You know that moment when someone tells a joke and nobody reacts? That’s how I imagine my life is playing out 24/7.
I don’t know what it is about what I say and I don’t even know if it’s actually happening or I’m just imagining things, but I feel like the majority of conversations I take part in have at least one awkward silence.
Open plan awkwardness
A prime example of this is when I’m at work (again).
You see, I work in a small, open office which, when everyone is in, houses around 15 people in total in one room. It’s about 10 metres squared which to me is just the right size to be awkward enough to not be able to have a private conversation with anyone, because if you try to, literally anyone else in the room can hear what you’re saying. That means someone like me, who prefers one-to-one conversations, can’t really make any progression in building a relationship with the person next to them because the chances are that someone else in the office will decide to join in the conversation.
This is exactly why I HATE open offices. I would much rather have separate offices for people of similar disciplines. At least then they have something in common with each other and there’s little chance of a complete lack of conversation between them (unless they hate each other’s guts of course).
So that’s the environment I find myself in four out of five working days a week. Not only is it intimidating for me to open my mouth in that kind of situation, but when I do, I feel like everyone is listening. That in turn makes me even more anxious about talking to someone, which, in most instances, results in me just not bothering to make conversation in the first place.
Even in social situations outside of work, there are times when I’m just talking to a friend and I say something which causes a nice, long period of silence. Periods of silence which don’t seem to occur when my friends are talking to each other.
Feeling out of place
It all makes me wonder whether I’m just not on the same page as everyone else, as in, literally everyone else. Like my version of ‘normal’ communication is in fact completely the opposite.
I’ve even wondered whether I might be a tad autistic (that isn’t me using it in a derogatory fashion – I just know that autistic people tend to communicate differently to what is perceived as ‘normal’), mainly because I get the feeling like I’m missing certain body languages or social cues that are obvious to others.
When I’m watching other people interact, everything seems much more comfortable, like they’re on the same wavelength. I watch as they chat away, bouncing jokes off each other, laughing and generally enjoying each other’s company and compare it to when I’m talking to the same people and everything just feels awkward. My conversations always feel like the person I’m talking to doesn’t really want to talk to me at all and that I’m fighting a losing battle to maintain their attention.
It’s almost like I’m in slow motion whilst everything else is going double speed. I feel like I’m talking too slowly and I need to rush my sentences; I feel like what I’m saying isn’t at all of interest to them; and I feel like there’s nothing I can do to recover the situation.
This kind of thinking means that I’m never truly comfortable in my surroundings. Even if it’s something like a best friend’s birthday – where you’d think I would be at my most comfortable – there’s part of me scrabbling to find something to say to whoever it is I’m talking to.
A life motto
Someone once said to me that life is about learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
I think the person who told me that was talking more broadly about life in general i.e. moving outside of your comfort zone to achieve certain goals in your life. But I think it can also apply to living with social anxiety. After all, living with anxiety is pretty much like permanently feeling uncomfortable.
So as I’m 99% certain I will always have some form of anxiety present throughout my life, maybe I should just get comfortable being uncomfortable?
…I’ll let you know how it goes.