…The bartender says, “We don’t serve folks with social anxiety here.”
The groups shrugs their shoulders and replies, ‘Well, if that diagnosis doesn’t work, how about depression, PTSD or ADHD? We’ve got a few options for what to call ourselves…’
The bartender shrugs, “One of those ought to count. Come on in.”
You probably thought I was going to go with the ending where they all shrugged their shoulders in relief and walked away because they didn’t really want to be in public anyway, didn’t you? Well, I was trying not to be cliché. After all, I tried to go to a meetup group for folks with social anxiety last night. At the time I thought of that joke, it seemed like the obvious ending was just a mental loophole giving me permission to chicken out. Chickening out at the last minute, even mentally, didn’t seem like the best option given I had three hours left to keep myself psyched up to actually go and “be friends at people.”
Because I have ADHD in addition to social anxiety, I had not remembered that our office was closing two hours early for the generic Spring Holidays to allow people who needed to travel to beat the holiday weekend traffic. The meetup group I planned to go to was actually much closer to my work than to my home, so I stuck around and tried to finish up enough work to neither feel obligated to work over the weekend nor be behind next week when I didn’t. One big social event for the weekend, after a long week of work, can easily take it out of me. If I had to do work on my rest day, well, I wouldn’t be able to. However, having two hours alone in my office to contemplate how much simpler it would be to chicken out and go home didn’t leave me wanting to give myself any more excuses.
I’m loud, boisterous, interrupt people constantly, and I perform Improv. This does not mean I am, in any way, an extrovert and/or not socially anxious. If anything, the fact that I have been made so acutely aware of the first three over the years thanks to being undiagnosed with hyperactive ADHD into my late twenties means that I am even more socially anxious. I know exactly how socially awkward I really am, and that doesn’t encourage me to talk to people. I can handle Improv because it isn’t really Lavender up on stage. Lavender herself is a generic stranger introduced for five minutes at the beginning of the show, but even after her introduction she is still just a generic stranger on the street to the crowd. The person on stage might be named Mark, or Susie or Beyoncé. Also, being rude or socially awkward or stupid isn’t usually a problem on stage. Every scene needs a villain or a situation to react to, and someone has to provide one. There’s no shame in a character who isn’t really you being disliked. It’s just a hook to move the scene forward.
In real life, however – especially in 1:1 social interactions – it absolutely is Lavender talking to people. And, how people view me absolutely does matter to me. Talking to a faceless crowd that doesn’t know me isn’t scary. Talking to one person for the first time knowing they are forming their seven-second snap judgment of me – or worse, that I might be trying to correct their mistaken first seven-second impression because of the aforementioned loud, boisterous and unintentionally rude ADHD – is terrifying! The various emotionally abusive, bullying or just generally unsuccessful interpersonal relationships I have experienced over my life have led to a present situation wherein I have been in my new East Coast city over a year now, and I have absolutely no idea how to approach someone out here to start an interpersonal friendship. (Also, don’t get me started on talking to my gruff boss 1:1 in a room with the door closed after he says we “need to talk”…)
I absolutely have social anxiety, and I have non-existent self esteem many days, including all of the days wherein I contemplate actively going out to try to make friends. I’ve thought about how I should try to make friends with folks in my Improv group outside of class and/or over the generic burgers we get after class at the eight-dollar slightly-nicer-fast-food burger place that we frequent. I have’t worked up the nerve yet. Ever heard the course expression about pissing where you sleep? Making friends with my Improv practice group outside of the theater feels like it would become a version of that if I ever dared to show the people who know me as a performer what I am actually like as a person.
I managed to make a handful of good friends in undergrad/grad school. I got my degrees in a STEM field, and there is a higher-than-population-average set of geeky weirdos in STEM fields. Also, D&D is kind of like the Improv of college friendships. Start out playing a character and I don’t feel as awkward? My tendency to get very into character, in college D&D as in Improv, probably helped, too, and over time I slowly began to talk to my friends as Lavender, not as an elven wizard. That was in the Neverland of college/grad school where no one really grows up and the social immaturity of ADHD doesn’t matter anyway. Now, I’m a thirty-something adult in a new city, and I’d like to have a friend who isn’t thousands of miles away. Unfortunately, I’m still more like an undergrad in my own mental conception of myself than a successful thirty-something thanks to the warping of C-PTSD and the slower-developing frontal cortex of ADHD.
I have no idea how to make friends, but I had hoped that attending a meetup group full of ten other people who kind-of wanted to be there and also kind-of wanted to flee far, far away seemed like a sensible prospect. The organizers, too, seemed to instinctively know how to make me feel comfortable in a social situation. It was almost like they, too, had social anxiety or something! There was: 1) a clear objective beyond just small talk (board game night); 2) activities that didn’t threaten an RSD spiral or me feeling like the whole evening was a subtle dominance game of whether I was actually intelligent enough to justify the name on the college I went to (not only strategy board games but party games would be available); and 3) a clear end time (even though the rest of the East Coast never seems to list an end time for activities, including work events, which makes the torture feel like it could last indefinitely!)
I made it through the two hours at work, and then I checked the directions again before I left. I was mentally prepared to go. However, it turns out my life (like my jokes) is a big cliché. Sometime over the past two hours, all but me and one other person – including the organizers! – had changed their RSVP to decline. The ten-person meetup had suddenly become a two-person meetup. That was a bridge too far for me. I politely wrote a note saying that I was jumping on the bandwagon, canceling my RSVP, and that I hoped the one person remaining saw the note before they made the trip. The organizers threw a social anxiety party and no one – including them – showed up!
I’m glad the tagline of this blog is “laughing at myself and learning to love (live with) it,” because, dang, that’s kind of hilarious! If I can’t laugh at my social anxiety, I’ll never try again with that group right? At least, assuming there is another meeting to try again at…
P.S. Speaking of clichés:
“Clichés, she goes. Who really cares when she’d probably have written effectively the same blog post either way?!”
*This post is not actually about Improv. But, it has jokes. That counts, right?
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.