Back in school I didn’t have problems talking with other kids who weren’t my closest friends in the world. That is not to say I was the most outgoing person either, but it wasn’t very difficult to keep my thoughts in order while chatting with someone unfamiliar. Now, especially after the move, having a conversation with someone who is not my family or a good friend produces an array of fearful thoughts and feelings. Am I talking too much? Am I talking too little? Am I being boring? Am I smiling and making eye contact in the proper amounts? Is there something on my face or between my teeth? Do I seem like I don’t want to talk? Like I’m closed off? Guarded? Distracted? If it’s a woman, is she interpreting me as hitting on her? Do I seem anxious and scared? Mad? Mean? Gossipy? What is my body language saying? That’s a lot of concerns to have while trying to also be comfortable and enjoy the conversation. Try running all of that through your head the next time you talk to someone new and see how easy that is. I often find myself rubbing my legs or rubbing my hands together in various ways to unconsciously soothe myself.
An example of how it affects me would be when I attended support groups for people with mental illness. They don’t require you to speak about yourself if you didn’t want to. I did want to and didn’t want to at the same time. When it came to my turn to talk about how I was feeling and what had been going on in recent weeks, I did it, but kept my head angled down and my eyes focused on a spot on the table in front of me most of the time. It sounds strange because I’m at a support group with people who all have conditions which affect their behavior and, therefore, are not likely to judge me. But, in order to talk about myself personally, I had to do it by talking to the table instead of a person. Another reason I was afraid to look at people while talking in those groups was that my fearful thoughts would distract me and cause me to forget what I was saying. I didn’t want to stop and say, “Wait, um, what was I just talking about?” Knowing that nobody would think any less of me if I did still didn’t make it any easier.