Monday, May 30, 2016

Left out.

My sister read me a chapter of her novel she's working on the other day. It was about how she went on a business trip with other members of her former company's team but kept being excluded from activities, causing her a lot of anxiety about how she would get transportation around the city to different events, where she could sit at meals, and what she should do when everyone split off into groups to talk or do activities. This was after she had been isolated from some of the "cool girls" in the office once she was diagnosed with an illness and poor HR handling of the situation (and office gossips) allowed people to find out and subsequently shun her (#southernhospitality).

My sister, brother, and I have all always been odd ones out. We're all socially anxious, awkward, introverted, and nerdy. So the story brought back some sad memories of being left out over the years. I mean, the memories, oddly enough, don't make me sad any more - they just seem like water under the bridge; but they are sad and a part of me intellectually cringes for my former self when I consider the way people treated me, even if I don't get emotional about it.

The most vivid memories are from two years ago when I embarked on what I consider one of my proudest accomplishments: going to England with a class group. It may seem bizarre to consider this an accomplishment, but it was more than just crossing something off of my bucket list; it was overcoming a lot of fear and anxiety to do something that might seem like no big deal to others but involved a lot of terrifying things for me. For one, I was going to be an entire ocean away from home without cell phone service. As someone who gets homesick really easily, this was pretty nerve-racking. Secondly, I was going to be with a bunch of people I really didn't know or fit in with. As a lifelong sufferer of social anxiety disorder, this is one of my worst nightmares because I feel uncomfortable speaking or being myself around people I don't know.

Westminster Abbey Cloisters. My social anxiety has made me
feel like I'm an observer of everyone else's life. "On the
outside looking in" is how I've often thought of it.
I was virtually silent most of the trip, and felt extraordinarily self-conscious about that, and was thus not on the top of people's "wanna be friends with her" list. The other people kind of knew each other and were almost all outgoing hipster English majors too. Go figure. Parts of the trip were a bit miserable, but I was so proud of surviving and I did enjoy seeing a lot of beautiful historic places in a truly lovely country, so it was all worth it. But along the way, I was a little hurt and frustrated at how others excluded me because I was quiet and not popular. This exclusion didn't just hurt in terms of feeling unpopular, it caused me a lot of anxiety at times and led me to miss some opportunities I would have liked to have experienced.

For example, when we went to the Tower of London, we were given the go ahead to split into small groups and do what we wanted for the rest of the afternoon before meeting back together at our hotel in the evening. I learned to dread these "free times" just as I had come to dread the words "split into groups" growing up in school because it meant I needed to desperately scramble to find some group of people who would allow me to tag along with them since we weren't allowed to go around on our own (nor was I particularly keen on wandering around London alone at that point in my life.) I went with one girl through a museum, but turned around only a few minutes in to find she had disappeared. It was crowded and there were oodles of rooms, so I began to panic as I progressed from one room to the next and still couldn't find her. What the hell was I supposed to do now? This historic site took up the space of a couple city blocks at least with multiple buildings. What if I couldn't find anyone from my group again before people left for other attractions?
The raven who tried to rush me. This thing isn't playing.
I'm pretty sure he's looking for his next victim here.

I wandered from one room to the next, trying to look casual as I scanned the room and alternately occasionally looked over placards. I don't think I got much of anything out of that place because I was too anxious about trying to find the girl. I was a bit pissed that she had just dumped me because this wasn't the first (or last) time she had done that to me and it seemed rather inconsiderate. Finally, I just exited the museum and started walking around the site's grounds, seeing who I could run into and trying not to feel too self-conscious about being alone in the sea of families and school groups milling about the tourist attraction. I finally sat on a bench, hoping to scout out the crowds, and a raven almost rushed me. I'm not even kidding you. Those things are huge. I was afraid it was going to attack me, but it got distracted by something else.

Finally, I ran into the group of cool girls. They wanted to see the crown jewels and I was desperate to not end up lost and alone again, so I asked to wait with them. I didn't really care about seeing the darn things, but I wasn't about to wander around alone for another thirty minutes. What I did end up doing was waiting in line for, I kid you not, FORTY-FIVE PLUS MINUTES while listening to the other girls gab. The sight was not worth the wait, let me tell you, but at least I wouldn't be stuck riding the tube alone after I had wandered around an hour longer.

Again, I went to a department store with the same girl from the museum and she kept wandering away. Mind you, none of us had cell service because we were overseas, so I kept having to wander up and down escalators and across aisles of cheap clothing trying to find this chick. Worse was when we all went to Tintagel, a gorgeous set of Cornwall scenery, and all the cool girls sat and hang out together, braiding floral crowns and taking pics of each other for Instagram. I tried to sit a little ways away from them for a while, taking pictures of the scenery, not wanting to force myself into their group but hoping to give the hint that I might like to be included too so I had something to do, but no one paid me any mind. Finally, I decided this was a waste of time; they weren't going to let me in and I didn't really want to hang out with a bunch of basic white girls posing for social media anyways. So I technically broke the rules and started wandering around by myself. It was a contained area and there were people nearby so I figured it was safe.
Living with mental illness is like being the flower who has to
push through the cracks in a stone wall to get to the light all
the other plants bask in each day. 

A pair of classmates came across me and greeted me but didn't seem to care that I was alone. I had a nice time by myself, I've had to learn to enjoy my own company over the years, but it was a little lame of people not to include me. I guess part of it is my own fault because I don't talk much and maybe people interpret that as my not being interested and sometimes I don't want to hang out with people, but I just think it would have been polite and safety-conscious of them to have tried harder to make sure I was accounted for. I think what miffed me most about that particular incident was when I finally climbed down to the beach to find my classmates leaving, I started to walk out towards the water just to see it before we left and one of my classmates chastised me that it was time to go. Well, maybe if you all had invited me down with you when you went, I could've seen it too instead of coming down at the last minute!

The only picture I ever got of St. Paul's. It looks like the
DC capitol from here though. 
Anyways, another incident that I find a bit sad was when the entire class went on a walking tour of London. I guess the other kids had been talking beforehand a bit about going to a concert at St. Paul's Cathedral. I wasn't really privy to this conversation, and halfway through the walking tour, I noticed that the group had thinned out considerably and there were only a couple other students and my professor left with us. Turned out the kids had consulted among themselves and left (with the professor's permission) for the concert during the tour, but no one had ever asked me if I wanted to go. I was bummed because you have to see St. Paul's when you go to London! We had only passed it briefly before and never visited it again. I guess I'll have to go back with people who will consult me before going to see things.

Then there were the minor slights: the other girls would always share meals and dessert. I tried once to ask someone if she wanted to share, but she had already arranged with someone else. It wasn't a big deal, though I only got dessert once b/c no one ever wanted to share with me, but it was a bit frustrating since I'm not one to waste food and it was just another reminder that I wasn't one of the gang. As were room picks, group convos, and walk & talk times.

I guess some people will read this and assume I am actually some obnoxious or mean person and that's why people don't want to include me. Or I'm just whiny. I might come off as cold or uninterested because I'm so shy, and maybe that's the problem, but I can assure you that if I have any fault, it's caring too much, not not enough. Alas, I think my real problem is an inability to voice my needs. But I write this in hopes that other people who have found themselves left out, wandering the blacktop alone at recess (fifth grade) or always stuck in a group with two weird guys (middle school social studies) or always the one to tell the teacher they didn't have a partner (middle and high school everything), you're not alone. And if you are one of those blessed with a congenial disposition and popularity, I hope you'll take into account others' needs a bit more next time you're in a group situation. Maybe this can give people a little more insight into the experience of those who aren't socially disposed.

Sometimes I mourn what I haven't had the chance to experience over the years because of my social anxiety: popularity, close friendships, involvement in clubs, happiness at school, enjoyment of school trips and other activities, etc. But I also have to commemorate the times I pushed myself and was brave enough to overcome my fears. It's just hard when you compare your big victory to others' lives and realize that others have always been able to do the things you push yourself so hard to do. It seems unfair that things are so hard for you with so little result and after all that effort, you still fall short of people's baseline.
Be awesome and become more aware of living with a mental health disorder! Read more about Social Anxiety disorder:

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