By the end of 2019, I was in the best place I’d been in years. I was finally in the career I’d fought to get into for the past 8 years, money was alright, I had a partner and I was happy. And then 2020 did its thing and ran through my life like a wrecking ball. But of all the things that the last couple of years have ruined that upsets me the most, it’s the work on my social anxiety.
When I was a child, I was very outgoing and had little inhibitions. Confidence was sky high (to the point of arrogance sometimes but being precocious is part of childhood, right?) Then high school changed that. I had friendship group but I always felt… different or “outside”. I was picked on quite a lot in my final year and made a very stupid decision a few years before that for me excluded for a week (I won’t discuss that here). College was my attempt to shrug off my academic prowess for a taste of pseudo-extroversion and it kinda worked for a couple of years, and into uni but then I developed depression. And dropped out.
Anyway, skip 14 years and in that time, I realised a few things:
- That “outsider” feeling was probably the fact that I was neurodivergent without knowing what the hell that was (recently, I took a few online tests that suggested I had “severe” symptoms for autism and while I won’t go into that in this post, that makes more sense to me than anything in the last few years - although I’m not sure about the word “severe” but I digress)
- I was an introvert and still am (I didn’t discover that until 2012)
- I wasn’t comfortable with who I was and desperately tried to be someone else until the pretence became so exhausting I couldn’t keep it up
And only now do I have the self confidence I needed all those years ago. But it feels like it’s come at a cost. I feel more isolated than ever. I don’t feel like I fit in with anyone bar a small group of mostly online friends. Everything about socialising makes me feel uncomfortable, anxious, and skeptical. What do people want from me when I talk to them? Do I need to say lots? Have they judged me already and want me to leave? Do they think I’m weird? Do I make too many weird references? Am I annoying? Do people hate me? Maybe my self confidence isn’t in a good place.
Except it kinda is. I know I’m good at what I do, professionally or with my hobbies. I love the music I make, I’m a very good SEO, and I’m funny. But that doesn’t “get me in” with people, so to speak. Have you ever played Subbuteo? There’s a special contraption you use for a player that takes set pieces and that’s all they do. Or perhaps you know the NFL and special teams? Well, I feel like a kicker. I’m called on for a niche requirement and then… nothing. That’s how I feel, even if it’s not true. But I’d never know if it was real or not because how do you ask for confirmation without sound weird or expecting to get a straight honest answer. And so I live in doubt that anyone I speak to thinks I’m an interesting well-rounded person. I know some people do because they’ve told me and I feel comfortable being myself around them. Others vary. But the important thing is I try hard not to diminish myself (too much). I mean, I hold back my idiosyncrasies when I fear they’ll be weaponised against me based on prior evidence. But otherwise I’m me. And it’s taken years to accept who I was, which is still a work in progress, in spite of growing social anxiety and fear of what someone will say or do because of it.
I’ve not had anyone “call me out” yet and I’ll keep toeing that anxiety line like a nervous trapeze artist over a precarious safety net they sewed themselves.