Being anti-social isn’t always a choice. It’s often a necessity.
Despite the fact I’m a writer, public speaker and trainer, I’m very shy and I’m deathly afraid of social interaction. I don’t like being around people. Many don’t believe me when I say this, especially after they’ve known me for a while because I’m very outgoing, silly, flirty and fun.
Some wonder how I can be outgoing, yet not like being around people.
Well, that’s part of why I have issues…
I have no problem standing up in front of a crowd of hundreds of people to speak, entertain or teach and I usually have no issue being one on one with someone, but if I’m in a room as a guest at a party, family gathering or social event, I’m done.
Words can’t express how uncomfortable I am in these situations. This has proven to be a problem for me in life, especially during the holidays. As I got older, and after lots of therapy, I learned what I thought was shyness was actually social anxiety.
As a child, I grew up in a very dysfunctional family. Holidays were always a festival of arguments, anger and seclusion for me. I didn’t want to be around that, so I’d often remove myself away from everyone else.
As an adult, I never knew what it was like to have a “normal” holiday dinner. When I got married, sit down family dinners were the norm for her family. This scared me.
It wasn’t because I didn’t like her family, I was just incredibly uncomfortable.
When my anxiety would go through the roof I would either choose to not go to these dinners, or I’d limit my time there. My excuses were always interpreted as me being selfish and rude. I hated being that way, but that’s how my brain worked.
I’ve had times where my social anxiety would cause me to feel tightness in my chest like I couldn’t breathe. I’d get dizzy and feel like my head is imploding and my heart rate would increase to where I felt like my heart was going to explode.
There was no reason for why I felt how I felt. It’s just how I was wired. It bothered me just as much as it probably bothered other people, but no one ever really understood.
My choice at family events when feeling like this was either to experience horrible mental anguish, or do something that was perceived to be rude. The old saying of “it’s not you, it’s me” couldn’t have been more true, but I never had any bad intentions.
If that was selfish of me, I guess I’m a horrible person.
My ex-wife used to always say “my friends all think you’re not real” because I never would go to parties or other outings with her. Again, it wasn’t that I didn’t like her friends. I just had massive anxiety issues that were downplayed as me just being rude.
As such, her friends seemed to think I wasn’t very nice. This did nothing to help my anxiety. I then felt I was being judged which made me even more uncomfortable.
I would force myself to do things sometimes and it would usually end badly. I would go with her to someone’s houses or an events where I’d often be left sitting by myself. “You can talk to people” she’d say. Actually, no, I couldn’t. That wasn’t how it worked.
There was a time when I was fighting major depression and PTSD. My world was falling apart. My ex-wife liked to talk to her friends and she told everybody everything. This shut me down even more and there was no opening back up. At that point there was no way I could show my face anywhere out of embarrassment and shame because I didn’t just think I was being judged…I knew I was.
All the times I sat home alone missing out on things, I knew what I was missing. I wished I could be normal, but it never happened. I didn’t choose to be that way.
Pretty much all of the family on my side have died. I’m divorced now and my kids do the holiday thing with their mom far away from me. That leaves me home alone.
Problem solved, right?
Not so much.
Enduring years of this stuff messed me up and I don’t think I’ll ever be “normal”. While I’m not as bad as I once was, I do still have problems. After my divorce, things were pretty difficult for me being a single 46 year old man with issues, thrust into the world alone. It posed a major issue with meeting people.
I feared the feelings I once had would return if I put myself into social situations. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t, but I don’t want to find out. I end up secluding myself as I did many other times in my life.
As others gather to enjoy their holiday dinners, I watch from the outside. People I know invite me to partake in activities because they say they feel bad about me sitting home alone, but I respectfully turn them down. Not because I’m rude, but because they have idea where I’ve been.
Written by Marty Augustine