morbidly awkward

Following up on something in a previous post: my severe lack of self-esteem makes it difficult to socialize on a normal level.

I don’t feel like I have anything to give another person, whether as a friend or a casual acquaintance. I don’t think other people are interested in being around me, and if I try I feel like they are actually repulsed somehow by my attempt to interact with them. I am not interesting, I lose track of conversations, I have a hard time listening, and when I do say something it usually comes out wrong, and I feel stupid as a result. This effect gets worse in proportion to how much I would like to have a conversation with someone (which is rarely the case, but it happens).

I am terribly awkward at making conversation because I am overwhelmed while the other person is talking; my brain is working on so many different levels that I find it hard to keep up. I am trying to figure out something to say while wondering if I look ignorant, or I’m thinking about the stain on my shirt, or remembering the idiotic thing I said last time I talked to the person. In the meantime I have lost track of what the person was actually saying, then I feel stupid for not paying attention to the other person. This reinforces my fear of social interaction, and the next time is no better.

I dread interacting with people at the store or at restaurants, because people are only being friendly because it is required by their job. I loathe buying something where you have to talk to a salesperson, because I know I will get overwhelmed no matter how much I have prepared beforehand; internet shopping and the drive-thru window were made for me. I hate having to call people and talk to them for any personal or office business, because I am self-conscious about my voice and I always seem to stumble over my words. I could be dying and on the phone with 911, and I would be worried more about my side of the conversation than about the compound fracture in my leg.

The end result of all this is that I try to avoid dealing with people whenever possible. Talking to people exhausts me, not because I don’t like people (and I don’t like most people), but because I don’t really value myself. My negativity gets in the way of being an equal participant in social interactions. This gets worse as I get older and I become less confident in my ability to relate to people.

The only exception to this rule is at work, on the rare occasions where I really know what I am talking about, and I find that I can contribute intelligently to the conversation. This doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it surprises me. Last week I had a snap meeting which I unexpectedly was in charge of, and had no time to prepare for, but everything worked out okay. I answered everyone’s questions reasonably well, and I didn’t feel like a failure afterward.

bowling for katy

A short story about teenage drama.

Junior year at Goldville High School, 1987: I had a huge crush for three years running on Katy, a clarinet player who wore too much makeup. One time I tried to show her how much I liked her by giving her a frog leg. From biology class. Left in her locker on top of a book. Oh, the screaming.

Anyway, one day she sidles over to me with a twinkle in her eye, and I’m feeling lucky. She gives me a folded note and says “open it later”, and keeps walking. Of course, I open it immediately. “Our church is having an all-night bowling party Saturday. Would you like to go? ___Y ___N ___ I’m indecisive.”

YES! A church thing is almost like a date, right? An hour later I drop my answer in her clarinet case. “I guess so … are you going?” She turns around and gives me a look and a smile, as I peek over my music stand at her.

Saturday evening: I arrive at her church and scan the parking lot. I see another girl from the band, Tina, and we start talking. I told her why I was there, but she looked dubious. “I really don’t think this is a date,” she said. Moments later, Katy walked up and gave me a little punch on the chest, and we talked for a few minutes. Not a bad start, I’m thinking.

Another moment later, this sassy dude with spiky hair ambles over … and starts sucking face with Katy.

I’m stunned, and Tina is beside me trying to control spasms of laughter. After Katy pulls her tongue out of this dickhead’s tonsils, she says “hey Rob, this is my boyfriend Lee.” Clearly, this would have been good information previously, but it was now useless. Lee and I look at each other and give the typical male “whassup?” as I reluctantly shake his extended hand. Tina is now pretending to cough to cover her laughing, and I am uncomfortably stuck in an awkward situation until the chaperones tell us to get on the church bus.

Tina and I sat together, leaving Katy and Lee to swap fluids several rows back. Tina and I ended up spending the rest of the evening hanging out together, chatting in between bowling very poorly. On the bus ride back, Tina leaned over on me and went to sleep, but not before warning me not to try any “funny stuff”. I promised, and we slept for a little while. As the sun rose, I realized I had lost a potential girlfriend but gained a new friend. Not a bad night.

Of course my other friends had a good laugh, but it all worked out for the best. Years later I find out on Fakebook that Katy became an ultra-religious conservative and attended a racist bible college.

shame on you

It feels like I remember every embarrassing thing I have ever done. All the times felt like I was the center of attention, thinking about all my flaws and shortcomings, while other people probably didn’t even notice me. I obsess over these moments endlessly, thinking about how I felt when the embarrassing moment occurred, or even worse, how I felt about when I eventually realized how stupid I was earlier.

I still feel ashamed for many things in my past. All the inappropriate things I have said at the wrong time, all the stupid things I did to other people, all the mistakes I’ve ever made … they replay in my head frequently, at the least opportune times. I have made apologies to a couple of people for things I did or said, and they accepted my apology gracefully, but it doesn’t erase in my mind the fact of how I feel about these things.

Shame has always been a defining factor in my life. My adopted mother and her adopted mother shamed me constantly, making me think I didn’t deserve anything, and that anything I did to call attention to myself was wrong. I learned early from my schoolmates that doing anything outside the ordinary was a source of embarrassment and shame. As you can imagine, having bipolar as a teenager (and into adulthood) caused me to do more stupid things than ever before and resulted in continuing humiliation when I looked back at my actions.

My intelligence, and my reputation as the smart kid, caused other kids to tease me and exclude me from their social circles, and I learned to hide my intellect to avoid being the focus of attention. In 4th grade I deliberately failed during the school spelling bee because I didn’t want the spotlight focused on me, the person who was expected to win. Because I had more advanced schoolwork than the kids in my classes, I was often separated from them, suffering the indignity of having my own special corner in the classroom, or even worse, being sent to the “special” class where I could work independently. [Funny thing is, the “special kids” were some of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I knew.]

Sometimes I would forget who I was, and get a little false confidence to try something; these times would usually result in the most awkward moments of my life. The 6th grade talent contest comes to mind, when for some reason I thought I could be the emcee and tell jokes in front of the whole school; I failed miserably, and I felt people making fun of me. [Whether they actually made fun of me, I don’t know, but I was my own worst critic.] After these failures, I would retreat into my shell again.

There have been very few times when I was in the spotlight and I actually felt good about it: making a great play in baseball, or nailing my solo during the band performance, or winning the marching competition my first day at college band camp. Some of those memories where I actually accomplished something are still good, and I remember those times very well. But the memories of the times where I failed, or did or said something ignorant or embarrassing, are much stronger than the good memories, and I relive the shame of those moments daily.