I promise I’m not a complete mess. The calm and capable Sue that many of you know is not just a facade. I’ve learned over the years to deal with anxious and awkward feelings and for the most part, I don’t find the world at large scary and intimidating. That said, I still have remnants of social anxiety and a lot more self-awareness than I used to, and a willingness and desire to talk it out (sorry, fam). So here are some of those situations, just so we Socially Anxious Introverts can feel less alone (while still actually being alone as we read this post on our phones).
Only for female introverts: Beauty Salons
Or as we used to call ‘em, beauty parlours. You know, the place we go to get hair removed from various parts of our bodies as dictated by society (why aren’t unibrows cool yet?), not to mention get our hair trimmed, cut and coloured, our nails manicured and polished, our faces.. um.. treated.. whatever. I’m no beauty expert. In fact, I probably go to these places a lot less than most women I know. Why? Not because I don’t like looking pretty (according to current social norms of pretty). Not ever because I’m a sissy who can’t handle the pain of having hair extracted from my forehead. I grit my teeth and offer it up, while pondering whether suffering for the sake of beauty can simultaneously have any spiritual value, and concluding that ‘nothing offered to God is wasted’.
No, my real problem is that every trip to the local beauty salon is a scary adventure fraught with socially awkward situations, kind of like crossing a minefield and trying very hard not to blow up. Extroverts probably think I’m crazy. “Yay! People I might know and can chat too!” Introverts instead think, “Aaargh! People I may know! People who may know me! Not very well! People who know my mum. People who don’t like me! Or my mum! Any and all of these combinations of people could be there when I walk in, or walk in as I sit there defenceless. Small talk! To talk or not to talk? Did that person just not notice me or are they ignoring me? Or do they think am I ignoring them?”
I kid you not, I once went to a beauty salon, saw someone who I thought I knew and had not parted on good terms with. However, I wasn’t totally sure it was her. She looked different. Perhaps a different haircut? Or was it a totally different person? Since we didn’t part well, if it WAS her, I needed to say hello so as to make peace. If it wasn’t her, er... that could be awkward. The awkwardness was compounded by the fact that she was totally ignoring me. But I couldn’t just let it go. I had to do something.
So this is what I did. I said “Hello” in her direction in a not very loud voice. My rationale was that if it WAS her, she would be aware of my presence, would hear me and look up. Common courtesy would compel her to respond to my greeting, and even if she still bore me ill will, well, at least we had said hello. If she was a stranger, she would think she misheard or that I was talking to someone else, and she would just continue staring ahead at the mirror.
She didn’t respond. Okay, maybe she was a stranger? Or maybe she just hadn’t heard me because I wasn’t loud enough? Or maybe she hated my guts so much that she was ignoring my small attempt at reconciliation? AAARGHHHH! So much tension and anxiety! I still don’t know to this day if it was her or not.
This is what I think would be a great idea. Beauty salons with individual cubicles. Why is this not a thing yet? C’mon, I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem!
Only for Catholic introverts: Receiving Communion
You think I’m joking, right? I’m the Catholic who can wax eloquent about the beauty of God becoming bread so that He can satisfy our hunger, of the privilege of receiving Him in the Eucharist, of the very real transforming power I experience after receiving Him in this way. And yet, I am not immune from the very real awkwardness connected with actually physically getting into a line and receiving the Host into my body.
First of all, hand or tongue? Lots of Catholics have lots of strong opinions about this, but the fact of the matter is that the Church allows either as long as Jesus in the Host is received with reverence and faith. So then it comes down to practicality. I used to feel like there was more likelihood of it dropping if I received it on the tongue, so I took it in my hand. But then in recent years I decided that I would try receiving it on my tongue. As long as I made up my mind beforehand, and didn’t debate with myself all the way to the front of the Church. (Yeah, I told you my mind is nuts.)
But even after deciding to receive on my tongue, there are so many factors. Like am I opening my mouth right, sticking my tongue out far enough, at the right angle? Because if I get it wrong, the gross and awkward result is that the priest or extraordinary minister’s hand touches my tongue euggh euggh eughh. And then goes on to continue to distribute to Host to hundreds of others. Euggh. What about the many times I have to figure out whether the priest of extraordinary minister has forgotten to say, “The Body of Christ”, or whether it is merely his timing that is off? Because there I am waiting to say “Amen”, while the impatient priest is waiting for me to open my mouth and stick my tongue out. It is a very delicately timed operation with too many potential ways to fail. I salute you, distributors of Communion, for bravely facing the awkwardness day after day for the sake of spiritually feeding the followers of Christ.
Apart from the awkwardness of the Communion line, there is also the awkwardness of reacting to liturgical abuse, like when the priest passed the communion bowl around at a chapel Mass while communicants ‘took’ Jesus instead of receiving Him. I just wanted to focus on receiving Jesus, instead my mind was racked with questions like, “If I know this is abuse, should I just pass the bowl without receiving? Or go up to the priest and ask that he gave it to me (in the way the Church requires)? Or just take it as it is HIS abuse, not mine, and no matter what, it is still Jesus?” I know, I know, I should stop over-thinking things I can't control, and not sweat the small stuff, and let things go, etc, but more easily said than done.
I wish I could just be caught up in ecstasy like St. Catherine of Siena when she received Communion, but alas, I’m not there yet.
For all introverts: Shopping
I’m not talking about big supermarkets where you can wander down aisles picking things off shopping racks and popping them into shopping carts. That’s a dream situation for introverts, second only to online shopping. I’m talking about the average Indian shopping experience that involves plenty of conversation, interaction and relating. When I was a kid, I had such a horror of shops that I would go to extreme lengths to offer any of my siblings bribes to go to the shop for me. If my love of junk food surpassed my fear of shops, I would reluctantly drag myself there practising all the way what exactly I would say, what the shopkeeper’s possible responses would be, and what my response would be in each situation. This phobia was probably caused by the fact that I didn’t speak Hindi as a child, and most shopkeepers didn’t speak English. Also little kids usually got ignored, and were made to wait the longest. Also, my parents hate shopping so that may have had something to do with it as well.
But as an adult who has mostly learned to get around, there are varying degrees of annoying and stressful shopping situations.
Exhausting: Being overstimulated by all the people, options, colours, noise and making rash decisions or no decisions as a result. Or in one unfortunate case throwing up in the middle of a shopping center because it was all too much. (Shout out to my resourceful sister J who rushed into a shop and asked for a plastic bag just in time.)
Annoying: Shop assistants who hover and keep asking you questions or shoving various items of clothing at you (this is usually a clothing store problem). Usually I walk out very soon after this happens.
Awkward: Male shopkeepers at lingerie shops whom you have to converse with about bra size and panty style eeshk.
Frustrating: Having a limited budget and having to try on shoes after shoes after shoes that are not your style and then feeling so stressed out that you just buy the least ugly of the lot, which are still pretty ugly and then you go home and vow you will never go shopping again.
Upsetting: Having a shopping companion who hates shopping just as much as you, and hangs back at every shop y’all enter so that you have to do the talking, but then gets frustrated with your indecisiveness and starts pushing you to make a decision which leads you back to the previous situation.
Stressful: Having to shop on behalf of someone else, try to figure out what exactly they meant when they described a particular style, and hope against hope that if you make another stress-induced extravagant purchase they won’t be mad at you, and hopefully can exchange it and never ask you for such a favour again.
This, friends, is why I thanked God when online shopping came to India about six years ago. But don’t get me started on communicating with online shopping delivery men.
So yes, being a Socially Anxious Introvert is a thing. If you identified with any of these scenarios, you just got yourself a new label! Congratulations!