Lessons I’m Still Learning…

…And Wishing I Had Started Much Earlier.

I’ve been fighting my social anxiety demons for my entire life. But they didn’t really negatively impact my life until I graduated from college and I just started retreating more into my home and started doing all of my socializing online. After Dad died, I realized I need to get out more and started pushing outside my comfort zone and these are some of the lessons I’ve been learning along the way. Some I’m further into learning than others. Some are more of a natural habit now and others are still awkward and new. Either way – they’re things I wish I had started trying to apply to my life to conquer my social anxieties much earlier!

Questions Are The Key To Good Conversation

If I’m feeling awkward in a conversation asking questions to the other person/people will always save the day. First of all it takes the weight off of me to do the talking, and second of all it helps the other person relax too if they’re feeling awkward as well. Finally? It helps me get to know the person I’m talking with and that’s never a wrong move – to try to get to know someone better.

Listen to Learn, Not To Talk

This one I’m still on the “novice” side of things. I’m good at asking the questions but sometimes, especially if I’m learning how much I have in common with someone, I am excitedly waiting for my turn in the conversation. To keep from doing this (Like I said, this is a lesson I’m still learning) I try to challenge myself to go back to that first lesson and find a NEW question to ask based on the answer the person is giving me. I try to shut down the voice that says, “My turn to talk!” because then I’ll just be thinking about what I’m going to say.

Unless You Can Praise Their Contribution To The Conversation…then Talk Away!

I have found it’s okay to Listen to Talk if the other person’s experiences or insight is enlightening you. I love running conversations with my friends because they often totally blow my mind with things and then? Then I have to tell them. And I’ve found that when you can say: “That thing you said is spot on!” and explain why? It truly helps nurture a good conversation because then the other person feels invigorated to keep engaging.

Reach Out

I have always been terrible about trying to be there for people who are suffering. I’ve been better since losing Dad because I was so grateful for the people who reached out to me during his final weeks and after he died, but I still truly suck at it. I tend to just get wrapped up in my own head and just talk myself out of it. However, I try to apply the “Ask Questions” rule to these moments and sometimes that helps. Asking someone specifics of how they’re doing, or how their loved one is doing. Or maybe asking specifics about things like sleep. If someone is going through a challenging time, they’re probably not sleeping so checking in and saying, “Are able to sleep at all?” Is a sincere question that really seems to help show you’re really thinking about a person. I know when I’m suffering sleep is the first to go, so I tend to start off on that foot. But otherwise? I try to at least just let the person know I’ve been thinking about them. But like I said, I probably don’t reach out much more often than I do.

When You Do Reach Out, It’s Not About You

I am super self-absorbed when it comes to social awkwardness. I always assume everyone is thinking about how I’m the worst. So, when I do reach out, I often get worried when the person never responds back. Did I say the wrong thing? Are they not appreciative of my efforts? And dude…THAT IS THE WORST. I get so angry at myself when I catch myself doing that. I think it’s because I’m still so new at “conquering” social awkwardness that I’m always worried I’m not doing it right. But also it’s because I’m human and tend to just always make it about me.

Awkwardness Only Disintegrates With Familiarity

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but you can only lose your awkwardness the more you get to know someone. I no longer worry about being awkward around a lot of my friends, they expect it and love it about me. So social anxieties can only be conquered by getting out and socializing. It sucks, but it does prove to be worth it when you discover that in the end? We all feel like we are THE WORST at socializing.

Connecting

I’ve found myself hanging out with friends more often than running lately, which is interesting as I’ve always said I wouldn’t have a social life if it weren’t for running. But, it turns out, if you build your friendships around your running group, you don’t get to know anyone who runs a different speed than you.

In the weeks since the election as I’ve rallied with other locals to try to orchestrate action and gather information, I find more and more reasons to connect in events that don’t require sweating. So, while my training has completely fallen into the crapper, my social life is feeling much more enriched as I’m building deeper connections with people I previously only knew casually.

I’ve been contemplating this a lot – how I suddenly have a slew of good friends in my life. As someone who spent the years 2001-2010 terrified of trying to make friends, I now find myself having coffee on Sundays or meeting friends at breweries or going to someone’s house for a party…all in ONE WEEK! And suddenly I’m realizing that my life has grown rich in ways I never expected in the agoraphobic years. Running was an easy way to make friends because there is no need for eye contact and silence is acceptable because if you’re not talking…you’re just running. But now I’m socializing on a different level and I’m proud at how I’ve been able to get to know people. I still find myself quadruple questioning every word I spoke as I try to go to sleep at night: Was that rude? Was that TMI? Did I laugh too loud? But for the most part, I’m finding socializing to be way more enjoyable than it has been in years past.

I guess the key has been finding common ground to make friends that is on a richer level than simple convenience of proximity. Having kids in the same school doesn’t always mean deep connections. But, if you run with people on Sunday mornings, there’s a better chance that they have similar thoughts about Church as you do. That’s a deep connection. If you get to know someone through political activism, that’s a deep connection. If you bond over social justice, that’s a deep connection. I’m starting to think before that I had trouble making friends because I was using proximity as my only starting point. We go to the same school. Our kids are in soccer together. We live in the same neighborhood. Those are fine places to start friendships, but if you don’t easily find deeper things to connect on, then the friendships stay at the surface level and don’t feel as rich.

I have accidentally stumbled upon some really rich connections simply by building friendship with a starting point deeper than proximity. Politics. Religion. Social justice. I am learning that when you meet people in these capacities, you already have a deep connection to build on. I assume it would be the same if I joined a support group of some type. Like maybe if you had a child with a disability and found a support group of people with the same challenges, those friendships would start with similar rich beginnings. If you start a relationship by being vulnerable, it seems maybe the foundation for stronger connections is better. This is something I never considered but explains why I feel like I’m making such better connections and richer friendships now than I ever did over a decade ago. It’s something I actually kinda knew with this blog – so many of us have connected over parenting challenges or infertility or social justice – and I consider some of my friendships with you guys rich and fulfilling as well. I just never thought to apply the same trick that’s helped me build virtual friendships to real-world friendships.

I do wish my Dad was alive to talk about this with – he and I pontificated on our own social awkwardness often. He always lamented that he lost his friends when my brother and I graduated because the thing that connected him to the parents of our friends was gone. I think he would find my enlightenment interesting as it supports the same thing – that friendships built on convenience and proximity might not be as long lasting as friendships built on common vulnerabilities or passions.

Anyway – I know I’ve not written much here lately. We’ve had some nonblogable stuff going on (as many of these friends I’ve mentioned can attest to as without the blog to vent on they all have to hear the updates constantly) and it’s hard to sit down and write and not be able to write what’s in my heart.

But thanks to all of you for laying the groundwork so I could feel safer connecting with real-world people about some of the things I talk about here. I’m feeling very blessed lately. Tired and emotionally drained, but oh-so-very blessed.

walking-with-a-friend-in-the-dark-is-better-than-walking-alone-in-the-light

The Internet And Social Anxieties

The wonderful thing about the popularity of digital communications is that it allows those of us with social anxieties to contemplate our responses and our words deliberately to avoid the nasty word-vomit that tends to erupt from us when we’re feeling on the spot or anxious. I’ve had various people in my life email me nice questions about my lack of religion or my politics and I can spend time really thinking about the answers so that when they get my response it’s well thought out and researched.

But if someone asks me point-blank face to face about my Pro-Choice stance or my lack of a belief in a biblical higher power? I’m blubbering and unable to form a complete sentence and then sometimes I say stuff completely incorrect because it just comes flowing out of my mouth before I have time to think about it.

This “response time” effect also aids in social invitations. If someone invites me to something in person I get all flustered, especially if I’m pretty sure I can’t go. I don’t like saying I can’t go unless I have a concrete reason, but a lot of times there aren’t concrete reasons and so I get flustered and I sound like I am making shit up. And then I have time to panic about things like double-booking and I can think about responses and email or comment accordingly.

I was stressing this morning about a weird situation of two events happening at almost the same time at ALMOST THE SAME PLACE. I was like, “I AM GOING TO DIE FROM THE ANXIETY THIS IS CREATING.”

But then I thought about it. Trying to do both would be weird because one of them required you bring food so I’d need to explain to both invites (thankfully done on Facebook) that I had two groups to meet there that night. But how to do that and now sound like some sort of diva? “OH! Look! My social calendar is soooo jam-packed! I have two events at the same place at the same night!”

When truthfully I just choose to hang out with beer drinkers and this is a centrally-located beer place really perfect for casual social gatherings. I actually had two events there in one night several months ago. Not a social diva as much as this place is just IDEA for these type of gatherings.

I was trying to type up various responses this morning, I kept deleting and trying again, completely over analyzing my words but HAVING THE FREEDOM TO DO THAT because…DIGITAL! Not face-to-face!

But then I took another look at the times and one actually starts significantly earlier than the other. Enough that I can’t really do both, and the early one is TOO early, Donnie won’t be home in time. So! Crisis averted. I still referenced the dual events so that running into stragglers from the first group won’t make it seem like I’m dissing them, but I did it! I formulated responses (allowing for a chance I can’t go anywhere as our week’s are like that some times) I checked for spelling errors, I ran it through my social anxiety filter and I THINK I DID IT! I responded politely and effectively and didn’t hide from the chance of visiting with friends!

But god forbid I had been invited to one or both IN PERSON when I would have had to give a response face to face then I would have panicked at the double-booking and would have surely mentioned boob sweat (my Go To “joke” when I’m nervous) and possibly TRIED to joke about having two social events in one night but then would have surely sounded like I was definitely a Diva b/c I do not self-deprecate well on the spot, it always sounds the opposite of what I mean for it. I would have been fidgety and I would have cursed a lot because I also have this weird automatic response when I’m anxious, I normally don’t curse to badly but when I’m nervous the f-bombs come out like some sort of social anxiety induced Tourret’s.

But I responded after WAAAAY too long editing myself and I feel good about it and don’t think I ruined my chances to be included in future social groups.

WIN!

Girl Power

We all have things.

Yes. I know. I’m very profound.

You know what I mean…like my things are: Not Taking Left Turns, Not Using Shampoo, Highly Protective Of My Pens.

They’re the things we tend to spotlight that make us interesting, or quirky, or unique in some way.

We can probably all list cycles of things we went though, especially during our tween/young adult years where having cool things was kind of a necessity. I was The Girl Who Sneezed Loudly and The Girl Who Could Turn Her Feet Backwards. I also went through several fashion phases that could qualify as things: Deadhead, Girl Who Wore Fishnets and Combat Boots, Undercut Girl etc.

One of my things I fell back on a lot – and as far back as second grade – was Girl Who Prefers Guy Friends Over Girl Friends.

Now…let me state for a fact…This Was Never Actually True. It was just a thing I thought made me interesting at certain moments and it certain circles so I would proclaim it like it was true. In second grade I actually fought with my friend Ashley over who was more of a Tomboy and she said she was because I collected stickers and that was NOT a Tomboy thing to do. But I remember us listing off all of our “boy friends” we had because “girls are stupid” or something like that.

And from that point on, when talking to boys, I would often proclaim my distaste for most girls and that I preferred to be friends with boys.

Again: THIS WAS NOT TRUE. I just thought it made me interesting to boys so I wanted it to be true.

NOW…I will say, in general I usually felt more comfortable around boys. I knew a lot about college football and Stephen King and Dean Koontz and I was raised by my Dad and I had a brother and I grew up hiking and camping so at certain points and in certain circles I would have more in common with the boys than with the girls. I tended to be really intimidated by girls and not as much by boys. BUT – I always had friends who were girls, I just didn’t like admitting it, I guess? I don’t know. It was just a thing I felt made me interesting off and on from ages 7 to – well – probably 20ish? I do know even after I split from my first husband I tried to seem cool in a few circles with the whole, “Ew…girls…” schtick and I was 23’ish then. I’m so embarrassed for my past self. GET OVER YOURSELF, KIM FROM THE LATE NINETIES.

quote-female-friendships_17324-7But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the women in my life and how freaking lucky I am to have such and expansive tribe that inspires me in so many ways. I’ve always been blessed with at least one or two strong female friends at certain points in my life, but since 2009 when I really started facing my social anxieties head on and putting myself out in the world…I realize I’ve built myself an arsenal of amazing women that I could call upon for advice or counsel at a moment’s notice.

I don’t know why I was so hesitant to admit female friends are awesome. The few I ever had were always amazing, but I guess it seemed so mundane, or cliche or something. I WANTED TO BE QUIRKY. All of the rom-coms had quirky girls who only had guy friends, RIGHT?

But man, I’m really glad I’ve grown out of being weirdly adverse to admitting my dependency on my female friends. I was struggling with something personally female recently and thought about kinda vocalizing it and it wasn’t: I wish I had someone I could talk to about this…. Instead it was: Which of my amazing female friends should I text? I had so many I could turn to! I ended up just waiting it out but still…it made me realize how lucky I am and how proud I am of finally letting go of trying to be the special little flower who gets along with boys better than girls and just owning the glory of the female friendship and counting my blessings for having so many in my life.

Learn From My Mistakes, Dear Friends.

This is the entry I thought I published Wednesday but evidently just left it as a draft and didn’t realize it and spent the whole day thinking you all thought maybe my cute crazy antics were no longer funny and just sad and were just afraid to tell me.

I work in a small office building and my floor only has two businesses: the real estate office I work for, and an eye doctor. There is one public bathroom on our floor, but the eye doctor has their own bathroom so the public bathroom rarely gets used by anyone outside of our office. This means you can be pretty confident when you get up to go to the bathroom – as long as everyone is still in our office that is in for the day – that you’ll have the public bathroom and it’s 4 stalls to yourself.

I guess this is why I’ve become so nonchalant about talking to myself in the bathroom…because usually I’m the only one in there.

But Zoot, you might ask, why are you talking to yourself in the bathroom to begin with?

Oh…so this is not something everyone else does? You don’t walk into public bathrooms giving yourself a type of status report for your day? You don’t vocalize things like, “A nap sure would be nice…” or “I just need to refocus…” or “Maybe I’ll just change tasks for awhile.”

I mean – I’m not having complete conversations with myself – that would be crazy. But I do sometimes just checkin with myself since it’s usually a break in a stretch of focus at the computer or at work. So you don’t do this? Out loud? In a public bathroom?

So. What you’re saying is that yesterday, when I walked into the public bathroom and said out loud, “I can’t believe I’m still so sore from Saturday.” You’re saying that the strange woman that turned out to be in one of the other stalls, she would be confused to find out I was saying that to myself because only one person entered the bathroom? I saw her feet in the stall next to mine the second I sat down and IMMEDIATELY panicked in shame and just PRAYED that she assumed my conversation partner was a man who just didn’t come in and she was simply hearing part of our conversation.

Whatever she assumed, it seems she wasn’t in a rush to interact with the woman talking to herself. Or maybe she was in a rush to see if there was another person waiting for me outside the bathroom. Either way she flushed, left the stall, and didn’t even wash her hands she was in such a hurry.

Which game me the bathroom to myself again so I could finally respond to myself, “Well, Zoot…that’s what happens when you go a whole year between Body Pump classes.”