Most of the time, I dodge social interactions. I will turn down invitations to parties. I will take the seat in the back of the room to avoid drawing attention to myself. I will text someone after they leave a voicemail instead of calling them back. I will make my life harder than it needs to be if that means avoiding a potentially awkward conversation.
It’s not that I hate people. It’s just that my anxiety makes it difficult for me to hold a decent conversation. It’s rare for me to find someone I click with because I am usually too busy stumbling over my words and calling myself an idiot inside of my mind to focus on what the other person is saying. I end up blushing and stumbling and trying to find the nearest exit to end the embarrassment as soon as possible.
However, once in a blue moon, I will have a conversation with someone that doesn’t feel forced, a conversation that actually flows and feels natural.
When that happens, it raises my confidence for the entire day. It makes me feel like a functioning human being. I will replay the conversation in my mind again and again, proud of myself for how I handled the situation.
For a few minutes, or maybe even hours, I will trick myself into believing that maybe I am getting better, maybe I am learning how to hold conversations, maybe socializing isn’t as scary as I always made it out to be.
The only problem is that I am the only one who feels that way. Other people — people who are skilled, social butterflies — have no idea how much weight the conversation we just had held. The words we exchanged don’t mean as much to them because they are used to having casual conversations with coworkers and strangers at the supermarket. It is not a big deal to them.
But to me, it’s a huge deal. It means maybe I’m not so awkward after all.
When someone has a nice conversation with me where I feel comfortable the entire time, I will never forget them. They will get locked away inside my mind. It doesn’t matter if they were only speaking to me for a few minutes while waiting for the bus or while in line at the post office. When someone is able to talk to me without causing me to have an internet breakdown, they earn a special place in my memories.
My anxiety makes the smallest conversation seem like the biggest accomplishment — and I am okay with that. I am allowed to be proud of myself for answering the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail. I am allowed to be excited about raising my hand in class instead of letting someone else answer the question. I am allowed to feel a rush of adrenaline when I answer the door instead of ignoring the knocks.
I am allowed to be happy about things other people might consider small.