everyone. I see people all the time but of course they’re just strangers I see once and never again, I won’t remember them a week later. Even people who exude a charismatic air or are physically striking, I might be more likely to recall what they looked like but not to the point I remember every detail of their faces or how they were dressed.
For social situations where I am a one-off, it is kind of helpful to think I will be forgettable so I feel more okay about making an idiot of myself, with the knowledge I will never see those people again afterward. Yay or nay? For the opposite scenario, where I have future chances of seeing the same person again, I just feel more nervous about how I am supposed to act because the person will obviously get a stronger impression of who I am the more times he/she interacts with me. Only on this blog could I admit something like this. And it’s not the actual person who triggers such feelings in me. Sure, I can be afraid of flubbing things up by being too quiet. I have an ideal that I need to live up to the social etiquette of the situation by being cheerful and open and talkative and I know I can’t because I’m too busy gauging what is the wrong or right thing to say. Which seems to shatter my own expectations for myself because how can I have an ideal about how I should act socially, yet at every turn, question if how I’m behaving is good enough?
This circles back to my existential crisis questions. A long time ago one of my default reactions, whenever I felt invisible in the presence of other people, was to act like I wasn’t even there. I would go away in my head and completely disassociate myself from my surroundings. So while I knew people could physically see me in the sense if they looked over at me, they would think, Oh, there’s someone sitting/standing there, but as far as I knew, I wanted to believe they were looking at thin air and my presence was actually affecting no one. The introvert in me still struggles during times when I would rather not be seen. It’s those times I really want to revert to disassociating from reality even though I’ve moved on from that unhealthy period in my life. In public when people stop me to ask me a question, I still have rare moments where I look into the person’s eyes and feel both startled and confused by the amount of trust reflecting back at me. It’s a natural human thing to lean on someone else for help. I’m not completely comfortable with being depended upon in this way. I know it’s because I do want and I do not want to be seen and because of the weight of knowing I can’t just pretend I’m not there.