I’ve never really felt comfortable in certain social interactions, such as groups of ten or more in an unstructured setting. Whenever banter ensues, my mind would naturally come up with feelings and opinions about the topic if I was even remotely knowledgeable about the topic, but I rarely expressed these opinions in groups such as these. Someone is bound to vie for the position of being the center of attention for a luminous moment in time.
I wished that I was OK with being quiet in this manner in big social gatherings. But I wasn’t for most of my life. Our society tends to value outgoing and gregarious people, so that’s what I strived for. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I demanded that I be capable of providing intelligent or hilarious speech in any and all social interactions, regardless of the parameters of the social setting. I didn’t fair too poorly, establishing relationships with a good number of people in smaller circles. It gave a leg up in careers. It seemed to give a leg up on everything.
As the number of social interactions exploded in college, the amount of pressure I put on myself increased exponentially as well. There was small talk before lecture started, banter in the dorms, and witty one-liners in the dining halls. Conversation was constantly being churned out and I didn’t know myself well enough to pick and choose the times in which I would get to work. It was all around me like a slow and methodical hurricane of talking and I had to flow with the nature of holding onto some branch of conversation in the crowded mess hall.
I wasn’t inept at conversation, but day by day, I became drained without realizing it. I wanted to be perceived as socially capable so I kept engaging in conversation from the moment I woke up next to my roommates to the time I fell asleep when the relief of silence was demanded. As each day passed, I searched more and more for words that wanted to come less and less. Everything in life demands some sort of equilibrium, but perfectionism sometimes pushes you to the brink of what is tolerable. My mind was saying slow down, but my whirlwind surroundings kept forcing me to search the insides of me for more. More words, more conversation, more banter…more more more. I felt like a volcano ready to explode. Something was naturally going to happen to me, the way I was exerting all of my energy.
Slowly but surely, my insides imploded from the unnecessary pressure I put on myself. Words refused to formulate in my mind. When people talked to me, I felt an expectation to respond, but I would just look at them like a guy expected to pay the cashier but could only pull out coupons as compensation. I became more and more disappointed with myself, and I went out less and less. The constant churning out of conversation had turned my mind to rancid butter.
I started feeling symptoms. I felt a choking sensation in my throat whenever I saw people. My hands began to shake uncontrollably to the point where I had to hold a cell phone with two hands just so that I could hold on properly. My mind felt like a hodgepodge of nonsense. I felt like I was playing Jeopardy everyday and I was pressing the shit out of the response button while getting all the answers wrong. I knew that something was definitely wrong when I was getting cash out of an ATM machine and a good friend showed up out of nowhere from behind. I turned around, and she merely said hi, but the shock from her sudden appearance startled me so greatly that I left $200 and my debit card in the machine.
I began drinking a lot. I began to think what the fuck happened to me. I began to think myself into depression. I saw a therapist and was told I had social anxiety disorder. Strange. I began as somewhat of a social butterfly with the exception of large crowds. Strange but undeniable.
I spent the next 6 years of my life trying all kinds of treatment to at least ameliorate the effects that had accumulated. I even began to think that life was merely an amalgamation of disappointment and that to initially thrive was merely a set up for disaster. And that not suffering this disappointment of a life was better than to bother with it. These pessimistic thoughts plagued me and turned me into a shell of the person I once was.
After a considerable amount of struggle coupled with uplifting support from friends and family, I began to realize the fallacy of it all. I was the bane of my own existence and all of the pressure was created in my own mind. Some people who encounter pressure diamonds. I became nothing.
But the depths of nothingness is the source of developing an understanding of what constituted everything meaningful. I had realized that banter was just witty small talk by definition, and that I didn’t need a façade of superficial socialization to be happy.
Small talk in big groups certainly serves a purpose in social circumstances, but being the center of it all did not have to mean everything. Now that I am slightly older and much wiser from experience, I realize that not being the center of attention and sane is much better than struggling to be the center and losing my entire world.