I have a hard-to-miss dog. Standing at about 30 inches tall and possibly 80 percent boney legs, he’s average for a greyhound but appears to have more in common with a deer than a standard dog. He’s also incredibly gentle and easy to pet, so he tends to make lots of friends wherever we go. Our neighborhood is no exception. See, when you’re the human at the end of his leash, people just want to come over and talk to you. Whether at 6am or at 10pm, in work clothes or in oversized pajamas, the greyhound effect applies.
I do not always want to talk. Actually, it’s not so much that I don’t want to talk as it is that in the moment, I feel like my chest will implode if I’m forced to give the 30-second greyhound adoption elevator speech or ask you about your dog. This is a little bit ridiculous, I know. I probably even know you, and the entire interaction might be a minute long. It doesn’t matter! I’m not feeling it, and as the leash-holder, if I want to go the other way when I see you from a distance, we will…sometimes even if I know you’ve already spotted my spectacle of a dog. How embarrassing.
“Wow, she won’t even let the poor dog socialize? Haven’t I pet him before?” You might not actually say it, but it still echoes inside my head as we walk away.
Sometimes the simplest way to deal with an anxiety-inducing situation is to avoid it altogether. I learned that back in college, when I would sooner stay in my dorm room and be lonely all year than push through the first two awkward moments of introducing myself to my floormates. I kept practicing all through my early twenties, first by skipping paid-for fitness classes because the thought of having an in-person conversation with anyone made me short of breath, and then by accepting the opposite of what I ordered at restaurants because by the time the waiter came back to me, the words were stuck in my throat. Sometimes I even enjoy the results of avoidance unintentionally, like when a friend has to cancel plans and I’m secretly thrilled because that means I get to release the butterflies in my stomach and just stay home. It’s a guilty pleasure for sure, but a serious pleasure all the same.
I’m not anti-social, anti-commitment, or a pushover. On a good day (or during a good week, like the one I’m having now), I’m extremely friendly and self-assured. I’m so not the introverted person my anxiety makes me that I actually very much dislike anxious me. I wouldn’t want to be her friend. In fact, I barely recognize my anxious alter-ego sometimes, and if that’s confusing for me, it must be confusing for you, too.
I hope you’ll be my friend anyway. Know that I haven’t had a change of heart – just a change in chemistry. I don’t hate you, but my brain probably has me convinced that you do (or should) hate me. I would love to disown the days when I’m in “fight or flight” mode and say that I’m just not myself, but in truth, that’s when I’m giving it everything I’ve got just to keep moving forward…hopefully without damaging anything that will need to be fixed the next time I’m feeling great.
I’m nothing if not a hard worker, because sometimes just maintaining the life I have requires me to be. I’m also surprisingly positive, even when you can see unwarranted concern all over my face, and resilient, even when I spend the whole day hiding in my apartment or attempt to sleep through a big wave of pain. I’m a lot of things, but the one thing I’m not is an a**hole – no matter how loudly my mind is telling me otherwise.