My husband and I were at our monthly book club. I’m pretty introverted, but I was excited to be around fellow book-lovers.
When the conversation turned to a topic I had been exposed to at college, I tried to join in.
I started to say something, I don’t recall what exactly. But I panicked mid-sentence. I realized I was in over my head and feared I didn’t actually know what I was talking about. So I finished awkwardly with something that sounded, to my ears, stupid and off-topic.
In the second that followed I could feel my cheeks grow hot. Everyone was looking at me like I was an uneducated fool, an impostor at their lovely dinner. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. I felt like I was in middle school trying to recite something but forgot it halfway through—and the whole class was staring at me.
It was one of many times my social anxiety got the better of me. It’s one of the challenges I’ve had to deal with as a result of long-term emotional abuse. The constant judgement I endured makes me fear walking into a room of people I don’t know. I become paranoid about what they may be thinking about me, if they wonder why I’m so quiet; I worry they think I’m boring. When I do try to talk, my tongue gets tied and the garbled mess of words only serves to make me feel worse, as happened at that first book club meeting.
When my husband and I got back into the car afterwards, I slammed my door shut in frustration at myself and said, “I just feel so stupid whenever I try to talk to people I don’t know!”
After I vented my frustrations and embarrassment about the book club, he told me this: “I joined the book club so that I could practice talking to people I don’t know.” He reminded me that the first time I mentioned my social anxiety problems to him, he’d recommended some tips that had helped him.
What he said floored me. It was so brave and smart- totally heroic, in my book. It opened up my mind to the idea that I could practice to overcome my fears, too. So I hatched a plan to follow before every book club meeting.
So as I prepared for the book club meeting I would make a note of one or two subjects to bring up. Focusing on a topic or two of conversation helped me take the focus off myself and how worried I was about what others were thinking of me. I was taking part in the conversation and was no longer a foolish middle schooler.
At the next meeting, I certainly wasn’t the most outspoken person, nor did I bring up the most thought-provoking comments. But I am proud to say I fulfilled my goal of saying one or two things and practicing talking with people I don’t really know.
Taking those baby steps was a huge boost in my confidence and encouraged me to continue to challenge myself. And I can’t thank my husband enough for understanding, supporting and believing in me as I work to conquer my fears.