A series of deafening silences


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.

Speak soon.

3 thoughts on “A series of deafening silences

  1. I can relate to your dislike of open offices where you can’t have a private chat with anyone without everyone else in the office hearing you. I was in this situation about a year ago when I accepted a medical internship.

    I was dumbstruck on my first day there that the “office” was essentially someone’s living room converted into an office with computers and chairs. There were no cubicles separating everyone, either. Very quickly I realized the bosses had a strangely casual banter with the workers where there was no discomfort for either party to be holding a conversation by shouting across the room or the fact everyone else would hear them.

    I did not get on board with this. I was already very timid because of my social anxiety, and one of my biggest struggles with anxiety is I dislike having other people listen in or be within earshot of me when I am talking to another person. I get paranoid and fearful of how I am being perceived. It also didn’t help that one of the bosses joked around about how quiet I was and regularly called me out in front of everyone. People seemed to find this amusing while I was miserable and hurt over this. All this stress drove me to tears on my third day there, though I made sure no one saw me cry and I tolerated everything for that day knowing I had plans to never come back.

    Over the weekend I sent them an email stating I was resigning for “personal reasons”. Good riddance and I have never looked back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. God that sounds awful! Your past situation sounds very similar to mine. I actually told my boss about my social anxiety a couple weeks into my job and he still occasionally calls me out to offer my opinion on something in front of everyone. If I wanted to add my opinion, I would! Not cool.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, for myself, I really didn’t even feel like telling my bosses about my social anxiety was a real option. Not to shut people out or anything, but who knows if they would’ve been understanding about my anxiety and how badly it affects me. I’m appalled that your boss still thinks it’s ok to call you out in front of everyone even though he knows about your social anxiety. Seems like he doesn’t understand the full extent of what you’re going through.

        There was a point where one of the bosses talked to me privately about the internship and what would happen if I got hired by the end of my internship. I tried to keep my cool as I spoke to her, though I was very intimidated and put off from all the previous times she called me out in front of everyone. I was so scared that I was blinking back tears. She actually misunderstand and told the other boss that I seemed nervous and how she could tell because my eyes looked teary. I felt a little embittered over that, not because she misunderstood, but the fact what I was feeling was more than just nervousness, it was full blown anxiety.


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