As an adult, it's difficult to have control over your own life when you are a shy person by nature. This is something I've struggled with for years and I've never really put into words how it actually makes me feel. This post is an attempt at that and an attempt at seeing how other people might deal with this issue.
On the internet, I am bold. I say what I feel and I'm honest. With my family and close friends, I'm the same. Sometimes I'm even clever and quick-witted. I make jokes with ease. I am not able to do this around people I barely know or around people who are just acquaintances. When I try to converse like a normal person, I get tongue-tied or my voice comes out as a whisper. I say stupid things and am generally very awkward. My adrenaline speeds up to uncomfortable levels and my heart pounds. I am shy.
I'm not sure when it started, but I haven't always been shy. You might remember this post where I was the first person in my Kindergarten class to get in trouble -- for yelling out in class. My teachers in elementary school usually remarked my report card with a nicer version of, "Cherie is a good student, but she never shuts up." If I really had to pinpoint when it happened, I would say that it was somewhere around 2002 when I moved to Virginia. My father died in August of 2002 and we moved to my current city about a month later. I started school in a city I barely knew with kids I'd never met before. I attended a very small, private school where the number of kids per grade was usually somewhere between 5 and 10. I was shy at first, but due to the size of the school, I came into my own fairly quickly.
I started attending public school again in high school. My high school experience was less than stellar. Although I look back on it more fondly than I did while I was actually there (nostalgia and all that), I wouldn't care to repeat those four years due to how awkward it was for me socially. I was used to attending small schools. Even before the tiny private school, my school in Missouri still only boasted about 100 kids per grade. My high school? There were closer to 400 of us. And that was just the freshman class.
It was a culture shock. I came home crying to my mom after the first day of school thinking I'd never fit in there and I'd never make any friends. While I don't think I ever really "fit in," I did eventually make some friends. But it took me considerably longer to warm up to the high school kids than it ever did in the past.
When I would think about approaching some kids to see if I could sit with them at lunch or even to ask them a harmless question about the homework, my stomach would knot up and I'd feel how I assume it feels to be sea sick. And whenever I would actually be bold enough to speak the words I'd formed in my mind, I'd get tongue-tied and those words would come out jumbled.
I didn't make very many friends in high school. I had a few, but I never exactly had a "group" and I rarely went out and hung out with people on the weekends and after school. College was the same. Most of the friends I had in college were people I'd known from high school that had stayed local after graduation. I met a few people I really liked in classes for my major, but I was too nervous to ever try to extend the friendship to one where I saw them outside of class. There were plenty of people in college that I would love to have been friends with, but I always psyched myself out of trying to be social with them.
Part of me thinks I stayed at my first job, Pizza Hut (where I still work part time), for as long as I did because I was comfortable there. Even when a new person started working there, I was comfortable being myself because I was always comfortable with the majority of people I was working with. For some reason, after I get to know a person or a place so well, If I'm in a place I feel comfortable or around a person I feel comfortable with, I lose my inhibitions and I let myself speak freely. I even say stupid things or mispronounce my words to these people and laugh it off. But when it comes to speaking to someone I barely know when I'm not within that comfort zone, I panic.
The nervousness does not carry over to my actual job, where I work customer service. I can speak freely to customers without feeling awkward because I don't really think of myself as me, and I don't really think of them as real people. Maybe this is weird and wrong, but thinking of them as things rather than people allows me to be comfortable and provide them with good service. The same is with my customers at Pizza Hut. The same is with people I interact with at grocery stores, malls, restaurants, etc. I am fine as long as we're discussing something related to my job or their job. I only clam up in these situations when someone asks me personal questions or tells me personal stories.
The issue doesn't seem to be lessening with age. I now work at a call center with somewhere in the neighborhood of 250-300 other people. I sit in my row with my "team" (the 15 or so of us under my supervisor) and I am mostly comfortable talking to them. I don't know each of them on a personal basis, but I am at least comfortable discussing work related things with most of them. I have also been lucky enough to make some good friends at my current job. I am completely myself with those people, but I can't be myself around other people at work. Even something as seemingly simple as saying, "Hi! How's your day going?" in the hallway is a colossal effort. The group of people who went through training with me seem to keep in contact with each other, at least a superficial level. It's hard for me to even stomach saying hello to these people. It's not that I don't like them. They are all very nice people, but we never really clicked as friends and now we're just awkward acquaintances.
I'm afraid that there are many people out there who think I'm a colossal bitch or who think I think I'm better than they are, but this is not the case. I'm sure that's how it appears to people who don't have this anxiety and who aren't in my head. I actually just get so panicked that it's easier to avert my eyes and say nothing than to try to force out some kind of fake enthusiasm. And I honestly wouldn't blame people for thinking badly of me.
Most days, other people's opinions of me do not bother me at all. But there are some days when I see someone who so casually jumps into conversation with strangers and I feel a bit less than.
I'm not sure what the point is of sharing this with you other than to get people to think about those people you encounter in life who aren't really responsive. They may really just not want to talk to you, but they might want to say something and just honestly lack the words.