"You know this is a supposed to be a social event. You need to play with other people."
"Why don't you just call the school?"
"You should contact your school board member. That's what they're there for."
Three phrases I've heard this week. Three phrases from well-meaning people that don't understand how difficult social anxiety can be.
I've always been a shy person, afraid of confrontation and worried about what people think. When I was a kid, I was teased for being smart, for being overweight, for being poor. There were many times when I opened up to someone, sure that they were going to be a real friend, that they would be someone I could talk to and trust, only to find out later that they were making fun of me behind my back. I still remember overhearing one boy say to another, "Amber likes you? You'd better run!" And my heart broke and I cried. Which, of course, let me in for more teasing. And this was a regular thing for me in my tiny K-12 school until I moved to Florida and attended a much larger school.
But by then, the damage was done. Yes, in my new school I had more friends. I was accepted for who and what I was. I was able to reinvent myself a little without having to live down the embarrassing moments from my youth. But the seeds of doubt were firmly in my mind, the conviction that things weren't what they seemed.
As I got older, it became more and more difficult for me to handle any kind of confrontation. Oh, I could go into a store and shop. I could handle being a call center employee where 90% of the calls coming in to me were ones where I got to help rather than ones where I was yelled at. I could handle calling a select few friends and family members.
But not all of them. If there was a new friend, or someone that I hadn't talked to in awhile, I had a difficult time picking up the phone. What if they are in the middle of something? What if their "call me" wasn't sincerely meant? What if what if what if? And if I needed to talk to someone about something that was wrong, like calling about Teddy's busing situation, I freeze up. What if they aren't the ones that are wrong, but I am? Will they make me feel even worse about myself than I do on my darkest days? Even knowing what I do from working customer service doesn't make it any easier. The negative thoughts keep circling.
People think it's easy to just join in the fun. After all, everyone around you is having fun. They're there to talk, to play a game, to participate in the fun that they are their to have. And that's, supposedly, why I came too. And it is. And I want to. But what most people don't realize is the fact that I'm even there is a big step for me. Going out of my house and joining in a new situation where I don't know the people, don't know the rules, don't know how things usually happen, is almost paralyzing to me. Large groups, like Nashville's Celebration of Cultures isn't a problem because I can hide among the large number of people. I don't have to be social. But smaller groups, like our local Pokemon League, are a different animal.
With the Pokemon League, we've been going for about 9 months, almost a year. At first, I let Rich take Teddy and I'd stay home with Pete. I didn't know the people and I didn't know the game. Then Rich started taking Pete to give me a bit of alone time. Then, for a reason I still don't understand, I started joining them. First, it was things like Pre-release tournaments. Then I started coming on Sundays. Most of the time, I kept an eye on Pete, read or played on my Kindle and kept to myself. Slowly, I started getting to know a few of the PokeMoms-and-Dads. We'd talk about little things, things that weren't terribly important, sharing things we had in common like various geekisms or what it was like to be a parent. But even now, I generally stake out a table and sit by myself in the corner, saying hi as people walk by rather than come up and sit with someone that's already there or invite others to sit with me.
Pokemon is, in a lot of ways, Teddy's life. He plays the DS game, plays the card game, reads Pokemon books, plays pretend Pokemon with Pete, compares things to Pokemon. It's his current obsession and, as obsessions go, he could have worse. Pete's getting to be very much the same way. And Rich also plays at League and in tournaments. And for the longest time, Teddy's been wanting me to play as well. So I asked Rich to make me a deck. And, without realizing why, I asked Rich to play a round with me at League the other week. I signed up for a POP ID and started playing. But only with Rich and Teddy.
I know a lot of the people that play, both the kids and the adults. They know me. I can call them by name, ask them about things in their life. But I can't, without serious fear, ask them to play a game with me. I don't know the rules well. I make a lot of mistakes when I play because I forget things. My deck isn't very good so they won't be getting a good amount of play out of me. And if I make a mistake, I'm sure I'll cry from embarrassment which will just embarrass me more. (As a matter of fact, thinking about it is bringing tears to my eyes as I type this.)
All these thoughts go through my head, keep me from enjoying something that I know I do enjoy, keep me from putting myself out there where I can learn more. And it makes me want to jump back into my hole, not play, not try to push myself out there because of the fear of rejection. And people just don't understand it.
It's so easy for someone to suggest that I do something that they, themselves would find easy. It's easy to look at me from the outside and suggest how to handle a situation. And it's easy for them to be in the situation. But for them to be me, just for a day when the pressures of facing my fears is overwhelming... they can't do it. Because they aren't made the way that I am. And the worst of it is, I can't even tell them when the situation comes up, because that feeds into my fears as well.
I'm trying. I really am. Sunday, I'm planning on asking the head of the League to play a round with me. Monday, I called the school system again to complain about the bus situation. I was forceful about what my worries and concerns and what I had a problem with. I gave them the information they needed without resorting to screaming, swearing or breaking into tears. I was told they'd call me back with answers to my questions regarding why they can't get my son home at close to the same time every day. And so far, I've heard from no one. But I can't take the step to make another call yet. Because it's too hard of a step to take right now.
I just want people to understand that it's not as easy to be inside my head as they think it is.