I am nervous and anxious in most social situations; even with my friends I often find myself anxious to the point that it produces physical symptoms. I haven’t purchased my own goods at a checkout of any kind for ~five years because the social interaction required is too frightening. I have attended conventions and cosplayed, only to remain in my room and only wear the cosplay at home. I certainly don’t have any friends outside my brother, sister and one single other friend besides. This isn’t for lack of opportunity, like I said, I’ve been to cons where the possibly of making friends is presented: hell, it’s practically included in the registration fee! Come to this con: friends included!
And so, the notion of attending anything that holds the chance of meeting people is difficult. I cannot even imagine mentally just how I’ll manage to so much as look at someone I recognise from Twitter or some such. It’s so easy to see an event upcoming and to say, “Hey” That’s perfect—an event: let’s go!” until the fact that the event involves actual interaction with real and human people dawns and panic mode is initiated. It happens every time.
These social and mental irregularities (I say “mental” as well, since my thought processes are apparently not normal in some aspects—some related to social interaction, others not) interfere with absolutely everything, from seeing a doctor (which I cannot do without my elder brother present) to needing to hide in the bathroom when faulty air conditioning needs fixing in a hotel, to needing headphones and music so I can’t hear people talking around me if I’m alone (which happens so very rarely, regardless). I can’t use the front door because the walk to the car at the side of the house runs the risk of people seeing me and the polite but terrifying “hellos” or “mornings” which I ultimately ignore and therefore look rude. Lose-lose.
One of the main issues when even thinking about being with people is that I do not know what to do, have no idea how I am supposed to behave. I am an introvert, so the notion of offending people with my indecision on how to act isn’t likely (I hope!) an issue, but what is, is talking to people in the first place. Conversation does not come naturally to me… In my head, everything is perfect and engaging and interesting… and then when I have to translate those thoughts into words, suddenly I doubt. What if I’m not supposed to be talking right then, or what if they don’t want to talk to me at all—how are you supposed to know? Maybe they want to talk about X and there I am, talking about Y. Perhaps they’ve just given me a thousand cues hinting they want to leave, or change the subject or something else besides—I won’t know.
Panic attacks in supermarkets and even sitting in the car because someone knocks on the window. Being unable to attend events and get to know friends online. Missing out on absolutely everything ever. It sucks.
I try. Oh, believe me I do. I even came close last week. It was Emma Newman’s Forbidden Planet launch and guess what!—I’m in London already (yay birthday), so why not give it a go?? Surely it was a perfect opportunity, meant to be? I mean, hey; I don’t even really need to get the book signed myself, I can get my brother or friends to do it. It might be fun! And so…
All the details were planned into the little app I used to plan the trip, my friends were ready. We were going. Except that we weren’t, and we didn’t. I couldn’t. The night before I was hit by such panic that I couldn’t conceive going to the event. I was disappointed in myself… but I just couldn’t.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened… but usually I don’t torture myself so much by agreeing to go. Usually I see the event on the writer’s tour, squee and fanboy a little when Birmingham or Bristol are listed (they’re close and accessible)… and then crash. There’s no point in obsessing over what I would like signing in my book. No point in wondering what it would be like to meet acquaintances (Tweeple, mainly) who might also be there. No point imagining anything. It’s not going to happen anyway.
But I really, really wish it could.
Sometimes, when people love you, you get almost the next best thing.
A couple of weeks ago, when Peter V Brett came to the UK, I was excited as hell… and then devastated. Of course I couldn’t go… The anxiety attack just at my brother’s suggestion that we try it put paid to that. So, instead of letting it go, I naturally tortured myself by thinking about it. I scribbled down personalisations to have written, edited and polished it until it was gleaming in perfection. And then left it alone because I wasn’t going anyway, so meh. Meh.
But then, on my birthday, my sister handed me a gift that I knew was a book. I could see the back cover through the wrapping… and it was The Daylight War. “Oh”, I thought, a little glumly… I’d intended to buy it anyway, and I’m very particular about receiving books as gifts (another quirk…). I opened it, smiled politely and, as is only right when receiving a book, opened it and leafed through a few pages. All very polite.
Then I went very, very still. And then I probably would have cried if I had been alone (my sister will tell you there was some tearing up, but naturally I had something in my eye… of course…). And then she explained, once the silence of the shock had subsided, that she attended his singing in Nottingham to procure the book as a present. She was the first in the queue and walked away with the first book signed in Nottingham.
The best part was that when signing the personalisation, Peter V Brett remembered my name from my reviews. When I got to a small envelope containing photos of Peat with the book, one of them of him signing my name in the book, I was completely and utterly speechless. Peat was brilliant enough to write a little thank you note for the reviews and support… and that’s just immeasurably fantastic.
It doesn’t make up for the fact that I physically and quite literally could not attend a signing—but it comes so damn close.
It’s almost as though I was there. It’s just magical what she did for me and trust me, she’s been hugged and revered and worshipped as is her due since she gave me the book.
Maybe in future I’ll be able to Do Stuff; but maybe it’s a long road and I’ve barely started. Either way, with that book sitting prettily on my desk (haven’t had the heart to put it on the bookshelves yet…) the whole thing just doesn’t sting as much as it used to.