Social anxiety

HAY Fever

I’m talking about that HAY question…

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.
And I do appreciate your being ’round.
Help me get my feet back on the ground…

The Beatles

I suffer from HAY fever. No, not that hay fever; I’m glad to say that has never troubled me. I’m talking about that HAY question, the conversation starter: How are you? At least it’s usually a conversation starter. Except that, in my case, it usually isn’t.

Sneeze in white hankie

When I hear that question, I break out coughing, sneezing and spluttering. No, not literally, but the anxiety-filled equivalent: panic. Spluttering inside and nothingness outside. Confidence in one thing only: this will not go well. And through it all, I force myself to continue.

“Fine, thanks. How are you?”


Here’s where every other conversation slips seamlessly into something meaningful. In the current conversation, there’s a pause that lasts slightly too long until the other person moves away to talk to someone more fun, more interesting, more communicative. Clearly I’m boring and miserable, and I don’t want to talk.

Oh, but I do. It’s just that a topic for discussion with someone I hardly know doesn’t come to me. Yes, I could make it up. I could sit alone in my garden or at my computer and make up a conversation between two relative strangers. I could make the speakers hesitate if the plot demands it. I could make the words flow if I want them to. Because the speakers are puppets and I’m pulling the strings.

Who’s pulling my strings when I’m down there on the stage? Whoever it is, is slacking on the job, or letting the strings go slack.

I began this post thinking that it would end in a plea for help. Please tell me what to say to someone I hardly know to stop them before they glide away. But maybe I know what to say. I just have to be able to  rummage around the jumbled handbag of my mind and pull out the words I need at the right time. Or to put the words in the front pocket well in advance, so that they’re easy to find when I need them.

There, I’ve answered my own question. But don’t let that stop you from offering advice. It will still be appreciated.

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.

5 replies on “HAY Fever”

I don’t like the HAY question. One is forced to answer with a meaningless phrase or to tell a stranger/acquaintance one’s private business. I remember one piece of advice from ‘The Little Book of Chaos’ (which was a comic response to ‘The Little Book of Calm’, a saccharine tome full of meme-ish platitudes): “If you want to annoy people, then when they ask how you are, reply in full.”

Ha! I remember my mum talking about someone who always answered with a list of ailments. It didn’t annoy her, but she thought it strange.

Oh that good ol’ chit chat and conversation, breaking the ice. I tend to be a wallflower unless I’m at a reading or writing event or if I know more than 2 people in the room so I sort of trail behind the social butterflies and appear open to communication.

Yeah, I’ve noticed a big difference in the reactions of people who know something about me (work colleagues or those who know I’ve had a novel published) and those who know nothing about me. I should start every conversation with, “I hope you know I’m a published author.” Or not!

The HAY question is just this silly ritual thing you have to get out of the way before you can get to the good stuff. Unless it goes badly enough to end things. Or it wastes time with someone you really don’t want to interact with at all. People are strange. I do not understand them. But I presume most of them mean well, so I endure them for a while and then go home to my cat.

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