The Socially Anxious Journalist
My career as a contradiction
The question gets thrown at you and you know from the outset that there’s nothing really difficult about the answer. You’ve been asked the same damn thing countless times before.
“How was your weekend?” “What do you think about this, or that?”
But the words now come from someone you don’t know. You didn’t prepare for this, there’s no cheat sheet to understanding their personality or reaction. All this thinking, this constant act of reasoning clouds you from the real task at hand: finding your damn answer.
You reach into your memory bank, fishing for the most accessible, pre-rehearsed response you can find and there you have it, flat as a board.
“It was cool.”
That retort, devoid of anything you can even call a personality, no elaboration, completely lacking wit. From then on, the memory of the conversation agitates you for as long as you allow it, still in the background, never really departing.
I honestly don’t know what to call this experience.
At one point the term ‘shy’ was the label I was given, then it was socially anxious and later I flirted with the idea of introvert. It’s a weird thing to yield to these terms while simultaneously calling yourself a journalist though. The profession is contradictory to what someone like myself should even mess with. Just think about it — spending your time interviewing and having conversations with celebs, artists and tech moguls, only to then write an article about having a condition(s) that has the sole aim to paralyze and limit your ability to be yourself.
Quiet people have the loudest minds
As far back as I can remember the remnants were there. I was always the kid ghosting in public, safely hiding in my room during family get-togethers; the one in the classroom that never raised his hand or participated in class. When asked to read out loud, I would audibly and visually tremble.
In one instance I was classified as slow; which lasted a semester. That was due to the outward facade of having a lack of focus. This was a mask to the real truth — I was just too self-conscious to partake in class.
Overtime, I ironically grew a natural aversion to English studies, for the sole reason that I disliked lending my voice to reading out loud. I never really understood why or when this natural fight-or-flight response became a part of me in the most ordinary of circumstances. I just know that it was there and it was constant.
You can ask any family member, friend or fling and they might have classified me as plain shy or introverted. Hell, they might not have noticed at all. It’s a trait that rears its ugly head in all its bipolar form. On one hand you could be charismatic, outgoing, funny, intelligent and take to the dance floor like some juiced up extrovert, but on the other hand, introduced to a group dynamic or an unpredictable set of circumstances and you may come off as quiet, reserved and rarely present just from the drain of all that’s going on in your head. I wouldn’t blame anyone for the mislabeling what I had, because up until eight years ago, I had no idea what to name it.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress
Before the crazy thought of being a journalist had even entered my mind, I recall a dreaded job interview that forced a change of perspective.
The requirements sounded simple enough: sit in front of a damaged computer and repair it. Talking to folks? Completely optional. For me, this was naturally a gig made in heaven.
Technology in comparison to managing people was easy. It’s all logic based — this goes here, that does that. Nothing to it.
What I overlooked was the fact that I had to actually speak to humans to land the gig. During the exchange, I felt that familiar trembling that booted up the ‘here we go again’ sequence of events: jumbled words and thoughts slowly becoming hard to access. I saw these two middle-aged adults look at me with pity as if watching a train wreck in slow motion, but at the same time, with a normalcy as if it were a commonplace in this profession. Minutes later I receive the standard handshake, a firm grip on my part to make up for a performance I knew by the nature of the way I think, I’d never forget.
“Thank you for coming,” they said, followed by the dismissive idiom of “we’ll let you know.” It was safe to believe that I would never hear from them again and I definitely did not need a reason as to why.
In an effort to avoid, you miss out on a lot in life, which becomes a circle jerk of diminishing confidence, further feeding the beast.
The amount of disgust most of us feel in these situations is unforgettable and traumatizing, enough to force one of two decisions — to either become a recluse or aggressively seek change. You feel alone, even amidst friends who laugh with you or folks that seemingly enjoy your company despite the private view you have of yourself — that you need to be perfect to be accepted. In an effort to avoid, you miss out on a lot in life, which becomes a circle jerk of diminishing confidence, further feeding the beast.
There is nothing constant except change
I remember sitting at my computer frustrated in my inability to relate to anyone because of my issues, so I turned to an online search bar with the only words that came to mind, “social shyness”. The Internet was, and still is, this crazy place where like-minded people with irrational thoughts exist and they had names for what I might have had. Their accounts of situations mirrored my own in ways I hadn’t expected. But unlike many of these faceless individuals, I never felt comfortable with the idea that I had to live under a label.
You already recognize that you spend far too much time looking at yourself through the lens of others, so much so that you find comfort in the avoidance of the truth.
Someone once warned me about the dangers of giving into these labels — it’s only there where you will feel most comfortable, the person said. You hear the recommendations of how a person could “live with it,” suggested by those who gave up. You already recognize that you spend far too much time looking at yourself through the lens of others, so much so that you find comfort in the avoidance of the truth. You may be aware, but anyone that threatens your comfort zone still gets issued with a “you don’t understand,” sort of response.
Fast forward a few years later and I’m holding a notebook firm in one hand, its questions bare to my gaze, deterring me from completely messing up this conversation. My eyes dart from numbered lines to this man’s eyes, as questions get thrown in his direction. His answers are a blur to me, except for the final few words he utters, the ones I always manage to pick up on. It adds to the illusion that I’m actually listening to this man. Every nerve within begs me to abruptly end the exchange so I can feel comfortable once again.
“Thanks for the interview,” I remember saying, as my interviewer, dressed impeccably in a suit, shoots me a smile in reply. “That was a great interview, nice questions,” he responds.
It was my first real dose of exposure therapy and it felt good.
Naturally, I went through a regular period of over-analysis right down to the man’s compliment, but I was going to be okay. On paper, it sounded downright foolish for me to be in the middle of a profession where I’d be asked to speak for a living. But overtime, I became comfortable with the idea of being nervous. It was no longer something I went out of my way to avoid, because I’d become exposed to the more rational truth that the world wasn’t going to end as a result of it. It was a place where I could combine the empathy and self-awareness that many people with anxiety possess with a profession that doesn’t hold your self-conscious self by the hand.
Of course I had to be a decent writer to even have a shot at this, but I won’t delve into the details in how I adapted. I just know the common fact that humans have an internal need to express themselves. We were born to create. It can manifest through art, visuals and in my case, the written word. This is something I don’t think a single English teacher would have predicted in my case.
People are too complicated to have labels
It’s the most cliché thing you can think of when someone tells you to face your fears, but the simplest of solutions are often the correct ones. It’s an impossibility to fight a problem when you don’t treat it like one by hiding behind the mantra of, “it’s just who I am.” To ignore and avoid is the farthest thing from acknowledgement. I’d be downright lying if I said that self-consciousness was something I had a complete hold over. I still fight it to this day and I may never completely be anxiety free.
You also may have noticed that I haven’t given a solid label to what I’ve gone through. I simply refuse to do it. I know how I feel on occasion, but I’m not a slave to it and a label implies something unchanging.
This isn’t me minimizing those that choose to remain under the diagnosis of anxiety disorder or something similar; I am just acknowledging a set of traits without allowing the universe to convince me that I’ll forever be one way.
I recognize the fact that there are a lot of people like me out there because a conversation with someone who knows who they are reminded me of this. It’s what inspired this written admittance on my part in the first place. They felt that I would listen to them, and that’s exactly what I did, but I offered little in allowing them to feel like they were in common company.
To that person, I recognize that some, like you, suffer at greater degrees than others, but I just want to let others know that I’m one of them. Stay strong and don’t be hostage to the idea that you have limits.
End Note: I want to say thanks for taking the time to read this! If there’s anyone that you feel can relate to these feelings, do them the favour of sharing this article with them.