Inner Monologue of a Social Caterpillar
I came home from work one night, exhausted as usual, flung myself onto the couch, and threw on the TV. The news was already halfway done and the weather report was about to come on. Tomorrow was my day off, with the possibility that I could enjoy a nice day in nature instead of being cooped up indoors.
The weather woman goes on a little bit about some upcoming storms, but tomorrow…tomorrow was going to be great. So great, in fact, that she didn’t even give a temperature or use those cute sun and cloud graphics. She said, “Tomorrow is going to be so great that if you don’t go outside, you need to rethink your life choices.”
Well, that was it, I thought – tomorrow I am hitting the beach!
Did I think about my social anxiety? Yes. Did I realize I’d be going alone, without my fiancé or a friend of any kind? Of course. Was I going to let these things stop me? Well…
I woke up the next morning to no clouds in the sky and the sun absolutely beaming. I wasted no time with a shower and threw on some clothes. Who really needs to shower before they go to the beach, anyway? We all know what that beach breeze does to our hair (no judging!). Anyway, I got started on my errands so I could enjoy the rest of my day of relaxation.
Soon it was about noon, and I was a little hungry. I’m white as snow and shouldn’t really be out during peak sunburn hours anyway, so I decided to make myself some lunch before I left. Normal, right?
But there it was. That feeling. That cloud, sinking downward.
I was starting to feel some anxiety about going to the beach all alone.
I caught myself taking three full hours to cook and eat some quinoa and mushrooms as an excuse to not go out. Then again, I knew I could not let myself miss out on this day.
I took myself upstairs to get ready, all the while talking to myself: “Maybe you can just sit in the yard and read your book instead? It’s closer, it’s free, there’s beer in the fridge…”
No. You are going to the beach. It’s a weekday and there will be plenty of parking that does not involve parallel skills. You’re going to read your book and take yourself out for a beer at the beach bar. You’ve done this a million times before…
Just not alone. Never alone.
Whatever. I grabbed my bag and sweater and headed out.
My plan was to go to this great little bar that is literally on the beach, read my book, and have a cold beer. The music there’s great, it’s never too crowded, and the folks that hang out there are tattooed, rock-n’-roll, artsy folks that are approaching or are in their 40s.
In other words: My ideal comfort zone.
I found a parking space really close that required no special skill to get into, paid the meter, and walked over to the boardwalk.
This is totally working out the way I imagined. I’ll see the bouncer that I know, we’ll high-five and …wait…
The bar is closed?
The bar was closed.
Panic burnt my bloodstream. Closed!? No! Now what am I going to do? This wasn’t the plan. No great music and worse – no cold, refreshing beer to relieve any of this anxiety…
Calm down. Everything is fine. Just sit down on an empty bench, breathe, and start to read your book. No one is looking at you or judging you. In fact, no one is here. You know…this is kind of nice. There a few random people out for a jog, the occasional small group of teens walking by, and only a handful of people actually sunbathing on the beach. This isn’t so bad after all!
I sat there reading for about an hour or so. It was pretty great, actually. I was feeling relaxed, I was enjoying the weather, I was breathing in the ocean air…
I was keeping my eye on the guy that was walking up from the beach and right over to me.
Please don’t come over here, please don’t come over here, please–
I had on my normal giant black “Don’t talk to me” sunglasses, but they didn’t seem to intimidate this guy. He said, “Hello”, again with an accent I couldn’t quite decipher. I said, “Hello”, back, trying to look like I was disinterested while making sure my engagement ring was highly visible. He asked me what I was reading so I showed him the cover to my book, knowing he’d have no idea who the musician on it was.
“Who is that?”
“Do you like music?”
“You like the beach?”
“Where do you work?”
Clearly there was no getting rid of this guy, so I went with minimal responses and white lies instead of being outright rude.
The first few minutes, I thought only the worst things. Is he hitting on me? Is he a serial killer? A rapist?
Oh, you’re a writer-director-producer, are you?
Does he direct porn? Does he want me to audition? I swear – the one time I go somewhere alone, some guy has to talk to me – the woman that has been fighting panic attacks all day in order to even reach this comfortable spot. And that’s when it happened:
“Do you have a Facebook?”
Why I chose not to lie and say, “No”, I don’t know, but something told me that if I looked him up online to find that he was an actual person, it might help. (An actual person on the Internet, because him being made of flesh and blood and standing right there in front of me wasn’t enough proof…huh, that’s funny). He spelled his name out and there he was: writer, director, and producer of various programs on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and NatGeo. Not porn.
My anxiety lifted. And suddenly I found myself in a riveting 45-minute conversation with this intelligent, friendly stranger.
A lot of people don’t understand why this day was so hard for me to get through.
Let me put it this way: My fiancé can go to a bar, watch a game, and talk to random people for hours without a second thought. For me, being a woman with social anxiety can make simple things like that a little frightening. I’m not very assertive, and the last thing I want is for someone to ask me the time, hit on me, or God forbid think I’m flirting with them. I’m not unfriendly; I’m just an introvert, and it’s super awkward for me to make small talk.
It’s even harder once my panic sets in.
I’m sure some women will think I’m nuts for saying this, but men certainly have it a little easier in this regard. It’s not frowned upon for them to enjoy a beer at a bar alone. They wouldn’t be frightened if a woman hit on them, or fear possibly getting their drink dosed.
My new friend and I shook hands and parted ways, and I took a walk down the boardwalk with some new weird courage I didn’t have an hour earlier.
Pushing myself to do this was just what I’d needed. I didn’t die or get forced into the porn industry. Hooray!
I stopped over at a different bar that I enjoy and finally ordered that cold beer. I took a seat at an empty table, only to notice a lot of other people there were also flying solo…and paying absolutely no mind to me.