I have a confession to make. I am a forty-something year old wallflower. There I admit it.
Dictionary.com defines a wallflower as “a person who, because of shyness, unpopularity, or lack of a partner, remains at the side at a party or dance.” That describes me to a tee. By nature, I am shy and an introvert. It takes every ounce of my being sometimes to peer out the walls I have put up around me.
Growing up, I never socialized much. I never participated in team sports. I didn’t go to school dances – I didn’t even go to my own prom. Apart from kiddy birthday parties in grade school, I wasn’t on anyone’s popularity lists for parties.
I was the smallest in my class until my eighth grade year. I was picked on and bullied for most of my years from kindergarten through high school.
I was the kid with the imaginary friend.
When I was cast as the Nutcracker in my elementary school’s third grade play – I wanted to die or at least hide. The teacher had to tell me more than once during rehearsal to come out from behind everyone so the audience would see me.
Unlike my daughter, I was never the child that would go up to complete strangers and say hi.
As an adult, it is a challenge for me to be comfortable introducing myself to new people. Equally as arduous is interjecting myself into a conversation – even if I know everyone. My modus operandi is to wait for someone to come along and strike up a conversation with me or drag me along to join a group of friends.
It has taken me a long time to really realize that this is probably something I will deal with for the rest of my life. As much as I push myself, as much as I want to feel comfortable in large groups or small groups for that matter, it just doesn’t happen.
Everything from mild anxiety to full-blown claustrophobia can hit me even in a room full of friends. More than once, even at our own ChicagoNow gatherings where I am surrounded by friends, the walls felt like they were closing in on me. I felt lost. I felt alone.
So to avoid those feelings that can wash over me like a tidal wave, I tend to retreat. I find a corner outside the action or a seat at the end of the table away from the main conversation.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for armchair therapists here. I am fully aware of why I suffer from these issues.
I know I fear being judged.
I am fully aware that I fear that I will somehow look like a fool.
I fear of being reminded of all the times I have failed in the past.
I know that this pile of fears weighs me down to the point that I withdraw into a hole.
Not only do most of these fears stem from growing up the smallest in my class and being picked on all through school. They stem from feeling different my whole life. Growing up having to hide a huge part of myself.
These same fears and feelings are not just unique to me, but many transgender kids and adults deal with them as well, as do many kids that are gay, that have a physical or mental disability, or grow up in any situation outside what the world calls ‘normal’.
These fears and perceived failings are probably some largest obstacles we ever have to face in our lives. There is no magic potion or spell we can cast to relieve us from this dark cloud. We must continue to push our own boundaries. As so often I hear, it takes baby steps. I know I will wobble and sometimes fall.
I have a circle of friends that I cling to like glue. They may not know it, but they are the ones that are slowly drawing me out of my shell and exposing me to a world that I have never known.
Maybe someday I will have the strength to stand before the my giants. Maybe someday, hopefully not too far in the future, the cloud with lift and all the bottled up fears I have clung to for so long will slowly fade.
But until then, you will probably be able to find this forty-something wallflower nursing a drink in the corner.
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