Last night I was enjoying the quiet of an empty house by taking some time to write about my day in my journal. I began with stating the fact that I had enjoyed a lovely hike with my friend in the morning, then suddenly my thoughts veered off into a completely unexpected but amazing direction. I began to write about how at peace I had been inside during that hike and even in the hours leading up to it. Now that may not seem like such a big deal to some, but, for me, it was profound. I couldn’t get through writing about it last night without my eyes leaking, and I doubt that I will be able to blog about it now without more leakage.
I am an introvert. I am an introvert who has lived most of my life feeling like the square peg being forced into the round hole. I have lived a lifetime of being told that I need to speak up, talk more, be more, and I have died a thousand little deaths inside every time I have failed to meet those demands. I had even been convinced, for a time, that there was something wrong with who I was, that I did have to become someone else. Between the external and internal pressures to fit into society’s perception of the ideal personality, I would get so stressed out with every foray into society.
It’s not like I would break out into a cold sweat and have a full blown panic attack. Oh no! I am much too controlled to allow my anxiety to be put on public display that way. However, I could be in a room full of people, sitting at a table with a handful of people, or out for coffee with just one or two people, even just anticipating being out with others, and the most vicious war would be going on inside my head.
I don’t know what to say. They must think I am stupid, unfriendly, cold, boring, because I am sitting here like a statue. I wish I knew what to say. Oh, that didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. You are so stupid. Just don’t say anything…you have nothing to contribute to the conversation anyway. You aren’t smart enough. You don’t fit in. You don’t belong. Nobody cares about you. I don’t know anyone here. I hope someone will sit with me. What if someone I don’t know sits with me? What will I say? I am terrible at small talk. They’ll never like me. What is wrong with you, Angela?!
Okay. My eyes aren’t just leaking as I type. Those are horrible thoughts, aren’t they, and those are only the tip of the iceberg. That battle has been fought inside my head on an almost daily basis for years. Years and years! It shouldn’t be so, but that battle is often also going on when I am with people whom I consider to be friends. I wish I could say that it isn’t their fault, but I can’t. Not completely. Most of this stems from my own struggles and insecurities, but there have been instances where friends have, knowingly or unknowingly, placed unreasonable expectations on me to be someone I am not, to force myself to fit into the shape they want me to resemble. So, with rare exceptions, I have become accustomed to the internal stress with most social interactions, no matter with stranger, acquaintance or friend. It’s just been part of my life.
As I journaled last night, I realized that I hadn’t been anxious about my hiking date. I hadn’t stressed out the night before about trying to think of things I could say so that I wouldn’t look stupid or uninterested. I enjoyed every aspect of the hike without ever feeling like that mental battle was going on…because it wasn’t! There was peace inside my head. There were no negative personal criticisms, no demands to try to be someone I am not, no condemnation for not being enough. I just walked and listened and talked. Yes, I talked! And you know, I even shared something that I would never share with most people. I felt completely comfortable and safe and loved.
I know a fair number of people and would consider many of them to be friends; however, there are only a few good friends who have found a way to slip past my defenses and touch the innermost corners of my heart. I realized this truth last night, even though I have felt the effects of it for a while. I appreciate all of my friends, but I am especially thankful for having such amazing friends as these, who take me as I am, who walk this journey with me in whatever capacity that may be, who bring out the best in me, and offer me love without conditions. To be comfortable with someone, without internally destroying yourself over fears and doubts and shame, is an amazingly powerful feeling. It also feels like a heavy weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. I can only hope that I can make others feel as comfortable and at ease in my presence, although I might have to slay a few dragons before I can believe it.