People jostled against her as they passed. The music from half a dozen different bands engulfed her. She felt smaller than ever. Smaller—and more vulnerable.
The groups of people on the street were too loud, too large. What had, moments before, seemed a good-humored crowd of San Franciscans enjoying a weekend street fair now seemed a threatening mob. A man stumbled against her, and Violet gasped as if the contact had been an assault. I’m lost, she thought in sudden panic.
– PaperQuake by Kathryn Reiss
Violet Jackstone’s fear really gripped me as I read it. I’ve felt this way before… and I wasn’t lost. I’ve felt like this in a store or at a party. I deal with social anxiety. I don’t do well in groups of people, and the more they invade my personal space, the more unresponsive I become. Confronting so many in one setting overwhelms my natural tendency to want to get close and know what makes a person special. So I clam up. I don’t respond readily when someone addresses me. During one of these overload moments, I trip over the simplest conversations. It’s like my brain has hives.
I’ve been treating my anxiety for six months now, hoping I can learn to be more responsive. Now I’m more relaxed, and that seems to bring more opportunities into my life, more interaction, more—I hate to say it—drama. I was oblivious to a lot of it before. Is it insane that I kinda miss being oblivious? It was so much easier! Now I’m learning how to respond patiently to drama.
So I’m not the anxious introvert anymore. But I’m still an introvert! I’m pleased that being myself in groups is easier, but part of being myself means stepping out of the crowd and taking a breather. I’m not unhappy with being an introvert, I’m unhappy with the pressure put on me to react like an extrovert. It affects me when I am perceived as cold or dismissive, or undemonstrative, when I’m oftentimes trying to give the space I would want someone to give to me.
In the book PaperQuake, Kathryn Reiss writes about thinking laterally, connecting the dots in a different configuration than the conclusions we jump to. She isn’t discussing human interaction, but I think it’s great thought to carry over. It means giving each person the benefit of the doubt. I shouldn’t interpret someone’s actions according to my experiences or my personality. I want to make thoughtful decisions about how I relate to those I love and am learning to love more deeply. Then the crowd stops being a crowd and becomes a great big family.