Nobody likes you, everyone left you, they're all out without you...having fun...

I am the uncool kid. No, seriously. I really am, always have been, the furthest from cool in any group of people. I hardly ever (I won't say never)...belong. 

This is not a 'woe is me, I'm such a nerd omg you don't understand' post, I promise! This is my way of explaining some of my thoughts and feelings and my minor but nevertheless significant *deep breath* anxieties. 

(Credit: the magnificent Gemma Correll, obvs.)

Firstly, I know that 'social anxiety' is a 100% legit thing, I know it's a medical condition and it causes all manner of hell for some unfortunate humans. I do not use that term lightly, like some might. I promise. 

At the end of last year I got a proof of 'A Quiet Kind of Thunder' by Sara Barnard, and the story taught me about selective mutism and general intense shyness, just 2 of many sad conditions that are brought about by social anxiety. I'm so very glad my issues are not that drastic, and I am sorry for those who suffer with that. 
Still, my issues are there and cannot be ignored just because they could be worse. (I need to tell myself this more often. Maybe actually typing it - here, for all to see - will help...) 

And I recently read 'We're All Mad Here: The No-Nonsense Guide to Living With Social Anxiety' and now will be urging everyone I know who feels these feels - and even those who don't - to read it, too. See my February reading wrap-up for a full review. 

Now, I am aware that a lot of my close friends, and really anyone who has chatted with me in person, will be somewhat surprised to read this post.  

Because the thing is, I am kinda gifted when it comes to social situations – promise I'm not blowing my own horn here – in that I can walk into a room, into an atmosphere, and immediately suss where I need to be.
Like, for instance, I'll enter an environment (be it a book event or fancy press night, drinks after work or a friend's birthday party) and do a quick scan around the room and work out spots to avoid, places to perhaps safely settle in, people I should/shouldn't converse with and most importantly how I need to be. What level is required almost; should I be loud, silent or somewhere comfortably in between? Do they want full-on babbling and hooting social version of me? Or the more gentle and reserved me? Do I need to incite conversations or just listen in on them? Etc, etc. I'm usually good at all that. I think. However, there are many issues attached.

Like, I might be in the middle of a conversation and quite suddenly I am smacked round the head invisibly by this disembodied commanding voice booming at me 'no, this isn't working! You utter tit! You got this all wrong. Change tactic, morph yourself, go go go! Nobody wants this version of you right now, eww!' 

Or there's less of a yell and more of a sickening feeling I get halfway through a sentence, or a story, or a comment - do people really want to hear this? Am I boring them? Grace, shut up you sound like a fucking boring fucking stupid moron shhhhhh!!

(Credit: the magnificent Gemma Correll, obvs.)

The biggest problem for me would be that 'afterwards feeling'. I'll walk home, or to wherever I am staying that night (hush, now) and while I'll be buzzing happily more often than not, I'll also be replaying various exchanges I've had with people that day/evening. I'll be combing through every conversation, searching most sadistically for things I've said or done wrong. And y'know what? I almost always find something. Be it a dumb little phrase, a slightly odd comment, a joke that fell flat – things nobody else will have seen or heard, or if they did they didn't care, but these things keep me awake those few minutes longer when I'm finally home or at a friend's and trying to go to sleep. One thing, one meaningless conversational slip up, is all it takes. 

I actually blogged before, years ago, about not caring what other people think. Now when I wrote that post, I was nearly 19 and coming to the end of my first year at uni. A lot has changed since then. In fact, I think that 'not caring' was more of a phase than the norm back then – if I'm honest? I care way too much what other people think. Always have.

When I had counselling I learned that my biggest problems I had to face and overcome were my constant and dire need to please people, my putting others ahead of and above me, and my fear of others not liking me. The overcoming part is most definitely still in progress, I mean, these issues have been wedged awkwardly in my brain and growing unhappily there for longer than that bloody tumour has (10-15 years, fyi) and while counselling was the key thing to help me identify them, that doesn't mean they are immediately sorted out. I wish! 

While having counselling I worked so hard on myself, my inner self, and I was so happy to eventually see some changes. Like, whenever I visited my workplace while medically signed off I would see my colleagues stressing or rushing – and I was able to stop thinking I should be helping them. I stopped feeling guilty I couldn't physically work at that time. At times I even worried they hated me for swanning in and seeing them and just looking on, not assisting in any way. 
It's the same with friends unloading their feels about things onto me (which you guys are of course welcome to do, within reason), my issue there was always taking the problems on and treating them as my own, rather than just listening, offering advice and hoping for the best for them. I started doing the latter things, and felt so much better. In fact I pride myself on advice-giving, these days. 

Back when this revelation was first finally coming clear, I worked hard to remind myself of that enormous truth when I went out in public and was in full view of strangers: people are generally so wrapped up in themselves and their own things, they barely even notice you. Yes, it is a rather sad saying, but for me it was SO comforting. I obsess over what people see when they look at me. I know it can't be as bad as what I see day to day in the mirror – because as my school teachers said a lot when I was a teen, we are our own worst critics – but I always wonder what it could be that pops into their head when they lock eyes with me. 

Over the past year or so I have experienced a lot of changes in my life, and a lot of unfamiliar environments. New people, too. I suddenly had a whole new team of colleagues, and a few new friends. I met new doctors and specialists who took care of me. I lectured an entire year group of Creative Writing students, more than once. I have over 5 times the amount of Twitter followers I had this time last year (and I love them all), and in 2016 my blog had about 4 times the amount of visitors it had the year before. 
These are all good things. They are also terrifying things to get my socially anxious and generally obsessive and muddled head around.

I sometimes really panic that no matter what happens in my life, how famous I get (lol) or how many wonderful people join me wandering along my paths, I will always be afraid of others' opinions. I will always be the uncool kid in the classroom, the outcast at events and the weirdo in the workplace. I have no way of knowing if that will be the case, though. I can only carry on, and keep working on myself.  
(Credit: the magnificent Gemma Correll, obvs.)

(Sorry, no happy ending today. Just an acknowledgement, a confession, and hopefully someday clarity and growth. Let us hope.)


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