Thursday, November 06, 2014

Finding my Voice (and Learning to Shut Up)

When I was younger... much younger (back in the olden days, before the internet) I was a reserved, introverted, quiet loner of a kid. I know... you are all shocked to learn this (haha). Although, even those who knew me back then, and knew I was 'a bit shy', may be surprised to learn just how much it affected me growing up. I think I was pretty good at acting the part, even though internally I was an anxious wreck most of the time.

For some reason in a family full of hooligans (hi y'all!) I was blessed with the gift of social awkwardness. And by gift, I mean curse. It was awful, really -- I wanted to be out there, having fun, carrying on. I wanted to mug for the cameras and have it come easily and naturally. I wanted to have a bunch of friends that I could gab on the phone with for hours at a time. I wanted more than anything to be the type of person who actually ENJOYED that kind of thing. It seemed to me that those people were having a whole lot more fun than I was.


But, I didn't enjoy that stuff. It didn't come naturally - I even found it hard to speak to my own friends half the time. I enjoyed spending time with people, but I preferred to be on the sidelines, watching other people have the fun and shenanigans. It was always a struggle to be PART of things, simply because I was so uncomfortable in my own skin all the time. I constantly felt like I was just trying to keep up... and it was exhausting. I didn't want to be heard or seen... I just wanted to fade into the background.

Public speaking of any kind was panic-inducing. Ordering in a restaurant would make my stomach flip flop. Even having to say "present" when the teacher called my name filled me with a sense of dread -- I'd have to psych myself up for it, play it out in my mind a few times before she got to the "G"s so I'd be prepared. What if I said the wrong thing? What if they laughed at me? It seems so silly now... but it was so, so real.

Parties? Forget it. Parties were not "fun" -- they were torture. Non-stop evaluating myself against others, trying not to say or do anything dumb (which I did... a lot). Trying not to embarrass myself, afterwards replaying the entire event over and over in my head, kicking myself for the things I said and fantasizing about what I should have said instead.

Of course, this was all before I found my best friend in university (okay, I'll be honest, high school. But, like, LATE high school), Liquid Courage. This BFF enabled me to actually have FUN at parties and not have to worry all the time about what I was saying, how I looked, what I was wearing, how dumb I sounded. Because, you know, everyone sounded dumb. I fit in so well when everyone around me was hammered!

I remember being so afraid of what others would think, that it would stop me from doing anything at all. I remember my parents saying "Who CARES what anyone thinks??" and I wanted to scream, " I DO. I CARE." Logically, I knew it was ridiculous to care so much about what others thought... and yet I just DID. I couldn't seem to get over that for many, many years.

I won't lie -- I'm not over it. I know everyone experiences some degree of anxiety in social situations and public speaking and whatnot, and I'd put myself at the higher end of that scale. It's not debilitating, I can carry on conversations easily, attend parties with a smile on my face (and a glass of wine in my hand). I've even conducted training sessions and meetings and survived them just fine. I'm getting there.

I'm also speaking up more.

This is relatively new for me -- wanting to be heard. But I do. And, it's a bit of a problem.

You see, now that I have something to say and a way to say it, I find it very difficult to just SHUT THE EFF UP.

I am an interrupter.

I interrupt people. ALL THE TIME. Constantly. People can't get a word in edgewise without me jumping in with something to say. It's not that I'm not listening to them, or that I don't value their thoughts and words, I just blurt things out.

I see it on their faces too -- when I interrupt. The flicker of annoyance, of having their thought cut off. Even as I am doing it, I'm thinking "SHUT UP!" but then, I do it again. And believe me, I know how annoying it is. I can't STAND being interrupted... I just can't seem to stop myself. I am trying.

Is it possible that I am just socially inept and awkward and that's how it is? I hope not.

In any event... to everyone who I have interrupted in the last while, which is everyone: I am sorry. Like a puppy learning not to walk on his own feet, I am getting used to my own voice, and I'll try not to keep tripping on yours. Or pee on your favourite shirt. Or say something awkward.

xo