A Rhapsody For The Shy
When you see a shy and painfully awkward person, there's more going on than what meets the eye...
My dear friend, this is a super duper special edition of my newsletter.
While looking through my journals, I stumbled upon some gold, lemme tell ya!
What I found were a couple of printouts I filled up while going to therapy for social anxiety in 2013.
I filled up dozens of these sheets during that year. This one is a pretty excellent example of how awfully socially awkward I was at the time. And how desperately I wanted to be all suave and confident and friendly. You can also see how much I sucked at it and how scared I was about the whole ordeal.
This one of my first, clumsy attempts at making a friend, after we just moved to Toronto...
Social anxiety is basically a phobia, so, through Behavioural Experiments, I had to expose myself to my biggest phobia at the time: Humans! Which happened to be my biggest passion also! Isn’t that weird? Every week I had to expose myself to humans in different environments and situations, and to record it in one of these sheets.
In this case, there was a boy at my daughter’s school who fell and hurt his chin (I wrote that he broke it, but it was more like it was bleeding a little. I just didn’t know how to write that in English!)
Sensing that this moment of vulnerability was my perfect opportunity to “tend and befriend” his mom, I made my Behavioural Experiment of the week to show sympathy and compassion towards the boy.
It did not go as planned, though….
Thought to be tested:
I’ll show concern for Brody’s chin accident so his mom will talk to me.
Brody fell and hurt his chin. I’ll ask his mom about how’s his chin doing so she will talk to me and like me a little?
I will ask about Brody’s chin.
His mom will be moved and grateful I asked.
Strategies to overcome problems:
Try to stay calm.
Remember that a lot of people like me.
Outcome of experiment:
I said his name wrong!
I called him Theo!
His mom was pissed.
How much does the outcome support the thought? (0-100):
What I have learned from this experiment:
Rehearse the names inside my head before saying them.
After my failed experiment, I felt quite terrible and embarrassed. Not to mention dejected and rejected, and just like I was destined to be a social pariah forever. So my sweet therapist had me fill up one of these printouts, called a Thought Record, just so I could re-think whole situation.
Also, to figure out, what was exactly that had me feeling so badly about it all!
I was at Umi’s school and I switched some boy’s names while talking to their mom (who makes me *extremely* uncomfortable already)
Automatic thoughts. (Note: these are the thoughts that come right away after the situation. It’s interesting to listen to one’s own voice and what a bully it can be to one’s own sweet self sometimes!)
- I don’t fit in with this group of people.
- They don’t like me.
- They won’t like Umi (my daughter).
- I feel inadequate.
- I won’t fit in society. Ever.
- They will think I’m stupid.
- They won’t accept me.
- If I meet very intelligent people, they will think I’m stupid (in English) - I marked this as my hot thought-
- People will not respect me.
Evidence that supports the Hot Thought. (Note: The hot thought is the deepest, darkest, most painful thought that you might encounter in your automatic thoughts. And you gotta find evidence that supports that crappy thought. I made a little note saying “This hot thought has a lot to do with my English!”)
- The moms at Umi’s class don’t talk to me.
- In the little town where I lived, most moms didn’t want to hang out or talk to me.
- When I get nervous, my English gets really bad and I sound stupid (I think, very simple minded at least)
- When I try to make small talk, my English goes away and I freeze a little.
(DON’T WORRY. IN THE NEXT SECTION, THINGS START GETTING BETTER AND BRIGHTER)
Evidence that DOES NOT support the hot thought (Note: Basically, what evidence do I have to challenge my painful automatic thoughts?):
- I’ve talked to some people and they respond to me with interesting thoughts.
- Therapy is going well and I think part of that is because I can express myself OK.
- Alex (my boss at the time) said I write well and he likes my emails.
- Justin (my husband at the time) and I have deep intellectual talks.
- Judy and Maudie (my in-laws at the time) connect with me through talk.
- A friend would tell me “once you’re more relaxed, you express yourself really well and connect to people through language.
- I have learned that is better to say something I’m thinking that just mirror what they’re saying because it makes for a more interesting conversation. (I used to just smile and nod and agree with everything people were saying! Maybe to appear friendly or something!)
- I’ve learned that I do very well (best) on one-on-one interchanges.
Alternative/Balanced Thoughts (Note: This is where I get to create new thoughts I decide what to think by my darn self!):
- Although I get nervous and mess up at the beginning of a conversation, I’m getting better at listening and communicating my thoughts as well as keeping my emotions under control. So, once somebody spends some one-on-one time with me, they find out I’m not stupid.
- Some people actually find me fascinating, I think.
- I strive for learning more and getting better at English.
Rate Moods Now:
Isn’t therapy like the most interesting thing ever?
It all really helped me to continue my journey of becoming less shy and socially awkward.
These days, I’m not perfect, but I can talk to a lot of different people without seizing in horror and nervousness. In fact, lots of people tell me I’m really friendly! Which is just such a happy change and a surprise for me.
And, just to end this newsletter in the happiest of notes, I can tell you this tiny story:
A couple weeks after this failed Behavioural Experiment, I had another one to fulfill:
That week, I decided I would TALK TO A STRANGER.
On the weekend, I was out with my family when I started talking to some gentle looking chap called Jason Logan.
He became one of my best friends in the whole entire universe! I adore him beyond measure and he hired me to be a cartoonist in Metro and the Toronto Star and he’s been mentoring me in my journey of becoming a writer for the last 8 years or so.
Shortly after that, I met moms who actually wanted to hang out with me in the playground. I also started meeting other sweet humans who became really close to me.
I’m still learning about this human connection thing, but Life is magical, lemme tell you. Friendship and love are a HUGE part of that magic!
Magic is waiting out there for us ❤️️
and sometimes we need to put ourselves in pretty awful discomfort, in order to find it.