NaBlogWriMo 4: Social Anexitee

(Yes, I know it is spelled wrong.)

I was chatting with a friend (via Facebook) about my propensity for standing in the corner by myself at our social gatherings. She wanted to know why I didn’t interact with the people around me more often.

“Not really my thing,” I wrote back. “Really, Lor is the rock star in the family,” I told her.

” I really don’t perceive that about you”, she said.

“No one becomes a writer because they love being ‘on stage'” was the only response I could think of.

“Touche,” she replied.

The Pathetic Life of the Rock and Roll Singer

The funny thing is, once upon a time, I was the “rock star” in the family. No, really. I was the lead vocalist (!) in a local cover band. For years we played the local bars and casinos. I soaked up comments about my “amazing” voice. Middle-aged women stuck twenty-dollar bills down my shirt and tried to kiss me. For most of a decade, I was a medium-sized fish in a very small pond. So…why the shift in my personality? What happened? Can my personality these days be blamed entirely on my broken brain?

Well, not really. See, here’s the secret – I’ve always suffered from social anxiety. Even when performing for dozens (and, in one notable case, thousands) of people. My wife and my former bandmates will happily regale you with tales of waiting for me to finish throwing up before every single gig for years. Once I was done puking, the show, as they say, could go on.

Even though I eventually got past my audience-fueled nauseau, I never really got any better. I had the coolest job in the world – fronting a rock and roll band. And I hated it. No, seriously. I didn’t hate the job itself, see. But, every night, I would find something to despise about our performance. My vocals were bad. The guitarist had flubbed a solo. The drummer was too loud. Our sound engineer had our PA set up all wrong.

I literally can’t remember a single performance where I came off stage and said: “Man, that was awesome!” I was still terrified of the audience and made sure I judged myself and my bandmates harshly before anyone else ever got a chance to.

It’s Quiet Here In The Corner

Today, I am really not much different. I am terrified that I am a horrible author. (What they call ‘Imposter’s Syndrome‘ in the writing business.) In social situations, I do my best to stay in the corner, to listen at least twice as much as I speak.  I am positive that I have nothing valuable to add to the conversation. After all, I know that no one is really interested in anything I have to say anyway.

I drive my friends and loved ones crazy. If you get a couple drinks in me, I suddenly become vivacious, witty, and humorous – I can be the life of the party. “Where,” my relations ask me, “are you hiding that person 99% of the time?”

In the corner. Over here. By the door. It’s quiet here in the corner.

I do my absolute best work one on one. For some reason, I am able to get past my neuroses when I am only dealing with a single person at a time. I find myself full of compassion, empathy, and insight.  I really feel like I am making a connection with the person I am speaking to.

Then you add a third person to the mix and it all goes to hell. I immediately retreat and try to listen to everyone else speak to one another. ‘Cause, you know, anxiety.

The Gamer’s Dilemma

So, why is this an issue worth addressing now, you might ask? After all, writing is a perfect outlet for someone like me, right? (And most of my fellow writers/introverts as well.) At the end of the day, I am really just telling myself stories, and writing them down. If I happen to share them with the world at large later, well, I don’t have to be there when they read them, right? (And you should have seen my melt-down when a good friend had me do a reading from Inheritance in front of maybe a dozen people. Hoo, boy.)

Here’s the problem: I happen to love other things beyond writing. And the main one is gaming.

Computer/console gaming is ok for me. Most of the time I simply remain in “Single Player Land.” No problem there, right?

But, as it happens, I am passionately interested in other kinds of gaming. Things like board games. Miniature-based games. Even Collectible Card Games. And those types of games require a very specific element…

Other people.

My brother (also an introvert) and I have begun discussing ways to jury-rig multiplayer games against one another. He lives a couple hundred miles away, so the logistics are challenging. Maybe leaving a game board set up somewhere 100% of the time then exchanging moves over the phone once a week. Or, possibly, doing miniatures-based games where we will take photos of the game boards and email them to one another, along with our “moves” for the turn.

All this to avoid doing something like heading down to our corner game stores and interacting with the groups of gamers already there. Or even (the horror) inviting other gamers into our homes to play, interacting with other human beings. Who might not like us or something.

The Pain Of Social Friction

Merriam-Webster defines “friction” quite simply as “the rubbing of one body against another.”

However, it then goes on to use the following example: “the friction of sandpaper on wood.”

So, really, friction isn’t about 2 bodies rubbing against one another. It is actually two bodies changing one another by their contact with one another. (Take a look at both the wood and the sandpaper after you’ve rubbed them together to get an idea what I am talking about.)

I think that social anxiety stems from a fear, not of coming into contact with other people, but a fear of being changed by our interactions with them.

What if these hypothetical gamers don’t like me? Will I be compelled to change who I am in order to be liked?

If I don’t change, does that mean that my interactions with other people are actually worthless? That I just glide across the surface of their lives, leaving no trace of myself and picking nothing up from them in return?

Heavy concepts to deal with just to manage to find some folks to play Warhammer or Munchkin with, right?

But they are important things to think about nonetheless. I personally can not interact with someone and be unchanged. And, am I willing to change, all in the name of a few hours of gaming?

So far, probably not. But I think the question is relevant for any interactions at all – whether at Tuesday night Canasta or around the Thanksgiving table. What are we willing to give up in order to socially interact? And what are we willing to accept in return?

We, as humans, are supposedly social above all else.

So why are there those of us, like me, who fear that social interchange more than we fear to be alone?

It bears some thinking about.

I’ll have to consider it right after I figure out how to play Settlers of Catan solo.

Catch you all tomorrow,

  • Jeremy

Social Butterflies

Photo Credit: Hugo von Schreck via Compfight cc
When you are an obese person, frequently the company you like best is your own. Though advertising would have us believe that beautiful and trendy people are out partying it up, the fact remains that, when you are uncomfortable due to your size, you would just as soon stay home and eat a pizza while binge-watching “Orange Is The New Black.”
Eating the whole pizza, that is.
“Fat” is just not real conducive to social gatherings, ya know? You are sure everyone is watching (and judging) you all the time, so you sit in the corner. You sweat like crazy, thanks to a combination of your obesity and your nervousness, which you are positive makes you smell horrible. You gaze at everyone else’s figures and assume that, since they are not obese, their lives must be better than your own. So, you just stay home instead.
It has been tough breaking out of that mindset. Lor has always been more social than I am, and has been instrumental in getting me out of the house recently. A couple of weekends ago we attended a birthday party. This last weekend we had dinner with some friends that we haven’t seen in months, and also went to a weekly gathering we have been invited to for years and have just never gone to because, you know, fat.
The weird part is that I still suffer from those same social fears, just with a slightly different emphasis. I still think everyone is looking at me, but now I am convinced that they are wondering why I haven’t lost more weight. While dining in public I now worry that our friends are silently judging us for how little we are eating. I am finding other reasons to assume that people’s lives are better than my own, no longer based on weight.
Sigh. At least I am no longer sweating so much. So there is that.
Despite my battle with my private neuroses, it has been wonderful getting to hang around people I haven’t seen in years, in some cases over a decade. I find myself surrounded by people that are genuinely interested in Lor and I, wondering where we’ve  been and how we have been doing. In many cases, the weight loss and surgery don’t even come up as a topic of conversation – our friends are interested in the people we are no matter how much or how little we might weigh. That has been amazingly gratifying.
Also interesting is the number of people who have gone through, or know someone who has gone through, bariatric surgery. It is becoming less and less a taboo subject, a demonstration of failure or laziness, but is instead being viewed as a standard treatment for a real illness. This is amazing, and I hope it continues. Once obesity is no longer viewed as a simple failure of willpower, we as a country will get a whole lot healthier.
I am very grateful for the friends that have been patiently waiting for us to rejoin their lives, and I find that I have really missed social interaction more than I thought I did. Thanks to Lor, I am sure that we will be expanding our social circles even wider as time goes on. She is determined to re-enter the world that I have been hiding us from for years now.
Not that there is anything wrong with staying home and binge-watching “Sons of Anarchy” for entertainment every once in a while.
Stretching My Fragile Socialite Wings,
– Hawkwind

The Trouble With Dining (With Friends)

Image courtesy of Two Fools Tavern

Saturday night one of our dear friends celebrated her birthday. We were invited to share in the celebration, and we cautiously agreed to go and participate in what would be our first major social outing since our surgeries.

Initially, everything was wonderful. Much was made of our improved physiques, we answered tons of questions about the surgeries, and in general we got to feel like goodwill ambassadors for bariatric surgery. There were even a few quiet questions about how to get more information about having surgery in the first place. We directed a few folks here to Misdirected, glowing in the radiance of deeds well done.

When we were seated, however, things took a bit of a turn. The London pub-style restaurant seemed to feature nothing but foods that were breaded, or fried, or both. It advertised “the best fish and chips in Albuquerque”. I am a huge fan of fish and chips and, sadly, will probably never get to enjoy the dish again. Everywhere I looked, tables were covered with pint glasses filled with Guinness – my all-time favorite beer, and another item that has been permanently removed from my personal menu. Suddenly, I was uncomfortable.

The menu wasn’t helpful. Remember, I am still in the “soft foods” phase of my diet, which means I was not able to just order one their extraordinarily-sized portions and then take the majority home to dine on for the next 4 or 5 days. I kept checking potential entrees with Lor, only to have her veto them as not qualifying as “soft foods”. Today, I am happy that she did so. Saturday night…not so much.

Eventually, the menu-related distress was apparent to the guest of honor, who was suddenly horrified. “I completely forgot! Can you even eat anything here?” was her response. I was positive that I was about to single-handedly wreck her birthday celebration, and fervently wished I had just stayed home with my baby food and protein shakes.

I took a deep breath, and told her the truth – that we have been practicing for occasions like this for six months now. This very situation is what the pre-surgical nutritional training is all about. We had chosen to make these changes, and we knew how to make our new diets work even in places without a “low-carb/low-calorie” menu.

Crisis averted, I ordered a cup of beef stew while Lor selected a salad. Lor managed about ten bites of her huge salad. I drank most of my beef broth, had a couple of bites of soft potato and shredded beef, avoided all the still firm vegetables, and I was done. My total intake was probably 3 ounces.

But, as dinner wound up, I looked over the table, covered in take-out boxes and the remains of huge burgers, 6-inch deep Shepherd’s Pie, and piles of french fries surrounding fried fish, and had a startling realization: 6 months ago, I would have eaten an entire one of these entrees, and helped Lor finish hers. No take-out boxes for that version of me, no sir.

That version of me would have wolfed everything down in twenty minutes, and then gone home to play World of Warcraft or watch television.

This version of me ate sparingly and slowly, allowing me to carry on conversations and meet a group of new, interesting people, and continue to socialize with them until nearly midnight.

I know which “me” I prefer.

Still Sad Over The Guinness, Though,

– Hawkwind