It's 2000. I've been invited to a high school house party, which a rare thing. I get in the family van, turn the key--and nothing. During my previous trip earlier that day, I forgot to turn off the headlights, and the battery is drained. I stay home.
It's 2002. I'm part of a program where university undergraduates take high school students with them to classes for a day, to give them a taste of college life; I'm on the undergraduate side of the equation. When I get to the room where the undergraduates and high schoolers are being paired up, I'm suddenly struck by how many people are there, pressed against each other, laughing, shouting. I run to the washroom and throw up. I stare at myself in the mirror for a full minute. Then I go out, collect my students, and go about my day.
It's 2003. Another house party, of the college variety. A friend I've known literally all my life asks me why I never drink at these things. My tongue stumbles on an explanation, that if I did I'd never--what? Never learn to handle these situations otherwise? Never know if I could fit in without drinking? Never stop? I turn it into a joke. The conversation shifts. I leave soon after.
It's 2006. I'm drinking (I do that now) with a group of MAs and PhDs. We're joined by another group, full of people I don't know. I'm suddenly convinced I'm surrounding by strangers and people who would rather talk to them than to me, and that my presence would only inhibit them from doing so. I finish my drink, make my excuses, leave. I'm not sure if anyone noticed.
(and I spend the walk home debating whether that's the worst or best outcome)
It's 2007. A friend is getting published, and she throws a party in celebration. I get to the party and I see a backyard full of people--but no one I recognize. I circle around the block once, twice, and walk away. I didn't want my brother back home to know I didn't go in, though, so I spend the next three hours walking aimlessly, until I feel enough time has passed. I send her a nice facebook message, congratulating her on her achievement.
It's 2008. I'm at my first big academic conference. It's in Orlando, and my family came too, for the themepark trip. I love the panels, and I give my presentation to a room full of people. There's no problem there; there never has been. I've given academic talks, led classrooms, delivered eulogies, toasted married couples, to a dozen, or dozens, or hundreds of people. Talking to a crowd is easy; being in a crowd is awful. I spend the time between sessions reading a book and avoiding eye contact. How was the conference, asks my family, returning from Disneyland. Great, I say. (And it was, pretty much.)
It's 2009. I'm in a PhD program. Whole new place, whole new group of people. I drink A LOT and indulge in certain behaviours: bursting into loud song, taking breaks from drinking to run laps around the pub. Would someone experiencing extreme anxiety draw attention to themselves in such flamboyant fashion?
It's 2011. I'm meeting a friend for coffee. They reflect that when they first met me, I seemed aloof and arrogant, with the way I stood apart at parties and didn't talk to anyone. I smile thinly.
It's 2013. I'm still drinking to fight down the "flee" response at parties. It works, sort of, but only as long as I keep drinking. And I resent that I need it, and start resenting the people around me too, and lash out.
It's 2015. I finally figure that out and put binge-drinking behind me. It's a young person's game anyway.
It's 2017. A colleague (friend always seems presumptive on my part, including--especially including--every single time I've typed it in this post) gives a semi-formal public talk, in a place that's just a few minutes walk from me. I consider going, I want to go, but when the time comes, I'm seized with the worry of an unknown crowd, of a mix of unfamiliar faces and familiar that don't want or need me there, and I stay away.
I've thought, obsessively and repeatedly, about all of these instances, and others. But I've never typed them out in one place. This blog is nine years old, and I've never felt so bleakly awful in putting one of my posts out there in world. I have extreme social anxiety, and doesn't get explained away, or disappear once I've found my confidence. I don't know if talking about it will help. I know not talking about it wasn't helping.