As a kid, I was extremely shy. I was so introverted it was painful. There were trusted family friends who I let loose with; but I preferred to see the bigger world from behind my mother’s skirt.
By high school, I learned some social skills. I felt completely at home in our theater building and I had a circle of friends who were safe. But outside of that small group of friends, I still felt invisible most of the time.
Fast forward 20 years and a lot of things have changed. I spent a bunch of years traveling around the country to work in professional theaters, forcing me to make new friends everywhere I went. I did the work to overcome a lot of old demons, which allowed me to open myself even more to the world. As a reporter, I have to make phone calls and ask questions every day that would have terrified me back then.
I still prefer small groups and one-on-one conversations to large social situations. But I have coping mechanisms now that help me navigate large groups when I have to.
This weekend was my 20th high school reunion. Over the last few days, I noticed that old anxiety creeping in. What if I walked in and immediately reverted to who I had been back with these people 20 years ago? What if I became invisible again?
You know what happened? As soon as I saw my high school classmates, every bit of social anxiety flooded back in. I felt every bit as invisible as I had as a teenager.
Never mind that I lead a pretty darn interesting life – when people asked me about myself I couldn’t think of anything to say. Never mind that I know I’m perfectly capable of being witty and charming now – I felt like I could barely form a coherent sentence, let alone make a joke. The evening had some bright points, but for the most part it was excruciating to be inside my head.
So why a miracle? Last night I got to revisit – in crystal clear 3D and surround sound – the girl I used to be. Today I can look at her and say, I’ve come so far. Despite all appearances last night, I am not that girl anymore. Yes, I have social anxiety sometimes, but it’s no longer crippling.
Next weekend I’m presenting at a national convention. I’ll get up and speak in front of a crowd of 500 people, then I’ll lead a more intimate workshop. People will talk to me throughout the conference; people will look to me as a leader and a teacher; I’ll have an opportunity to interact with old friends and make new ones. In a word, I’ll be very visible. Because that’s who I am now.
I guess the juxtaposition of these two weekends is no accident – I get to see where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.
To the SJA class of ’92… I hope that five years from now I’ll be able to bring my whole self to the party. Until then, I’m grateful for the place that all of you have had in my life. Our strong band can ne’er be broken, formed at St. J. A.!
Due to newspaper deadlines and the upcoming conference, my posts over the next ten days may be somewhat sporadic. If you want to be notified when new posts are up, click here to get Miracles In Your Inbox.
The hilarious cartoon was found here.