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.
I 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.