Whenever I tell people that I used to be a wallflower at school, they laugh loudly in my face and tell me to pull the other one. I don’t blame them (though I can secretly plan to maim them while they sleep). I’m sort of a social Christmas beetle. It’s like a social butterfly, but with less grace & a propensity to bash into people & make them scream.
Why this outer persona is handy is because it tricks even me into thinking I’m fantastically confident. Why it sucks is that when my social angst kicks in, I only have myself to blame for having committed myself to it.
Here’s an example: I have, with my usual impulsiveness, signed up for boxing classes in order to get back into a moderate state of fitness. Boxing is perfect because it suits my short attention span, bursts of energy & I get to punch people in the gut. I’ve attended classes for 2 weeks so far. I’ve smiled at my fellow classmates, joked about how much I suck at left hooks, and bumped many sweaty fists. But tonight, in my third week, sitting in my gym clothes with my body bursting to get moving, I just can’t do it. Not because I’m not keen to exercise, but because: People. I’ve overdone it. I now am so thoroughly fed up with meeting new people that I can’t face this crucial third week (in which I get to hone that left hook and practice some fancy footwork) and have realised that I will probably never go back to that gym again. It’s too intimate, too busy, too social. And I’m afraid of all the people. Even the nice ones! They will ask me how I’m progressing, they’ll scowl at me when I forget the punch sequence, they’ll nod in a way that I can’t read at all when I get teamed up with them for sparring (insecurity, insecurity!). Then I’ll worry that I wasn’t friendly enough to the fourteen year old kid with the jolly face, or to the pretty man who started at the same time as me and was so encouraging in class.
What a ridiculous asshole I am. But that’s how it is. I want to crawl in a nice, sizeable hole which I dug myself, pull my laptop or a book inside and stay there for the rest of the year. I read recently that drinking a glass of red wine is like spending an hour at the gym. I don’t know which quack wrote that, but I like him. I think I’ll take a few bottles of wine into the hole with me.
Most people suffer from some form of social anxiety, I presume. Some of us get anxious when we have to stand up in front of a crowd & speak, some of us can’t even endure standing in a queue at the bank. For me, this social anxiety is heavily masked under a pretty thick cover of social aggressiveness. “HELLO THERE! AM I TALKING LOUDLY AT YOU? THAT’S MY VOICE, I CAN’T HELP IT. WHAT’S YOUR NAME? HERE’S TEN RAND I FOUND. OH LOOK AT THAT UGLY DOG.” That sort of thing. Noisy, bubbling, utterly senseless (no, I’m sure I make sense occasionally). Curiously, the extrovert is as much a solid part of me as the introvert. I’m not being false when I bound up to somebody and try to ruffle their hair (largely unsuccessfully because of my stature) and tell them I want to come over and visit their ten cats. This is all 100% true. But also true is that I might panic when I meet all of their cats and they expect me to pet them and come and visit them again.
Sometimes I might spend the week sobbing silently and wishing I could kill all of my friends and taxidermy them so I could still look at their pretty faces without the pressure of having to be normal and social and punctual. I want to be the quiet, creepy child I used to be.
At aged 6, I was so quiet & shy that the driver of the school bus once forgot I as in there and drove home with me. I also once got locked in the classroom while walking about a metre behind the teacher because I was too afraid to speak up and tell her I was there (that made for a good befriending story of one of my dearest pals who rescued me from Std 1 hell that day). I regularly received a sticker with a picture of a ghost on it saying “Sssh!” which was the standard reward for the day’s quietest pupil. When I hit high school I was determined to shake my wallflower personality. I had things I wanted to say! I had a fresh start! But I was mistaken when I thought that the me that liked the quiet, the isolation, the freedom to be alone with your wild thoughts, was gone. She’s there and she’s making me act weird and skip my much-loved boxing class and confuse people by being friendly with them and then running away when they want to talk to me some more. She’s introverted, shy and also extroverted and bold, and she’s trying to figure out when the best time to get to campus is when the fewest people will be able to observe her going up the Jammie steps. She might get up early to go to class and will turn around at the door because of all the people inside.
It’s a conundrum. So I’d like to stand with (but reasonably far away from) my fellow loud introverts and recommend that we get together once and talk about it, then happily never meet again. Then we can enjoy years of not talking to each other or politely pretending we can’t see one another on the train or at Pick ‘n Pay.
Or perhaps I need to learn how to conquer this problem. So that I stop quitting great/important things (like answering the phone, doing my job, running on the promenade, visiting the dentist, volunteering at cool places, or doing my grocery shopping. If anybody has any tips, I’m all ears. I promise. As long as it doesn’t involve us seeing one another on the regular. Ugh, what a fucking drama queen I am. I’m sure I’m not alone. Though I daresay I’d like to be.