One of the most bizarre things about having social anxiety disorder, for me at least, is that I am a completely different person around my family members/ at home than I am around anyone else. This perplexed my parents for a long time before they found out about/ understood my social anxiety. They never seemed to understand why I could talk and laugh and joke just fine at home but would barely say a word as soon as I was within even a few hundred metres of school. And my school teachers always looked extremely confused at parents’ nights when my parents would respond to their comments of “Gemma’s a very quiet girl” with “Not at home, she isn’t”. At home, I’m laid-back and enjoy having a laugh with my family members. I’m not reserved around close family members and will happily be my crazy self.
To give an example of this – and also embarrass myself by giving an example of just how much of a complete and utter weirdo I am (though if you didn’t already think that I was a complete weirdo* before reading this post, you probably haven’t read very much of this blog yet) – last night, my youngest sister had just gotten back from work and was in the bathroom, removing her make-up, while I was outside in the hall, waiting to use the shower. We ended up doing a duet of ‘Shut Up’ by The Black Eyed Peas because she started singing it for some reason (she’s always singing the most random songs) and I decided that I’d join in, and ended up singing most of my parts of the song in a really weird, half-Indian, half-French accent, while doing a stupid dance/ walk up and down the hallway. And then for the first “Who the hell!?!” in the song, I suddenly put my head in the bathroom doorway and made a very disgruntled face, which my sister found hilarious. I found it funny/ bizarre that I remembered almost all the lyrics to a song that I haven’t even heard in about 10 years and from a style of music that I would never usually listen to. (Unless someone plays Black Eyed Peas songs to me while I’m sleeping, of course. I’m convinced that someone is playing Katy Perry songs to me in my sleep because I always seem to get ‘Firework’ stuck in my head – which now annoys me to the point where I want to slap myself as soon I start singing it internally – despite the fact that I never listen to her songs. I could’ve sworn that that woman is using a weird kind of mind control on me to get me to sell more of her albums and fuel her devious, capitalist agenda. Then again, maybe I just read too many dystopian novels.)**
* Actually, I think I have a long way to go and a lot more to figure out about my life before I claim the esteemed title of ‘complete weirdo’.
** I was joking about everything inside that set of brackets, in case anyone is now seriously worried about me or thinks I’m bashing Katy Perry.
(And yes, you have my permission to slowly back away from this blog and run for your lives before it’s too late).
Contrast the way I was around my sister last night to how I am around people at uni, for example. I can’t even make eye contact with people or say a word to them most of the time, never mind act the way I do at home. If a stranger had walked into our house while my sister and I were doing out duet (I don’t know why they would but let’s just hypothetically say they did), I would immediately shut up, scream “Oh shit!” internally, then bolt for my room, avoiding eye contact and just about dying of embarrassment. I would then continue to have flashbacks of this extremely embarrassing situation for years.
I could act the same way around my childhood best friend as I do around my family but I’ve never been able to let down my guard enough to act like that around any friends after that friendship ended. I am able to let my real personality out with online friends but I’ve never been able to do this verbally whenever I’ve voice chatted with online friends because I just freeze up. Having SA for as long as I can remember has made me unsure of which is even my real personality. Is it the person I am around my family, or the person I am when I’m around people I don’t know? Or is it the person I am when I’m all alone? Or maybe even all three? I’m so confused about who I am.
There are two points I’m trying to make here. The first is how different I am when socially anxious compared to when I’m relaxed and around family, and how much SA can warp your personality/ the way you act, and other people’s views of you. I’m frequently told by other people that I come across as very serious (and probably unfriendly too, because I find it very difficult to smile when I’m anxious). That isn’t the reality of who I am as a person (at least I don’t think it is). I can get very serious about things when I feel very strongly about something but I don’t think I’m ever serious in the sense that I don’t enjoy joking around or hearing a funny story (which I think is what most people mean when they say I seem very serious). At the other end of the spectrum, when we were younger, one of my brother’s friends***, who used to visit the house frequently and who I felt able to act “myself” around, once overheard my mum and I talking about my social awkwardness and said: “There is no way that you’re shy. I can’t imagine you being shy”. This being despite the fact that my SA is very severe.
***There are some exceptions to the “just family” rule, such as friends of my siblings who I got to know and therefore gradually became more comfortable around. This only seemed to be the case in my childhood/ young teenage years though, as this no longer happens with new people. Or maybe it’s just because my siblings are now old enough to go out with friends, so rarely invite people to the house now.
The second point is that I’ve probably freaked out anyone who has read this post with little bits of my “true/ home” personality. I imagine that anyone who’s read this far is now thinking “What a fucking creep” or “What a weirdo – I’d never want to be friends with someone like that”. I felt anxious just writing this post because of that. And this is why I never reveal this part of my personality/ this aspect of myself – I feel that I’d just be met with nothing but ridicule so it’s better to just suppress that part of my personality around others altogether. Or to be more precise, to have my SA suppress that part of my personality around others. Once, when he was about 9 or 10 years old, my brother and I were joking around after school one day and he made a very kind comment: “You know, if you just acted the same way at school as you do at home, you’d have LOADS of friends”. I have never been able to believe him. I have never been able to be myself.