Social Me (2)

In the club I was a part of in college, I was a speaker. Which meant that I had to speak into a mic, on a stage, in front of an audience. I should confess: I loved it.

People who know that about me usually don’t believe me when I say I have social anxiety. They can’t comprehend how a person with no stage fright can be scared of talking to people.

Well, today, let me explain how that is very much possible.

 

A stage is a very impersonal forum. The audience is usually a non-participant. I’m not talking to the audience as much at them. Now, every good public speaker will tell you that these are all signs of a very bad speaker. And in a way, that’s true.

See, that’s the difference between speaking and giving a speech. When you speak, like an orator does, you’re drawing the audience in with your words, involving them even without their assistance. A normal public speaker however, or a “performance” speaker if you will (like me), goes on stage, vomits out what they’ve got to say- a pre-prepared and practiced jumble of words and gets the hell out of there. The audience listens, maybe because they like your voice or because you’ve effused enough drama into your performance that it’s kept them awake; but, they’re not involved. And all the while, you get to pretend that you have your shit perfectly together.

This privacy to pretend, which is amply available when you’re at a distance from the people and on an elevated level to boot goes out of the window when it’s a small group and the audience can touch you if they stretch out their hands. Did I ever tell you how that very thought flushes out a fresh bout of sweat down my back?

So, in a small group, without the clever lighting and rather an intimate atmosphere, the anxiety kicks in. Because here, it’s not going to be a speech. It’s going to be, whether you like it or not, a talk. And it’s going to feel interactive just because you’re all so close together.

The same thing happens in a conversational setting. But, worse. Because here, the gate definitely opens both ways. It’s not just a feeling of interactiveness you’re dealing with, the situation is actually interactive. It’s a question-answer, statement-rejoinder equation. So, the teeniest weeniest iota of privacy that you’ve have jealously guarded during that group session, that’s gone. Way gone. Out-of-your-hands-and-under-the-wheels-of-a-bus gone.

Well, you can imagine what happens next. There’s sweat involved and tachycardia. A little bit of cortisol, a lot of adrenaline and a lot lot-er of anxiety.

What I do in such cases is, I adhere to the buddy system. I only go to places where I have a friend along. If I have to go to a social setting alone, I don’t go. Books are great in that aspect. They make for great buddies.

The other thing I do is keep my antenna out for someone who reads. Then, I latch on them like lint. We talk about the books we read, books we are reading, books we want to read. Somehow, that’s one topic which soothes me. So, I suggest you find an interest that you can talk about and then, hope that a person who wants to talk about it will find you.

But, many times, none of these options are available. In such a situation, all I can say is take a deep breath, let it out…now paste that smile on to your face and pretend like everything’s hunky-dory. The thing is, I believe that if I tell myself enough times that I’ll be OK, that I can push through, then it will be OK and I will push through.

Until I can run away at least.

 

**

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Social Me (1)

Today I want to tell you something about how my brain works during social interactions.

 

If I’m having a conversation with you, my brain is usually in an overdrive; trying to come up with the appropriate responses, selecting and rejecting answers to your questions, trying to think  of questions I must ask next to keep the conversation going and avoid the awkward silences. There is a whole different shebang going on in my head related to our conversation, but entirely separate from our conversation. What it does is cause interference. So, sometimes I might completely miss out what you’re saying and I apologize for that.

There are very few people with whom I can have a conversation without my brain falling over itself. A very few people. I could probably count them on the fingers of one hand. As for the rest of you, every time I get a phone call and it’s one of your numbers on the screen, there’s a twinge of anxiety that pulls at me. Sometimes, when I’m having a particularly bad time, I give in to that twinge of anxiety and let your call go unanswered. I apologize for that.

The thing is: my brain doesn’t seem to comprehend the workings of small talk. I do not know what to ask after how are you. I can’t think of one single topic that would be common to the both of us when faced with a social situation. I can’t come up with a funny anecdote that would be relatable. My brain goes blank. So, if I’m staring at you like a deer caught in headlights before I go back to my phone, it’s because I literally have nothing to say to you. And if that made you uncomfortable, maybe you can take solace in the fact that however uncomfortable you were, I was at least 10 times more. But, I apologize for that.

Recently when I lost my phone, I panicked once when I realised the amount of my personal information on it. The second time I panicked was the next morning, when I realised that I’d have to go to the mess without the refuge that my phone offers. I couldn’t imagine sitting by myself at the table in the mess, with all those other people around me, eating, with all those people around me, having nothing to look at except all those people around me. I couldn’t do it. That day, my breakfast companion was a book and that’s how Midnight’s Children ended up in my bag.

The thought of talking to those people around me was never once entertained by my brain. Because it’s a thought that causes so much anxiety in me that I’d rather starve than act upon it. So, if I appear especially unfriendly during mealtimes, it’s just self-preservation. But, I do apologize for that.

reality vs social anxietyI remember telling my sister once how this one guy and I texted the entire day. She said, why don’t you guys just call and talk to each other. I shuddered. My reply was, I don’t want to do that; that would be weird. My sister’s reply was, you’re weird. I slowly came to realise there was truth to those words. The amount of preparation and trepidation I go through before putting through one call even if it’s just to order food is weird. I literally write out a script in my head before I even pick up the phone. And even before that, I find out if the required job can be done without any human interaction at all. Internet, I love you from the bottom of my heart. And all those people who run services that are not available on the internet, I’m not capable of using you. I apologize for that.

There are so many more situations like this every day, where my brain goes into overdrive, where my sweat pores become over-active, where my heart rate spikes up for no reason at all. In my profession, human interaction is the cornerstone of everything- interactions with my peers, colleagues, with my seniors and professors, with my patients- all of these are preceded by a spike of anxiety and followed by a sense of relief. When put into words, that sounds quite rude though. I apologize for that.

But, for all of the above explanations, I’m actually lucky. My distress is not so severe that it completely impedes my every day functionality. My cortisol levels might be raised for most of the day and my brain might feel overworked quite frequently, yet, I’m in a place right now where I can motivate myself to work through it. And I’m in a place where help will be readily given if I ask for it.

So yes, I’m quite lucky. And I thank you for that.

 

**

Dear Best Friend…

Dear Best Friend,

It’s amazing to see you; to meet you; to hug you again. It feels like it’s been ages since I held your hand in mine. Was it really only 3 months ago? Well, 3 months is a long time to be away from your best friend, isn’t it?

Anyway, just because we’ve been away from each other doesn’t mean I’m not keeping track of you. I periodically check your profile pictures, I follow your every status update. I read everything you write and analyse every picture you post. I don’t mean to be creepy. But, when I’m putting words to my actions, it does seem so, doesn’t it?

I love the pictures where it’s just you. Or maybe, I should say I prefer the pictures where it’s just you. Because when I see you with other people, laughing, goofing off, my heart clenches and my throat chokes. It’s a peculiar feeling. I don’t like it. But, I don’t control it either.

When I visit you, you take me around your workplace, you introduce me to your friends. I smile, I say hello, I even have conversations. But, you know what? I don’t like any of them. It’s not because they’re not great. They might be. But, I don’t like them because they’re your friends.

I don’t mean for you to be a loner. Or to depend only on me. That won’t work for us at all. The pressure of it would drive me up the wall and you to tears. I know that very well. Yet, when I see you enjoying, making memories with someone else, I’m jealous.

In the few days I get to spend with you, I want to use the time well. Even if it means entertaining your every friend. It’s not that bad. They’re usually easy to get along with, keep the conversation flowing; they’re even funny. But, I just want you to know that it’s difficult.

I’m wary the entire time- looking for signs that they’ve gotten to know you better than me, seeing if they can predict your reaction a wee bit before I do, keeping an eye on them to make sure you’re not paying them more attention than I know you to pay to a friend. After all, they are all just your friends. But, I’m your best friend.

I also want you to know that I don’t like these feelings. I don’t enjoy carrying them around. But, I might be addicted to them. Because every validation I get from you feels especially wonderful after a bout of such nonsensical shit. Like when I see that I still get the majority of your attention, or when you call me to share a secret or vent your frustration and you don’t give a damn what time it is. It feels like I’m free falling, but at the last moment I realise I was only bungee jumping. The rope is still securely attached to me and I’m safe. We’re safe.

I feel like such a parasite writing this. I want to make it clear that I want you to have a lot of friends. I never want you to experience loneliness. I want you make lovely memories wherever you go, but, I also want to make sure that I’m your best friend and no one else, because I don’t like the idea of sharing you. Or our friendship.

 

Yours with love and creepiness

XOXO

Advantages of A Belly

DISCLAIMER: Investing in a belly can subject you to type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease and added health risks. Please read this article with a sense of good humour and reunite with your sense of common and caution immediately after.

 

  1. To balance your coffee mug when you sit in a chair, but can’t be bothered to stretch your hand till the table.

 

  1. To hold your laptop at a perfect viewing angle when you can’t decide between sleeping and watching a movie after a long day. So, you do both.

 

  1. To make for a nice pillow- for your friends which can get annoying; but also for your partner/crush which will not be annoying and the closeness of which will lead to a nice amount “bonding” (wink, wink)

 

  1. To catch the toothpaste foam that invariably drips out of your mouth the moment you step away from the basin (dry floors FTW).

 

  1. So, you won’t have to work hard to hide your pregnancy. At least not until you get upgraded from a double decker to a triple decker.

 

  1. To cosplay as Laughing Buddha. All you need to do is take off your shirt. Ready for Halloween any day, anytime!

 

  1. To get rich during the holiday season- by playing Santa Claus. HO HO HO!

 

  1. To maintain a healthy distance between you and the Sweaty McSweatpants in front of you in the queue; so that you can come away with your sanity and your nose hairs intact.

 

  1. To play ping pong with against the wall when you’re bored enough to want a distraction, but not bored enough to dig out the ball from under the bed.

 

  1. So, you can put muffins to shame with your awe-inspiring muffin-top! Those muffins can sometimes get too puffed up for their own good…

 

  1. To feel that somehow incredible sense of satisfaction that you feel after you’ve had a smashing meal and you’ve collapsed into your bed like a ton of bricks for a well-deserved nap and your belly sticks out taut, but happily full.

 

 

  1. To be able to write listicles like this. After all, how else will you find out how efficient a cup holder and a toothpaste catcher and a laptop table a belly can be unless you have one?

 

  1. Oh and also! To laugh; because jiggling a jiggly belly makes you laugh which makes it jiggle more, so you laugh more which makes it jiggle even more… Calvin and Hobbes ROFL

 

 

Cheers!

The Mute Swan- Part 4

The days were getting warmer. He was getting more than one toe into the water. And she was laughing more often.

“I’m with child,” she announced one day and he thought he could never feel happiness such as what he felt in that moment.

They took the process one day at a time. She seemed to get even more beautiful with each day and he seemed to forget that ball of panic in his belly with every other day.

He would sit for hours with his ear to her womb and the other ear listening to her voice. For it was her most favoured occupation in recent days- to talk to the baby, to tell stories to the baby and by extension to its father.

He heard about kingdoms and queens, about bevies on the water and wedges in the sky, about winged warriors and water festivals. He learnt, unintended though it may be, about her origins, about her family and about her life in the past. He also memorized, subconsciously though it may be, all the stories.

Why did he do that? He didn’t know. Every time he asked himself that question, the ball of panic in his belly would throb painfully and he would give up.

When the pains started one night, she was sleeping in his arms. She woke up with a scream and dry eyes and not a tear was shed over the next 12 hours of labour.

The baby was a little girl, with wispy white hair and grey eyes.

“She looks like me,” she whispered when she held her child for the first time and for the first time in 9 months, she shed a tear onto that beautiful blonde head.

Also for the first time, she held her little baby close, drew in a breath and started to sing.

It was a lullaby. It talked about dreams, about wishes on stars, about stories shared on a cozy night. It talked of memories, of fantasies, of a mother’s love for her little child. Grandmothers and grandfathers remembered days long past and shed tears into their pillows. Mothers and fathers everywhere hugged their children a little closer and sighed in contentment. Little babies all over the world slept without a wrinkle that night.

Everybody slept. Except for her. And except for him.

He held her hand and pretended to not notice the tears his beloved was shedding. He placed small kisses on her palm, on her arm, on her hand from time to time and pretended his heart wasn’t breaking a little more with each kiss. He snuggled up next to her, pulled her into his arms and pretended those weren’t his tears on her shoulder.

As the song wound to a close, as he whispered a shaky I love you into her ears, as she placed a final kiss on her baby’s head, her eyes closed.

And they never opened again.

 

*END*

The Mute Swan- Part 3

He held her in his arms. Her head rested on his chest. His heart beat in her ear. She said it calmed her. He wanted to know why she needed to be calmed.

He wanted to know why she cried when he talked of summer. He wanted to know why she hid those tears. He wanted to know what makes her happy. He wanted to if he made her happy. But, most of all, he just wanted to hear her voice. For the rest of his life.

So, one day, as they lay intertwined under the stars, he asked, “Will you tell me a story?”

“Certainly,” she smiled and snuggled up into him more.

He heard her take a deep breath. He heard her think. He heard her let it out and then, he heard her voice.

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful swan in a lake far far away. She had a beautiful plumage, an exquisite beak, the most dainty legs and the most graceful wings. But, the jewel in her crown was none of these. What she was known for, far and wide and oceans across, was for her voice.

Her voice was mesmerizing. You only had to hear it once to be held captive for ever by it. It had the perfect pitch, the perfect rhythm, the perfect lilt. Swans would come from all over the oceans to hear her sing just once.

But, the reality that met them was a beautiful swan with a most beautiful voice who just refused to sing. Every time a request came to her ears, she would smile and say, “Not yet”. Nothing anybody could say or nothing anybody would do could cajole her to sing. She was promised gifts of the highest order, there were competitions with the greatest prizes to make her sing, swans would even bring in dying requests for her to sing. But, nothing moved her.

Eventually, everyone gave up. She had gained the reputation of arrogance, of malice, of heartlessness. Even though, she was none of those. She was ostracised to live a life of loneliness.

However, she fell in love and the swan loved her back. They got married. Her partner never asked her to sing. It surprised everybody. They talked about it, they gossiped about it. But, the couple did not care. They loved, they made love, they lived with love. Soon, they had a little cygnet and they were the happiest family in all of the oceans.

The world had all but forgotten the beautiful swan with the beautiful voice.

Then, one night, the wind brought a song upon its lips.

It was a lullaby. It talked about dreams, about wishes on stars, about stories shared on a cozy night. It talked of memories, of fantasies, of a mother’s love for her little child. Grandmothers and grandfathers remembered days long past and shed tears into their pillows. Mothers and fathers everywhere hugged their children a little closer and sighed in contentment. Little cygnets all over the world slept without a wrinkle that night.

The next morning, swans from oceans across were clustered in front of the beautiful swan’s nest. They wanted to see her, they wanted to hear her voice, they wanted her to sing again. But, their wishes were not to be granted.

One look at her partner’s grief stricken eyes told them the news.

“It was time, she said.” he announced to the crowd and walked away.”

She kissed him softly on his chin. “They called her the Mute Swan and this was her story.”

He drew her closer into his chest. His heart was beating faster. There was smidgen of panic taking root somewhere in his belly.

“She would die if she sang?” he asked in a voice struggling not to choke on the mysterious lump in his throat.

“No. She sings only before her death,” she knew he would feel the wetness of her tears if she didn’t stop them. But, they were beyond her control now.

“Look at me,” he took her beautiful face in his hands and looked at it with his empty eyes, “Let’s never sing, then,” and he kissed her for the first time.

**