I have a people problem, always have for as long as I can remember. People were certainly part of my traumatic history, and that set me up for building walls around people without even realizing it. I can walk by people without even acknowledging them, even if I know them. My instinct is to not be noticed. It doesn’t always occur to me to say “good morning” or “good night” to folks. I grew up trying to get by without being noticed because being noticed often meant trouble.
It’s taken me years of observation to figure out that my natural way of being does not serve me well. A few years ago I was visiting with a Mexican family that had young children. When company would visit the kids knew they were expected to say hello and greet their guests. One day I was there when one of their young sons just was not in the mood for it, and his mother told him, “Saludale! (Greet them). And later I heard her privately explain to him that it’s considered rude not to greet guests. And in that moment I realized this child and I were learning something important, that you greet guests! So simple, yet not always present in my awareness that I need to do this.
Many of the friends I have made in my life have come from other more outgoing friends making introductions. Meeting my future wife came out of an outgoing friend introducing us with no preamble before she did it, and I often wonder if it’s because she knew I would have foolishly fled the scene if I knew an introduction to a stranger was on the horizon. When I ask my would be cupid friend if she introduced us this way on purpose she just gets coy and smiles, never giving me a straight answer, which just adds to the joy of the story.
I instinctively run from people, yet I need people in this life. And I often disadvantage myself all on my own in this realm. I have to make myself say hello and good night to folks. I have a colleague who can be very effusive when she speaks with folks, and I thought to myself that cannot possibly work. I thought surely people would find it a bit much. But I tried it on during interviews I facilitate in my job, and oh my, it works. Tell a person that you are so thankful they set time aside to meet with you, and you are happy to have a chance to speak with them just works wonders with getting folks comfortable. You would think I promised them the universe. Much to my surprise, as I express gratitude more and more during these interviews I’ve found myself truly feeling gracious for their time.
I have learned that I need to continue to watch and observe those that are more successful with people than me because I do not know crap about how to interact with others. I like to think I do, but I do not. I only know how to speak clearly, calmly and directly. It’s became painfully clear to me that I cannot trust my assessment of how to interact with others. My instinct is to stay home all day and speak to no one, that is my default mode that I fight every day.
Tonight I feel alone on an island with no connection to any human. I am in a tunnel that is growing narrower and narrower. The view is nil and the ride is solo. My body feels broken from the inevitable tension throughout. My breath feels caught in my throat, and my mouth goes dry. There seems to be no place for relief.
Then I remembered my friend, with whom I watched Parks and Recreation episodes when we both got freaked out and anxious, reached out to me this week. I have a tendency to forget I have friends. Sometimes, I have to make myself sit and write down names of my friends to remind myself I do indeed have friends. Even so, I still forget! I emailed my dear friend and fellow Parks and Recreation fan a bit ago to say I needed to reach out because I was feeling alone in the world. And, even in the midst of her own difficulties, she emailed back to say she was thinking of me. I cried just reading her succinct email back to me. So short, yet so everything to me in that moment. She wanted me to know she was thinking of me, of us, all of us. Sometimes that’s all you need to get through the night.
I have found my own modern day hermit’s cave, which I call The Black Car. I work, only because I must. And on days when I have to bring the magic in my job I have one of my parts do the heavy lifting. I’ve stopped answering most text messages and phone calls. There are a small few people whom I will reply to or answer calls, but its often painful for me to do so, and I’m usually itching to cease the communication.
Last month I had memories start to come forth, though only slivers of clues that beg further questions. Though enough has come forth that I am constantly stupefied by memories that pour out of my brain at moments when I need my full concentration, usually at work.
I tried explaining to one friend in particular this afternoon why I had been isolating and strugggling. When I told him I had been struggling with memories he just looked at me, and said nothing. And then after an uncomfortable silence he changed the subject altogether. I felt silly sitting there in that sushi restaurant with too many sushi rolls between us, and the cloud of discomfort in the air. The interaction confirmed my instincts for staying hidden away from most people to the extent possible.
I walk around only seeing what is directly in front of me. An old friend saw me in the tea shop yesterday, and she had to wave me down and say my name loudly to get my attention. I honestly did not see her sitting in close vicinity of me.
I have days where I can fake it very well, when my dear Sabrina can fully come out at work and bring the magic. And then at the end of the day The Black Car is waiting again, and Sabrina has left when she senses that she is no longer needed for work.
The Black Car is a dependable old girl, and she’s always there patiently waiting for the next ride.
Academic librarian with 15+ years of experience. Passionate about lifelong learning and student success. Interested in user experience and organizational leadership. For me, being a librarian has never been about the books--it's about the people!