I was a fairly social kid when I was quite a bit younger, however when I reached my teenage years I found it hard to hang out with others. Even when I was in groups and talking, I would feel isolated and was convinced that nobody wanted to be talking with me.
I’d never initiate social events. I’d need others to invite me out and for whatever reason, I’d often say no. Then I would be offended when I was no longer invited to things.
I’d have flashes of being actively social, mostly times that coincided with me being on Prozac. However, I went on and off the medication quite a bit and for the most part I was very reclusive.
One of the side effects of not going out enough was that I became angry and defensive. If I’m honest with myself, as angry and defensive as I was about not fitting in with social groups – I really did want to be part of one. I just found it hard to talk in groups. I’d freeze up when spoken to and because of the Crohn’s Disease, I’d get tired when I was out for too long. I’d be afraid to be the centre of attention. If I found myself talking to a group of people, I’d go quiet, or find an excuse to leave.
When I did socialise, I would pry too much into people’s lives and try to play the shrink. I used this state of analytic distance, which I’d learnt in therapy, as a blanket approach to all social interactions, because it felt safer than trying to engage in a ‘normal’ way.
(On that note): One of the major things we discussed in therapy was socialising. I mentioned to my shrink that I needed to work on my social life. And he emphasized the fact that it wasn’t something I needed to work on, socialising was a form of play. He said I just needed to learn to relax.
It was something I found near impossible to do. After school and university were over and there was no longer the structure of an institution where I could attend and fulfill my social needs, I needed to become far more active in keeping in touch with people and going out.
I found it hard to socialise at work and on my days off I’d sleep a fair amount during the day. I kept to my room a lot in my share house and rarely went out.
During this time, I started on antidepressants which worked well for me and I had an operation which allowed me to gain some control over the Crohn’s disease.
It was after this point, I became suddenly panicked. I noticed that everyone from school and university were paring off and would soon start families. I was scared that soon there wouldn’t even be a social life for me to join in on. I felt that I needed to go out now, as I would miss out on making important connections with people if I didn’t.
I had a short period, I think about a few months after I’d finished a book I was working on at the time, where I forced myself to go out as much as I could. I got in contact with a lot of people I’d went to uni with and asked them for coffee.
I’ve spoken to other people who’ve said they’ve gone through similar periods of intense socialising, after being ‘anti-social’ for most of their lives. So, I don’t feel that weird about doing it.
At first, when I went out with a group, I’d prepare things in my head to say and get drunk a lot. I’d be very conscious in how I acted as I was desperate to be liked. I’d try to crack jokes as much as I could and always be ‘positive’. I’d try very hard to have ‘fun’. Often being loud and frankly, a little obnoxious.
My shrink explained that going out didn’t always need to be 10 out of 10 to be a ‘successful’ night. It only needed to 6 out of 10. A good night could be one where I simply didn’t make a fool of myself, or I had a nice conversation with someone.
I quickly realised the importance of small talk. It is a way of spending time with someone, without opening myself or them to the potential of being hurt, as would happen if we only talked about our emotions.
A few years ago, I would have had a knee jerk reaction to thoughts like this – asking why I needed to adjust to ‘normalcy’, why I needed to learn to be ‘normal’ just to be able to talk with others socially.
And if I was able to speak to myself then, I’d give the answer: because it’s a far less lonely way to go through life.