I’m that girl that you see in the grocery store that has a pleasant face, but I don’t hold eye contact. I look away quickly, and if I feel you looking at me, I turn beet red and start walking the other way. It’s not because I think you are some kind of creep, or that you are trying to hit on me. It’s because I have social anxiety.
I was raised with three brothers, and their personalities were all so loud that mine got drowned out along the way. I was a reserved little girl that loved playing by myself and had a habit of embarrassing my parents by turning to my little girlfriends the morning after a sleepover and saying bluntly, “I think you should go home now.” I liked being alone, I liked the quiet, and I didn’t want anything to do with people.
I guess I’ve gotten ‘better’ over the years. I went through a chubby girl phase and briefly lost the ‘pretty’ factor that was going for me during early childhood, and gained a little bit of a personality, but for the most part, I’m still very dry and very shy. Now, people wouldn’t assume this from talking to me. If I have to meet someone new or be with a new group of people, I just scrutinize myself in the mirror and utter enough ‘just be yourself’ mantras until I numb myself to the possibility of rejection.
When I went to new classes during college, I’d plaster on this conscientious academic persona that gave me the psychological inertia to make a few new friends and show the new professor who was going to be dictating the grading curve. But, after a while, it wore down. I’d have to pretend that the people that I was giving presentations to were naked just to be able to take the mental spotlight off myself. And, during one particularly awful class session, my professor was talking about the Industrial Revolution, and he actually said, “Now, this boy over here wishes the textile industry hadn’t been invented so Henri wouldn’t own a shirt!” My mouth was agape, and people didn’t laugh at the professor’s joke as much as they did the deep shade of maroon that was spreading from the tips of my ears down to my chest. Call me sensitive, but for me, it was a triggering event to remind me how vulnerable I really am, even with my academic persona in my arsenal.
It’s gotten even harder for me since leaving college, because I can’t help but get really embarrassed at myself during job interviews, when authoritarian hiring managers and poised HR staff stare at you head on and ask you some very personal questions. Most people, I’m guessing, are at least a little bit comfortable discussing salary information or where they can see themselves within a company, but I almost feel as if I’m imposing myself. I feel like they can see through the fact that the pants that I’m wearing are the one of the two pairs of office casual black slacks that I own, and that I’m just a nervous little girl wearing shoes that a 45 year-old nun would wear.
When I go to local grocery stores between daily job searches, I sometimes wear sunglasses or a hat so that none of the cashiers and workers recognize me. Today, I even went to a grocery store across town just so that I could cower under its blanket of anonymity. I scoff at the idea of going to the bank, now that most banking transactions can be done online. I’m afraid of Chase, the guy at the bank counter that gives me that seemingly knowing look and asks me how I’m doing. I’m afraid of Lydia, my local cashier who always compliments my ‘pretty red hair’ and occasionally comments on how happy or unhappy I look. I know that I have no logical reason to be afraid of them. I know that they are nice people. But I also feel that they see through me as a young, pretty girl that has no reason to have eyes as clouded by dismal thoughts as mine.
Sometimes, I reminisce on what it was like to be a chubby, acne-ridden teenager. Sure, I was depressed, but there was a comfort in having eyes simply pass over me. There was a comfort in being someone that you could meet, and, once you turned the other way, completely forget what I looked like. Nowadays, during the part of my life where I am forced to sell the optimistic, cover-letter Henri, I feel like God wasted giving those good looks to me during adulthood, because I really would rather curl up in a ball and nap than flash a charming smile, adjust my form fitting button up, and talk about how I’d be a great fit for the job.