Many have no understanding of what it is to be painfully shy. Long have I been misunderstood and labeled as antisocial, sometimes even cold, surrounded by a constant flutter of social bugs who think to be aloof makes one a freak of nature. It seems I was neglected by the good graces of the social light at birth. On a few occasions, someone in my circle would think to pause, to notice the weird vibes of ever-present silence emanating from my subtle presence, and ask me, “why are you so quiet?”
Sometimes, depending on my mood – or perhaps depending on my feelings toward this person – I would have excuses. No inclination to treat them to the juicy, sensitive truth. But more and more, I began to let that truth out, because I was tired of the truth being such a big deal. I adopted kind of an “I’m shy, get over it” sort of attitude.
“I’m shy,” I would say matter-of-factly.
“Why?” they would ask.
“Why do you laugh so loud?” I would want to say back. “Why must you always arrive in style, and squeal when excited? Why do YOU TALK so much?” Or, as was often even more tempting to say, “Because I have nothing to add to your conversation. Frankly, you talk enough for both of us, and why would I want to gush about the trash and nonsense that you do?”
Realistically, I would humor them and offer a simple “It’s a personality trait,” and leave it at that. I’m sure they could not fathom having the natural inclination to stay OUT of something, and certainly could never comprehend the nauseous feeling, the constricting of the throat, the overwhelming dismay and overall grief of opening your mouth in the presence of another and conjuring the great feat that is intelligible sound.
But I did. I knew with all my pitiful heart. I would never forget the incident I had at a family reunion I attended, when, to my horror, the hostess got up with a microphone to announce we were going to take turns introducing and telling about ourselves using said amplifier.
I seriously considered ducking out and hiding in the bathroom for the rest of dinner, but I was positioned too much in the middle of the gathering to make a very stealthy escape. So, full of dread and jitters, I awaited my fate.
The Microphone made its way around the tables, until someone was handing me the horrid entity. Somehow, I bolstered the courage to accept it and stand up. But, halfway through my treacherous last name, I choked. Just as I’d choked earlier that evening on a hazardous piece of melon, I choked again on nothing but air, right into the microphone.
I died inside as my coughing and hacking was amplified throughout the event hall. It was kind of otherworldy, reaching that peak of embarrassment there in front of an entire room of onlookers. As I willed myself to melt into the carpet, the spotlight glared down on me, so to speak, temporarily blinding me. That warm rush of blood that I experienced aided in numbing me, and for a moment I had a sort of out-of-body experience.
But when the blurriness cleared, there was the mortifying spectacle of those near me holding out water glasses, concern etched onto their witness faces, my blunder hopelessly immortalized there on that night of once-in-a-lifetime character establishment. These were people whose existence I hadn’t even been aware of until then, and suddenly all of my extended family in the world knew me by this incident. I would always be ‘the girl who choked into the microphone’. Never before had all of these people entered my life, and when I got my one chance to make a lasting impression as an addition to their family, well…I certainly made a lasting impression, didn’t I? It was painful to me. To this day, I still live with that being their sole impression of what I’ve got in me.
And pen names do nothing to set the record straight if any relevant party got their hands on a piece of work such as this that pours out my heart. I will likely always live under the shadow I cast over myself that day. Never in the history of my family had there been a reunion that brought so many of us together until that time, and there probably never will be again. The impression I made is an eternal one, unless I want to embark on a quest to hunt down my distant family from all corners of the earth and redeem myself. Impossible.
So there I am on their mantles, second row (not quite the shortest), ‘the girl who choked into the microphone’.
Some will say that being ‘painfully shy’ is the result of traumas such as these, and not at all a valid personality trait. While these traumatic events have certainly reinforced the timid nature of my voice over the years, I tend to disagree. I was always shy. It’s impossible to say whether or not the irrational FEAR is a result of trauma or if that was always a natural part of it, just a seed that was encouraged, but people ought to be aware that some of us really do suffer from being painfully shy, and it is no irrelevant issue. It’s like a phobia. It is a struggle, ripe for mortification and humiliation.
I have since learned to curb the ill feelings and at least make my voice work, but the dry mouth, throbbing heartbeat, sweaty palms, etc, never goes away. The dread of opening my mouth will always be there, even though I have reached a point where I can be proud of myself afterward. I can talk in class, but I suffer. I can’t get up on a stage. I avoid making phone calls if I can help it. I avoid asking for help at the grocery store. When someone at the grocery store asks if I need help, I tell them ‘no, thank you’ and strive to escape the vicinity – as if cornered by that well-wishing individual. My heart pounds, and that warm rush of blood possesses me.
It is irrational, but it is real. Those close to me have tried to tell me, “people are people”, as if humanizing them will help us all relate, and get along like one big, happy family. Sometimes, it does help – but, I mean, I always knew they were people. People are scary.
For those suffering from being painfully shy, I would offer this advice that has helped me: Think quickly, talk slowly.
For those who still can’t imagine such a condition, go easy with your judgment of those who seem antisocial, cold, or aloof. Maybe they don’t meet your eyes when you address them. Maybe they stutter. Maybe you impatiently press them to speak up when you can’t hear them.
Realize that these people are vulnerable, regardless of if you can understand that or not. And don’t categorize them. Everyone struggles with something. Since this particular struggle centers around people, it’s one that is simply always going to be out in the open – because when it’s not, it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, out in the open is when it manifests.