My Chronic Shyness

I was a very loving and affectionate kid, I loved the vast menagerie of ragtag pets I had, I loved my parents and my siblings, I talked so much that I’d frequently be told I need to be quiet. I was sneaky and happy, memories of prowling through dad’s veggie patch catching quails, and staining my entire front with mulberry carnage like a little redheaded berry vampire after I was told to stay away from the mulberry tree are plentiful. I was a vibrantly energetic, skinny, bruised up, rugged little bush baby.

Understandably, it was hard for my mum or my sister to understand that when it came to interacting with strangers I often became completely catatonic. I wanted desperately to be the same vibrant lovable kid to teachers, shop owners, or bus drivers. I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I didn’t smile. I just stared, wide-eyed and heart sunk in a pool of greasy anxiety. This behaviour was totally foreign to both my mum and my sister, my sister was 8 years older than me and suffered a polar opposite problem. They didn’t know how to help me overcome my shyness because they couldn’t properly empathise, instead they did the worst possible thing — pushed me into situations I couldn’t handle and then got angry and frustrated with me when their genius plan didn’t work out. My little personality withdrew under another layer of fear. I couldn’t even talk on the phone unless I knew who was going to be on the other end. Sometimes even if I did know the person, if I hadn’t seen them in a while I would shut down and become mute and unresponsive.

Every kid deals with shyness at some point. Crippling shyness that makes you feel like you’ve actually left your body and you can’t physically speak or acknowledge other people is a little rarer, and should be handled properly. Being chronically shy impacts your socialisation, you don’t initiate interactions with people you would really like to so people think you’re snobby, it affects your education because you don’t put your hand up even if you know the answer and standing up in front of the class will just be excruciating, and it affects your little soul because you feel like an outsider and like being excluded is your fault and there is something wrong with you.

I have no clear idea what the cause of my shyness was. Maybe it was my personality, or a more likely cause being an echo of the various traumas I’d experienced as a kid. I eventually and painfully overcame the bulk of my shyness around age 21 as a matter of necessity at a job I had at the time. I was expected to address a group of about 25 people by myself for an onsite software tutorial, my boss at the time didn’t know I was chronically shy, so this was my opportunity to pretend I wasn’t. This was maybe not the best way to go about combating my problem. This was the end of my shyness and the real beginning of my anxiety disorder, I suppose my fear from being sexually abused and threatened with death, passively witnessing my mum be stabbed, witnessing endless violence, and continually expecting my insane aunt to turn up and kidnap me and hack me to death with an axe had to manifest itself somehow.

Eventually I handled that too. I’m exhausted from my own adrenal glands constantly saturating me in chemicals that produce a fight or flight response. I don’t think you don’t grow out of shyness, but I’m not shy like I was. When I meet new people I introduce myself confidently and make an unnecessary amount of eye-contact. I speak clearly and charmingly, I make jokes and don’t turn red when people laugh at them (much). Although, sometimes I still cope with stressful situations by evening the playing field and making everyone around me feel uncomfortable while I appear to remain collected, a magical gift everyone who really knows me has experienced the full force of.

I am still wary, and riddled with anxiety, anger, fear, and sadness. Withdrawing into myself isn’t an option, but that’s my decision. All shy people will do the things they need to, in their own time, and because they’ve spent so many hours agonising about them they will probably be really fucking good at whatever it is they want to do when it comes time.

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