I know how it seems when I always sing to myself in public. I babble on like a mad man. I know how it seems when I’m always staring off into nothing. I’m lost in my head again. I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times. – “There, There” by The Wonder Years
I love people. For the most part, I get along with most everyone I come into contact with. I am typically outgoing, and love to make other people smile. Except, there is one huge problem with that: I am riddled with social anxiety.
This stands in stark contrast to what most people know about me. Usually upbeat, laughing a lot, cracking jokes every chance I get. I’m the guy that uses words like “rad” and “bodacious” like we still live in 1987 and have no problem skanking in public whenever I hear the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I talk to random old people in malls and for some reason, little kids love me.
The thing is, it’s almost a chore to be like this now. A few years ago, that was just me. It was how I was. Something in the last few years has changed though. Maybe it’s the insanely crazy few years my family has had and the stresses that came with it. Perhaps it’s the ever changing and saddening world around me. Maybe it’s just my mental illness adapting over the years to find new ways to interrupt my life.
Currently, I am diagnosed as bi-polar, struggling under the weight of PTSD, and riddled with social anxiety. Okay, so the doctor didn’t exactly put it that way, but that’s what it boils down to. So to struggle to be the guy I used to be kind of drives things deeper. I caution to use the word “faking my happiness” to describe how I am around most people. I’m not usually faking. I do wear my masks some days as most people with mental illness do. The more accurate term would be “struggling to be me”. Yeah, I like that better.
Awkward and nervous are not ways to live when you’re an extrovert. Social anxiety is a curse of sorts. Inside I’m all Dave Grohl and outside I’m Quasimodo. Total rocker badass by virtue, but awkward nerdy dude by pure damn chemical imbalance. I’m scared of my failing as a friend. I’m scared of how people will look at me with my strangely shaped body, and round face. My short stature and my shaky voice only seem to accent that awkwardness.
So what’s a dude to do?
I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to figure out at this point. My anxiety has stripped me of what I used to be inside and out. Daily interactions are strategically planned out actions. But I don’t spend my whole day just yapping my jaw on the phone. I have people sitting to my left and right. People sitting directly across from me and diagonally across from me. I have bosses, and people I interact with running errands. I have friends that I only see at their place of employment because honestly, the hell with even trying to ask people about hanging out. That shit is too hard.
But, it’s not hard. Well, it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be hard to go crack open cold ones with the boys. It’s not a difficult decision to say “Hey, let’s drink whiskey and play Cards Against Humanity until someone pukes.” My kids shouldn’t have to wonder what it would be like to meet the kids of people I know, and wonder only. Mainly because their dad can’t swallow it and say “We should totally take the kids to just jump after getting them ripped on Mountain Dew and Reese’s Cups.
I don’t laugh at the right times. I don’t cry at the right times. I don’t smile and frown at the right times. I can’t figure out how I can just overcome and not be so scared of being me. It is a job in itself to keep my anxiety in check. I keep thinking “Tomorrow, tomorrow is the day it just stops and I get back to normal. Tomorrow is the day I am finally cool with myself, down with my weird body.” I wake up and say “Today is the day I stop giving a shit about how people may perceive me on the outside, and show them who I really am on the inside.”
But that tomorrow and today never comes. Anxiety wins every time and I’m left a shell once again. I stare in the mirror and think “Ugh.” I get myself hyped up by be being heavily caffeinated and overly medicated. I run through my days like they are rehearsed and scripted until I come home, in familiar surroundings, around very familiar faces. And I unwind and stop worrying for a bit.And then I dream some more.
I dream of not feeling like I am going to hurl my guts out at the thought of being in a crowded room. I dream of firm handshakes with strangers and a comforting tone to my voice that lets people know I’m just your average nerd. I will think about how awesome it would be to tell my stories in front of a crowd without my legs buckling under the dosage of Xanax I take just to show up. I will rock out in the shower because that’s the only place it’s comfortable to anymore….
And I will wonder…
Is this what it feels like with wings clipped? I’m awkward and I’m nervous.