Friday, January 14, 2011

On being shy and overcoming it

I just did something that a few years ago, I would have never done in a million years: I went up and talked to an acquaintance that was working at a computer here in the library. I've seen this guy around, usually when I'm out at bars and parties, and we have some mutual friends. The first time I saw him out, he said hi and recognized me as "the girl at the library." I had recognized him too from seeing him at the library and secretly, I had labeled him "the guy with the nice dreads." He was at the library this afternoon and when I saw him, I went over and said hi and asked him if he was going to a party I'm going to on Saturday. He's a nice guy and we chatted for a minute before we both went back to work.

When I was little, I was terribly, pain-stakingly shy. I couldn't talk to strangers or even acquaintances. The words got caught in my throat like large wads of cotton balls and no matter how much I screamed in my head to say something, anything, the best I could do was smile. I remember one time when I was probably in first grade, there was a nice, older girl who was in my brother's grade who rode on the school bus with us. I sat next to her one afternoon on the ride home and she chatted away with me. She was so nice, I actually felt comfortable enough to talk to her. Also, she had a humongous box of art supplies on her lap that she let me see and try out. She told me that the next day I could use them too on the bus, all I had to do was ask. I wasn't lucky enough to sit next to her the following day, I was a couple of seats back from her. I sat on the edge of the seat, fuming because I couldn't unstick her name from my throat and call out to her so I could use her umpteen awesome colored markers. Finally, I decided to trick myself into mustering up the courage. I started whispering her name, gradually saying it louder and louder, until I said it loud enough for her to hear me. And guess what? It worked and I got to doodle away with her and her holy grail of art supplies.

Within a few years of this incident, I had a less successful experience with my shyness. For a good number of summers as kids, my mother drug my brother and me to what must have been every vacation Bible school program within a 10 mile radius of our house. At the start of one of these programs, I was sitting on the floor with a bunch of kids my age, listing to the roll being called. My name was never called and the teacher asked if anyone hadn't been called. I raised my hand and she asked what my name was. I couldn't for the life of me spit out my own name. My throat felt as though it had closed and my tongue lay dry and lifeless in my mouth. I screamed my name in my head, trying over and over again to push the words out of my lips. The teacher kept asking me over and over to please tell her my name. Sensing my uneasiness and shyness, she even tried to bribe me with candy. Finally, a girl who had been in my class in elementary school that past school year told the teacher my name in a snobby tone, clearing disapproving of my weakness. I beat myself up over missing out on that glorious bag of candy for months afterwards.

It wasn't until high school when I finally managed to completely shake the cotton ball throat syndrome. A wonderful teacher I had my freshman year liked to pick on the shy ones in class, making us get up in front of the room to speak and constantly asking us questions. I guess this desensitizing was what finally loosened me up enough to speak up more and take more pride in my opinions. Over the years, I've cared less and less about talking to strangers and public speaking, but it's largely been an uphill battle. So, being able to go up to a guy I don't know very well to say hi and talk for a minute speaks volumes about how far I've come.

I think this ties in nicely with my prior mention of vulnerability and my need to open myself up more. I stepped a toe outside my comfort zone to say hi to someone and had a nice, short chat with someone who seemed to enjoy talking to me. When I was on my second date a few nights ago, I took a chance and reached out to stroke his hair during a lull in our conversation, leading to kiss after kiss. It's a good feeling to jump and land on your feet, no matter how small the jump.

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