Social anxiety

You Can’t See Me

This post was inspired by Catherine Hughes. It took great courage for her to post about all the things that people don’t see.

Like Catherine, but for very different reasons, I feel invisible. People look at me and see a normal person. They don’t realise what’s going on inside me. They may not notice anything at all in that first conversation. They certainly can’t hear what the voice in my head keeps repeating while the conversation is going on and after it: “It won’t be long before she realises that you’re not worth talking to, before she jumps to incorrect conclusions and moves on to lusher pastures.”

What are those conclusions? Mostly that I don’t want to talk. That I’m happy to remain on the side lines rather than joining in. That I’m shy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I love to talk, even though it’s hard. I love to be the centre of attention. And I’m not shy. No matter how “obvious” that seems to everyone, I’m not, believe me.

Erika, according to a recent Facebook status, is a “lonely, handicapped prisoner”. That’s because she broke her ankle and has been forced to stay at home for six weeks. I commented, “Then you know how I feel all the time,” even though I hadn’t broken anything. Why?

I feel lonely because I like company. I’ve always liked company. Yet mostly, I push that company away because I’m sure it doesn’t really want me.

I feel handicapped because I struggle to do something that most people take for granted. The words come out wrong or not at all. My thoughts can’t escape my head.

I feel like a prisoner locked inside invisible walls that I built in no time and have been trying to knock down for ever.

My main worry, when I’m with other people, is that they’ll think I’m weird. So I do anything to avoid that, including keeping quiet rather than saying something they might be surprised at. But keeping quiet is also weird behaviour, so I’m under constant pressure to talk and that makes my mind go blank and then they think I’m stupid – or I think they do.

I know I’m not capable of explaining this in a conversation. Even when I write it, I worry that people won’t understand, that they’ll think I should be able to snap out of it. Sometimes, even I wonder why I don’t manage to do that, and I live with it.

Catherine put it so well, here: “I hide in plain sight.  You can see me, but you cannot see within me.  You do not know what effort or courage it has taken me to set foot in the outside world; you cannot discern how I feel.”

Many things in my life are good. I’m not trying to deny how lucky I’ve been. I just wish I could solve this problem, which bugs me no end.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

10 replies on “You Can’t See Me”

Hi Miriam and thanks for a great post. We have a lot in common.

I think it is epecially hard when your personality is bubbly and outgoing, as mine definitely is. I’m not shy or retiring either! But I do feel nervous a lot of the time, and acutely conscious that people might – and often do – judge me on the way I look. A recent encounter with (yet another!) ignorant doctor is a case in point; he was scathing and unpleasant and seemed unable to accept the very clear fact (as demonstrated by my knowledge and understanding of my complicated illnesses) that I was an intelligent woman. The fact that OI have expereinced PTSD meant that, for him, all my probloems had to be in my head.

Still… We’re talking about it. And if we keep doing that, other people will talk about it too. And yet more peole will come to understand better what it is like.

So thank you. I’m glad you found my post so inspiring.

Thanks for the compliment, Cat. That was … one of the more difficult posts to write, and publish!

I think there are a lot of invisible people out there. And a lot of ignorant ones. As you say, we need to keep talking about it.

Hey there. I don’t think I’ve introduced myself. My name’s Mike, and I also suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder, and I also blog about it. Anyhow, I can relate to everything you said. It’s a horrible feeling knowing that you are present–you are there–but you’re really not THERE. Things are getting better for me, but I still have those thoughts a lot, which are reinforced by actions, like when people refer to me in conversation in third person or when people say goodbye to everybody but me.

Anyways, it’s good to meet you. I’m off to work on CBT. 🙂

“You can see me, but you cannot see within me” – this is true for everybody. Moreover, nobody wants people to see what’s going on in their head. Do you realize how the world would look if that would happen? No, thanks. I much prefer it the way it is.

Ha ha – very true! Except when it’s not true, or only partly true. When people jump to incorrect conclusions that cause them to judge you negatively, and you can’t tell them how it really is, you might wish they could see inside.

Hi Miriam, and thanks for another good, interesting post. I’m starting to feel puzzled about the definition of shyness. I have always thought of myself as ‘shy’ because of how I can’t help being quiet when I’m really wanting to join in and chat. However, I’m not quiet with people (husband, close friends) who I don’t feel ‘shy’ with. They see the bubbly, talkative, outgoing side of my personality which, unfortunately, is all too often hidden with others. I feel that the ‘shyness’ hides the ‘real me’, not that the ‘real me’ actually is the ‘shyness’. But I’m wondering now if ‘shy’ is the right word to describe me. I suppose it’s all down to what we would define as being ‘shy’.

Hi Jean. Glad you liked the post. It’s a confusing topic. People with SA who are also shy (the vast majority) will say that SA is an extreme from of shyness. For me that doesn’t work. I might appear to be shy in conversation, but in other activities I’m not. I think shyness is inherent and encompasses all activities but not necessarily all people. SA begins later and may not include all activities.

There’s certainly an overlap between the two. Shy people also have hidden ‘real them’, and I can’t tell whether you’re shy from your description.

My ‘shyness’ does not encompass all activities either. Even when at my most ‘shy’ in my teens I could get up and dance at discos – even danced on the stage when invited. Yet I was hopeless at joining in a conversation with my colleagues at work.

In the past couple of years I’ve found I can give talks and actually enjoy doing so (when I’m well-prepared beforehand about what to say). I can even feel quite relaxed answering questions from the audience while I’m still on the platform, following my talk.

But whether my problem should be called ‘shyness’, ‘SA’ or whatever, it was certainly extreme enough to make my life a misery. I say ‘was’ though it’s still there, just not as bad as it used to be.

It’s great, Miriam, that you’re so open about these kind of problems on this blog. I’m not alone!

You do sound very much like me, actually.

It took me a long time to be so open. Most people aren’t, which is why we feel alone.

Good luck, Jean. I hope we get to meet one day.

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