Every time I go to the break room at work or pass my coworkers in the hall, I feel like my whole body seizes up. Starting with my heart, then my limbs and finally my brain. Rationally and logically, I enjoy talking to other adults. I do. I like having rapport with my coworkers. It helps me feel “a part of”. However, Anxiety doesn’t care for rational or logical. My body owns me and controls me. The three long seconds before I get close enough in the hall to greet them are sheer panic. “What do I do? What should I say? When should I do it or say it? Do I look weird? Do I look weird right now with my body?” Smile. Wave. Make eye contact. Say hi, how are you. Those are the options. It should be simple. Right? But every grain of my being is telling me: “Keep your head down. Avoid eye contact. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.” So I have to fight it. Because no one wants to be that woman. You know the bitchy one who acts like no one else exists.
Then there are the people, I have developed enough rapport with to require a stop in the hall and short conversation. Why does society require that we have so many boring, pointless conversations that no one actually cares about. My body literally feels pulled in two directions in time and space. The side of me that wants to have friends, be nice, and have people care about me smiles and talks about the weather. But there is another part of me that wants to run that is subtly pulling away from the moment the conversation started. As I walk away I wonder, “Did it seem like I was trying to get out of that conversation as soon as possible? Could they tell I was terrified during every moment? Why didn’t I just relax and enjoy the conversation? Next time. Next time I will.
Let’s move up to the next level: the break room. I have a need to go in there. I like tea and require the microwave in order to reheat my lunch. However, it is inevitable that at least part of the time I will run into someone else with similar needs and have to engage in small talk. I have come to accept that “Hi, how are you?” is not an actual inquiry. It is a social protocol to which the expected answer is “Good! How are you?” But this construct drives my passionate brain to insanity. I want to talk about the stuff that is meaningful to me. I want to say I feel terrible when I feel terrible. But that is not the protocol. Coworkers don’t want to hear that. Except the secretary who will show empathy and share an equally disparaging sentiment. Why can’t there be more people like her in this world?
Yesterday, was one of those apex social anxiety moments. One of my bosses, the big boss, the principal, joined me in the break room. He is of the tall, dark and handsome variety, always impeccably dressed, and carries himself in such a way that combines empathy and authority with perfect measure. This type of authority absolutely terrifies me. I am struck with an intense desire to please, while at the same time a deep belief that I am defective. We started out with small talk. It was going well. He got the gender of my child correct this time and that is a place where I love to share. As the conversation went longer than expected, I began to panic about where to end it. I wanted to avoid awkward silence before he left the room, while at the same time not holding the busy man there too long. That is the point where my brain froze. The sentence was almost finished: Yes, my son is doing great! But with all these snow days he thinks he doesn’t have to go to school anymore because he keeps getting his wishes… ” What is the word? What is the fucking word when you get the wish?! I need a verb. Brain give me a verb now. Before I look like a jack ass to my boss…passed. And the conversation ended and he left and I took a deep breath. He keeps getting his wishes passed?! It’s granted, Gracie! Wishes are granted, not passed. Then I began mentally chastising myself. It’s a lot of pressure, working in a high school. I am surrounded by intellectuals. I know I am smart. I know I am well spoken and funny. Sometimes even charming. But when anxiety freezes my brain. It can be devastating.