A - Force myself to go out. Stand in the middle of the room and feel like I am drowning. Feel sick. Get very sweaty. Panic. Come home.
B - Force myself to go out. Enjoy it. Forget myself. Feel better.
C - Stay at home. Feel safe. Go to bed.
D - Stay at home. Feel horrifically guilty. Commit mental Harakiri until I pass out on the sofa from shame.
A has only occurred a few times, and when it has I've felt like a total failure as a result. B is occurring more frequently recently, but is harder to psyche myself up for. C, if I am honest, is the option I take most regularly, for less-pressing social concerns such as drinks after work or one of James' work dos. D occurs when I let down a friend, or feel unwell. It happens fairly regularly.
Many sociophobes, like these guys here, have hang-ups about the way they look. For me, it's not so much what I look like, exactly, more what I sound like when I open my mouth. I'm quite loud, always have been, so my voice stands out (I have since given a name to this; 'Teacher Voice', and it's very useful). And to further compound my shame what came out of it in school was quickly deemed to be abnormal. I withstood years of persecution by my peers for saying 'weird' things that simply came naturally to me. I'd quote Oscar Wilde at opportune moments in class, or attempt to engage others in a discussion on the merits of Reeves and Mortimer. I thought these were all very normal topics for discussion, they were at home. But apparently, in school, you are only allowed to discuss two topics: shagging and each other.
Awareness of this condition has only made it worse. Meta-cognition has ruined conversation for me, to the extent that whenever I talk to somebody I don't know very well this monologue will run in my head:
I AM HAVING A CONVERSATION. THIS CONVERSATION IS GOING WELL/BADLY (DELETE AS APPROPRIATE).
AM I SAYING THE RIGHT THINGS? PROBABLY NOT.
AM I SMILING ENOUGH? I DON'T WANT TO LOOK MEAN. MIND YOU, I DON'T WANT TO LOOK EAGER EITHER.
SHIT, THEY'VE STOPPED TALKING. I'VE SPENT TOO MUCH TIME THINKING OF WHAT TO SAY AND HAVEN'T LISTENED TO THEM.
JUST NOD AND GIVE A LITTLE HALF-LAUGH, THAT SHOULD WORK FOR MOST SITUATIONS.
OK. DID THAT. WHAT CAN I TALK ABOUT THAT ISN'T MENTAL?
THE CAT, GEM, GO WITH THE CAT...'
It'd be so easy to blame those bastards at school, wouldn't it? But the fact is that I am a grown woman and should be able to look back and learn from my own errors, and the errors of others. No, it's mostly me. I could spend all day reeling off a list of the reasons why I feel safer indoors than out at some cocktail bar. Let me begin to count the ways:
- People, generally, annoy me. High voices annoy me. Quiet, timid voices annoy me. People with expensive clothes annoy me. Loud chewers annoy me. And people that sniff.
- People are mean. They make snap judgements about people based on ridiculous things, such as their tone of voice, or their clothes, or the fact that they sniff.
- People are noisy. Well, lots of people together in a room are. I have a real problem with noise differentiation, so I find rooms with lots of different conversations going on in them really scary and disorientating.
- People smell. They really do. Some people smell worse than others.
- People are stupid. Show me one clever person and I bet I can find at least ten stupid people to outnumber them. I'm not, by any means, a genius, but I genuinely have no idea what to say to people with marshmallow-fluff brains in a social situation. Where does one start with these people? The weather?
Occasionally I attempt to explain my 'problem' to people I meet, but it just confuses them. Or makes them think I'm mental. Or, worse, they nod sagely, join their palms in a symbol of shamanic wisdom and make snap proclamations of cod-psychology that they've gleaned from too much Trisha such as: "You know your problem, Gem? You think too much."
Thus reinforcing my opinion that I am better off indoors.
So that's it, then. I'm a sociophobic. So now what do I do? I would like to get better. I would like to be able to attend work events with my boyfriend and not feel like I am melting into the carpet, or being trodden into it. I'd go and see my GP, and perhaps try for cognitive therapy, but she's put up with enough harassment from me recently, and would probably just tell me to 'go out more'. She'd be right, wouldn't she?