Since my focus this year has been on taking risks, I've been learning a lot about the kinds of things that I'm afraid of. It's crazy how far our bodies and minds will go to mask fear from us, to protect us from whatever we're afraid of to such an extent that we don't even realize we have it.
I used to get really worked up when it came to specific things, mostly in high school. Having to split up into groups in class, picking out your desk on the first day, figuring out where to sit at lunch. Throughout the one year I spent in a public junior high school I ate half of my lunches in a bathroom stall just to avoid the stress and embarassment.
I've gotten rid of most of that now, but some of it's stuck around. I hate going places where I don't know anyone and they already have groups established. So the lunch thing would still panic me, but that's not so much what real life is like. Work parties did this to me, though. I hated them. I'd know one or two people there, tag along with them, and feel like an unwanted barnacle the whole time. I remember one time I snuck off to the bathroom with a book and just sat there for about half an hour.
But since I quit my office job I only really run into this in one place now -- concerts.
Concerts terrify the crap out of me.
I'm usually going to concerts on my own, so it's me and a room full of complete strangers. Strangers that have appeared inside their own social groups, strangers that are high and/or drunk or working their way there, strangers who will press up against me and get all up in my space without my okay because that's the nature of the environment. And I can't escape outside for a breath of cool air because everyone out there is always smoking and I'll smell gross/get sick (I'm allergic to tobacco smoke) and then I'll be even more miserable. I'll have no one to talk to, I'll feel awkward, I'll feel like the nerd from high school who wasn't cool enough to talk to any of these kids who look like they belong here. This has always been how I felt at concerts.
So when I was invited to one last weekend, I was really close to saying no. I would have been going by myself, to a venue I'd never been to before, for a band I'd never heard of. Then I reminded myself that I was taking risks this year and I went "what the hell" and anxiously agreed to attend. I showed up too early, because anxiety about being late to things, and I nervously sat in the car and chatted with my friends for awhile to pass the time.
I went in before anyone I knew arrived. I made small talk with random strangers. I listened to random conversations. I was awkward as hell. People I know showing up helped alleviate some of this, but I still felt very out of place. Like I didn't belong there and I should just leave, because I'm new here and don't know anything about anything going on.
And that's part of the root of it, I think. I'm afraid of looking, seeming, or being stupid. For a very long time the only thing about myself I was sure of was that I was smart, and then for a very long time I was convinced I didn't even have that. So I have this preconcieved notion that in order to be valuable I have to know a lot about most things. I can't be the new kid that doesn't know anything about what I'm doing; I have to be the expert, or the prodigy that gets it right on the first go. Otherwise what's the point in keeping me around? What do I bring to the table, really?
So I stayed for the whole concert, the whole thing. I was sort of miserable but firmly stuck to "fake it 'til you make it." I concentrated on the parts I enjoyed and tried to ignore the rest. And something miraculous happened about halfway through -- suddenly I felt like I belonged there. I felt like I was allowed to be weird because who the fuck cares? Everyone else was being weird, why not be myself? I felt like we as a group now had this shared experience through the first half of the concert, this odd little bond. If we saw each other in the grocery store and our eyes connected we could grin at each other and say "Hey, didn't I see you last weekend? Badass shirt, by the way." In other words, I started to feel more like me.
I'd probably still feel weird about going to a concert on my own, especially if it was my first go at them. But I'd be less likely to immediately reject the idea. It's not a complete victory, the bricks are still stacked up. On the other side of that wall is still a thirteen year old girl with no real friends, who's weird and kind of smart but not smart enough to be anything to anyone besides a paper to copy before class. Who doesn't know where she fits in and is convinced that if she makes herself as bland looking as possible that she'll reach her goal of becoming invisible. But it's at least recognizing that the wall's there and that the girl's wrong. It's a step.