Man, I hate social anxiety. So many times this year I’ve felt like I’m just barely scraping by and being crushed under the weight of other people’s judgment of me. I’m aware there have been more than a handful of times I most likely blew the situation out of proportion in my mind or upped the expectations of what I assumed other people wanted in how I should behave socially. In both scenarios, a great deal of anxiety rushed at me and I did not feel capable of moving forward with pushing past the feeling and being all smiles and casual small talk.
A few hours earlier, a relative dropped by after driving over from another state. I knew she was due to arrive soon but it seemed the traffic held her up, I think. In my home, the living room is basically the main room a person goes into after stepping through the front door. I had just eaten dinner at that point and hung out in the living room for a little bit. It was also on purpose that I lingered there; hoping my relative would arrive by then so I could exchange some sort of pleasantries with her before I not so inconspicuously went up to my room for solitary time. This relative happened to be my dad’s sisters L, as she came over to see another sister, T, who was currently staying over.
I’m no good when relatives come visiting. Aunt T and her friend arrived straight from the airport last night to settle into the house and today I acted as their pseudo-tour guide (when really all I did was go with them to two retail stores they wanted to visit). The trip in total was like 4 hours, only because there was lots of walking and we took two breaks in-between to grab a snack and then actually eat a full lunch. I should be giving myself a pat on the back for being “brave”.
Initially, when Aunt T asked me this morning if I was willing to be a tour guide for the day, I could have declined or made up an excuse about being busy. I could have hid in my room or simply ducked out of the house without anyone realizing I had gone, as I have done in past instances when other relatives were staying over and my parents would try to persuade me to accompany those people for outings and stuff.
Instead what I felt after that four-hour trip was drained and honestly hoping that was the last “brave” thing I had to do for today. I agreed to play tour guide since I was familiar with the two places she and her friend wanted to go, and had she not come to me with her plans for the day, I would have still gone out on my own. Aunt T made light conversation with me; asking me general questions about the streets or buildings that looked different since her last visit to New York 5 years ago.
She did ask questions about myself. I felt like a fumbling, awkward idiot with a variety of my answers. For some I took a beat longer to formulate a stilted response, particularly with questions that had some level of sensitivity in terms of how much information I was comfortable and/or not comfortable sharing, all out of fear of how I was being perceived and/or judged. What had happened to the dog I used to have? What about that pet parrot who I was literally always with? How long had it been since I last went to her home country (Taiwan)? Such simple, non-threatening questions and yet somehow my brain was still raising an alarm and screaming DANGER at me.
Aunt T even suggested I stay at her home in Taiwan if I went back with her in November and then she could take me around Japan for a few days too. Nice offer, except it conflicts with a school opportunity I am currently looking into which has a proposed class start date sometime in the same month. This is the biggest problem so far with my anxiety. Rather than share this information with her, I smiled and said I would consider her suggestion. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her because not even my own parents know yet that I am interested in returning to school to study something else. I’m not sure when the last straw will snap and break the camel’s back but I’m being driven into a corner where I can’t keep holding onto this secret forever. Once again the apprehension stems from the automatic thought I have that no matter how I spin it, someone in my family will be skeptical that me going to school again is a good option.
I share very little of my innermost thoughts and feelings with my immediate family. What I’ve never liked is telling something to one person and then that person ends up telling other people in the family about it. It shouldn’t feel like a big deal to me, especially if the information being shared is not awful or negative, but I cannot stop my seemingly automatic perception that the person is obviously going to think badly of me in some shape or form. I hate my own perception that just because I am the topic of a conversation, it feels as though all the attention is on me. I feel some of my skewed perceptions are not my fault because my reactions are in response to other people’s actions which I cannot control (even though I wish time and time again that I could).
An additional contributor to the perceived judgment I sense is when either of my parents switch to a different language dialect when speaking in my presence. I’m not saying all immigrant parents do this, but mine certainly do use the language difference to their advantage when they are obviously talking about someone while the person is right there and they don’t want the person to know they’re talking about him/her.
Which brings me back to what happened with Aunt L earlier this evening. She popped in shortly after I had given up waiting in the living room and gone upstairs to exercise in my room. I thought, Well, I guess I’ll see her later when she comes up (because she was staying overnight in one of the upstairs bedrooms). Instead I hear my dad telling me (from downstairs) that Aunt L arrived. I made the decision to not go down. I could have, yes. But like with Aunt T, I felt it would be awkward for me to try to hold a conversation with her. Even the times I’ve stayed over Aunt T’s house, it was like I always let her take the initiative with talking to me or prompting me with questions. My guard was never truly down.
Of course I felt dumb about my choice, like, what the hell are you doing?? Just go say hi! I even thought about taking my cup downstairs with me and going into the kitchen pretending to be casually filling it with water while greeting my aunt. But nope. I was a coward. I got more anxious once I could make out Aunt T and her friend talking animatedly with her. Yes, I heard them all the way from my bedroom (that’s how non-soundproofed my home is). Then my brother got home from work and he joined them in the kitchen. I don’t know who or what to blame for my course of action. All that noise made me jittery and afraid of what I would be walking into. Had it been Aunt L and my dad in the kitchen, I probably wouldn’t have cared so much and just gone downstairs. But the more people there were, the more unsettled I felt about the contrast of how much chattering they were doing and how little I would be saying if I managed to open my mouth at all.
When Aunt T did finally come upstairs to prepare to turn in for the night, I greeted her as she was in the hallway. She briefly brought up what Aunt L had suggested for me and I told her I still needed time to think it over. The painful part afterward was hearing the verbal exchange between her and my dad from the next room over… They used the language dialect they speak in their family. I caught bits and pieces, mostly because I don’t have full comprehension of the language. My dad basically asked her if I spoke to her and she confirmed I did, along with what I said. I didn’t understand the next thing he said, which is probably why I got the feeling it was something negative. It also didn’t help that I heard him kind of scoff, too?
Featured Image by Peter Forster.