Awkward with Strangers

louie_subwayI’ve been looking for my next show to binge-watch while on the treadmill and folding laundry having recently finished ‘Call the Midwife’ and ‘Top of the Lake,’ both which I highly recommend. I decided to go with something a little lighter today and started the second season of Louis C.K.’s dark and very humorous sitcom ‘Louie.’ If you haven’t seen it yet, in ‘Louie,’ comedian Louis C.K. basically plays himself–a newly divorced father of two young daughters living in New York City.

There was a particular moment in the episode I watched that really struck a chord with me. Louie and his daughters are asleep and his pregnant sister is spending the night on his couch when she suddenly starts screaming in pain. Her yelling wakes both Louie and his neighbors, a lovely couple whom he’s never met. The neighbors come to Louie’s door to see if they can help, one man offering to help Louie get his sister to the hospital and his partner offering to stay with the sleeping kids.

Louie, visibly uncomfortable, seems paralyzed and incapable of making a decision until one of the neighbors says, “Brother, do not let your sister die from pain or lose her baby because you are awkward with strangers.” Later, after having this experience in the trenches together (not to worry, Louie’s sister’s excruciating pain is eliminated at the hospital with one enormous fart), Louie decides that he’d like to be friends with his neighbor. Louie, of course, is a social misfit and intimidated by making new friends so the ensuing conversation about getting together again is hilariously awkward.

I laughed my ass off at this episode, but could also completely relate. It made me wonder how many experiences I’ve missed out on because of social anxiety. Recently, I had a dentist appointment. It occurred to me afterward that so many of my actions relating to just this one appointment were driven by my own social weirdness. First, I dodged phone calls from the office attempting to confirm my appointment, instead, waiting for an email so I could respond online. The receptionist at the dentist’s office is a very sweet woman named Martha who I like very much and am comfortable chatting with in person so there was really no rational reason for me to dodge her calls.

I despise the telephone. I avoid calling even my closest friends and family members because I spend the entire conversation just waiting for the moment when I can get off the phone. I will also do just about anything to avoid having to call in an order for take-out. I get a tightness in my chest and a lump in my throat when I’m forced to make the call and a ridiculous sense of accomplishment when I manage to do so successfully. I know I get this from no stranger. My mother, who suffered from depression and anxiety, rarely answered the phone. My dad was always screening calls for her. Email and texting have been like a godsend for me and I know my mother and I would have kept in much better touch with each other if we’d had access to texting while she was alive.

It’s funny, my psychiatrist once asked what it was like for me to grow up with a depressed mother. I told him I didn’t actually realize she was depressed when I was a kid. I just thought she liked to sleep a lot. It’s only as I’ve gotten older and become better able identify my own depression and anxiety symptoms that I can point to similar behaviors I saw in my mom.

Anyway, back at my dentist appointment, I pulled into the parking garage and sat in my car for a minute because I didn’t want to get out at the same time the person next to me was exiting her car. I walked into the lobby of the office building and, forgetting what floor the dentist was on, did my damndest to squint at the directory rather than asking the security guard sitting next to it. I often have to search for words and forget people’s names when I’m nervous and was afraid I’d forget my doctor’s name if I had to ask the guard…as if that would be the worst thing in the world.

I walked to the elevator bank where there were numerous people milling about. I could access the floor I needed to go to by either the regular or express elevators so my mind spun while I tried to figure out which one would likely have fewer people riding on it. When I was able to get in an elevator alone, I was relieved. Small talk with the dentist and his assistant was uncomfortable and I was happy that I could no longer speak when he jammed my mouth full of cotton and dental tools. After the appointment, I walked into the bathroom of the office building hoping that no one else would be in there.

The thing is, few people can tell that I have problems with social anxiety. I’m an outwardly friendly, open person. Hell, I tell hundreds of people about the most personal issues in my life–depression, anxiety, grief, infertility, miscarriages–on a weekly basis via this blog. I’m lucky that my social anxiety is not crippling and is fairly well controlled with medication, but I know there are plenty of people who are not so lucky and spend their lives paralyzed by anxiety. There’s a soft spot in my heart for socially awkward people. I understand the constant battle they fight with their own minds just to get through all the normal human interactions one encounters each day.

In the ‘Louie’ episode, it wasn’t easy, but Louie managed to fight his own demons and make a new friend. I’ve met some of my closest friends in just the last few years. These are people with whom I actually spend time alone and occasionally even talk to on the telephone!  I am so incredibly grateful that I didn’t miss out on all the love, laughs, support and happiness they bring to my life because I’m awkward with strangers.

8 thoughts on “Awkward with Strangers

    • That’s so strange. I wonder why we’re all terrified of the telephone. I’d have to believe that’s only going to get worse as we find more and more ways of avoiding actually speaking on the phone.

  1. Totally spooky level of recognition here. I’d call you to say “great post” but I am terrified you might pick up the phone. So I’ll just say it here. Well done! -Kris

  2. How did you get inside my head?!? Seriously, I could have written this post because it is how my life is every day. I often wonder what I’d be capable of if I weren’t so crippled by my anxiety. Meds help some, but nowhere near enough.

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