I don't do people. I don't have a massive problem with them or anything, although large crowds tend to set shivers down my back and have me watching over my shoulder every now and then as though someone is about to run up behind me and plant some sort of: "I look really stupid, please laugh at me" sign on my back.
Pictured: My trusty shield, defending me from imaginary "kick me" notes for a good decade or so.
It was once an indispensable part of my wardrobe.
But largely. I can manage. I can walk next to people without freaking out. I might even make small talk with other parents outside the school gates after I've "known" them for six months or so. Heck. After the Girl had separation anxiety and used to go, screaming, into pre-school every day, I perfected the: "Oh well, it's just a phase," line as I forced a smile onto my face while walking past all the other parents with their not-screaming children, hoping that they weren't judging me, mocking me, or despising me for being responsible for such a noisy child. (And thankfully the Girl has gotten over her own anxiety and is quite happy in the mornings now.)
I will readily admit that as much as I try not to label myself, the terms "shy", "social anxiety" and "people phobia" spring readily to my mind when I think of my personality, along with somewhat more stigmatising terms such as "recluse", and "social pariah".
For the most part, I live my somewhat solitary life more vicariously through the internet. Here, at last, I am free, cut loose from my anxieties because no one can see how my forehead contorts with nerves as I post on forums. No one knows that I sit for five, ten, fifteen minutes with my mouse hovering over "reply" - all they see is TottWriter, a name on a screen, sounding confident, opinionated, bold. Even if the name does post somewhat infrequently.
Parenting puts a bit of a dampener of that shield, however. There's the school run, for starters, And while it's less daunting in reality than lots of forum topics would make it out to be (I've yet to see the parents actually divide into tribal formations, taking out the weaker specimens for sport), it still involves a degree of social interaction which I flounder on at times. Left to my own devices I would walk alone, stand alone, collect my children and flee, feeling pangs of longing for the parents who natter and gossip with ease, but knowing it's not for me.
Then, the Boy went and made friends, and suddenly we have a group of people to walk to and from school with each day. I've taken to calling bedtime "The Gauntlet" due to its somewhat challenging nature, but my true gauntlet runs twice a day, at starting times of 8:20am and 3:00pm. Here is when I am tested - when I smile and make small talk, all the while noticing every pause before someone replies to me, every time people don't hear my remark and talk over me, every time I am three paces behind the main group instead of one or two. Every occasion where the other parents are meeting up outside of school and I am not, when a grudge or conversation is discussed in which I had no part.
In short, every time I feel that little bit more invisible than the others, when I start to worry that my mask of confidence has slipped and people can see me for what I am - an outsider, desperately clinging to the pack for my children's sake and out of loneliness.
I know I don't belong there, in conversations about nights out, fashion, and men. I'm none of those things. I stay in, I have never been fashionable, and I am currently coming to a full realisation that I am far closer to asexual than allosexual. I don't fit, and I never have.
The problem with being socially anxious is that, even though I know that no one "fits" a group perfectly, instead of finding the common ground and building friendships. I falter at the first hurdle, and spend years berating myself for that failure, for "getting it wrong", for standing wrong, dressing wrong, staying quiet when I should have talked, or babbling when I should have been quiet. It's that I over-analyse every mistake I make and let it cloud my social interactions in the future, and although I no longer wear a rucksack and a mid-length coat to defend myself from other people, I still feel like I need to don armour every time I walk out of the house.