Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Having a friend with depth and the ability to shoot from the hip is always a plus. But having one who has those characteristics and a degree in social work equals a huge win for me.
I have a couple of associates who are social workers, but one is very deliberate and intuitive. She doesn't mind telling anyone what she thinks, and I'm no exception. Recently, while we were sharing a cocktail, she stopped me mid-sentence and said, "I'm pretty sure you have some social-anxiety issues."
I've always considered myself to be a people-person and I am often involved in community activities, organizations and small group meetings. But I've learned there's always truth to what my friend says, So, I quickly made my way to the computer to research Social Anxiety Disorder.
"Social anxiety disorder is a persistent fear of one or more situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others and fears that he or she may do something or act in a way that will be humiliating or embarrassing," I read on Wikipedia.
Thinking back, I'd guess my first brush with this disorder happened when I was around 6 or 7. Despite my family's assurance, I was still timid and reserved. It wasn't easy to observe because I dwelled in my comfort zone. I was rarely forced to step outside of the box that sheltered me.
I was pushed from that cozy little comfort box when I was forced to sing my first solo. I had a great voice at 6. My father was proud, but I hadn't developed my own pride before he started putting me on programs. The first time I sang in front of a room full of people, I was terrified. I sang low and refused to step up to the microphone. People shouted "sing up," and "We can't hear you!" I felt defeated and forgot the words to the song. I cried.
Years later, I made my second attempt at a solo. I was in the gospel choir at Tougaloo College. I was at ease singing in the choir, but the director started urging me to sing a solo. I resisted for a long time. Finally I thought I could do it. I gave it my all. It just wasn't good enough. I could hear my nervous voice trembling. I was horrible.
I have never attempted to sing publicly again. But I give full-out concerts in my bathroom mirror.
When I was between 10 and 11, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer and decided he wanted to go to seminary. He packed up my mother, sister and I and moved to the Big Apple--New York City. BOOM! Just like that, my world was turned upside down.
In my little neighborhood in Clinton, I knew everyone on my street, and they were all friends of mine. In New York, I didn't know a soul. The city was horrifying. The buildings were tall and creepy looking. There was no grass, and the people never looked at you in the eye. If I didn't walk fast enough or move out the way, I could easily get run over. I didn't hear "excuse me" much.
I started walking with my eyes lowered, refusing to look anyone in the eye. If I happened to catch someone's eye, my look was returned with a glare or aan unfriendly smirk. The children at my Catholic junior high were no different.
It took about two days for my new classmates to acknowledge my Mississippi-ness. The accent was a dead give-away. I grew increasingly afraid to speak in class because the more vocal students laughed at my slow drawl. I either had to start speaking like them or just say nothing if I didn't want to be laughed at. I accepted that I just wouldn't talk.
I hated that. I love sharing myself, and it was torture. I spent the next two years eating lunch alone. I found comfort in nothing except being home with my family. I taught myself to never speak unless I was just repeating what someone else said. I refused to take the risk of being wrong or embarrassed.
"Social anxiety disorder may be caused by the longer-term effects of not fitting in, or being bullied, rejected or ignored." Wikipedia continues. "Shy adolescents or avoidant adults have emphasized unpleasant experiences with peers or childhood bullying or harassment."
At 11 years old, I began seeing a therapist because I was experiencing severe stomach cramps and headaches, and the doctors had no idea why. Nothing eased the pain. I was depressed and miserable.
From that point on, I've had trouble speaking to large groups of people. In recent years, I've tried to tackle this, because I am a poet and a writer. I am supposed to be able to recite my poetry to people. I should be able to share more of myself than I am. I've been using the excuse that I want people to internalize my poetry without the burden of my ideas about what I've written. Really though, it's pretty much just fear.
I was asked to read poetry at the Writer's Spotlight some years back, and I accepted. I invited familiar faces so I would be more at ease. I did it, but I never felt comfortable. I asked everyone to close their eyes, and they did. I literally was about to pass out as I read my poetry. I couldn't stick around to listen to anyone else. I could hear my heart beating in my ears and I was shaking. I had a panic attack before I got to the door, which I tried to hide. I am "supposed" to be able to do this.
Since that night, I have turned down every opportunity to participate in spoken-word performances. I simply can't bring myself to do it.
It seems that there is some light swaying over me now. At the very least I know what to call it. I know that it affects my decisions, and that I'm not just an insecure wreck. And acceptance, I've heard is the key to improvement. There's too much life to live to allow SAD-ness to control me.
Funmi Franklin, aka Queen, is a word lover and poet. She's a reality-show fanatic and is awaiting an opportunity to star in her own show to be titled, "The Queen & I."
Queen this is a wonderful piece. I hope you can overcome your fears and reservations and reach the stardom you so richly deserve. I know of a country boy who was poor and shy and used to talk real fast and always looked downward when he talked to people. Because of his poverty the country boy and his friends were always told they couldn't be anything of any consequence. The country boy's friends accepted the fate placed upon them, but the country boy refused to. That country boy figured if he had to get up in the morning and go to school he might as well study and try to become something. So he tried and kept trying. The more he tried the luckier he got. He became a lawyer and furthermore became outstanding. One year the country boy got a letter from one of the uptown boys he grew up with who wanted the country boy and lawyer to represent his daughter who had gotten in trouble. That letter from the uptown fellow said dear country boy I remember you growing up and trying to be something, and I used to laugh at you because I knew you would never amount to anything. You defied the odd and became a lawyer. Will you represent my daughter free for right now, and trust me to pay you when I get out of jail someday. The letter made the country boy angry for a minute and it caused him to ponder his promises to the Almighty, one of which were to never be uppity or use his success to harm others less fortunate. So despite the temptation to write the convict back and say: Dear convict, I remember you too. I knew you weren't spit back then and I'm certainly not surprised you arrived at the destination I always knew you would wind up. Instead the country boy decided to pass on the convict and his daughter. Quite frankly country boy may have helped the daughter for free except for the letter reminding him he wasn't supposed to amount to anything. I have a pronounced accent too which I wish I didn't have because my professional career causes me to interact with people all over the country and I wish they couldn't tell where I'm from just because of my voice. The voice or accent has its advantages though. About 12 years ago I was walking down the streets in Philadelphia Pennsyvania and stopped a nice man to ask him waht was the beautiful structure I had just laid my eyes on. He said that is City Hall and I'm Congressman so and so. He further said I like your voice because I was staioned in the military in Mississippi and put my kids in school in Lexington, MS.. He then said who do you have with you, then called his chauffeur, picked us up, rode us around to many of Philadelphia's monuments. He finally took all of us to a very nice restaurant and treated us for free. When I got back home to Mississippi I went to a store, bought several Mississippi souvenirs, etc and sent them all to him. Believe it or not, I've had other people walk up to me just to hear me talk because of the accent. Don't get me wrong, I still wish I didn't have it, but it's not all that bad. It doesn't bother me anymore. Good luck, Queen, on overcoming all the things that hold you back. Go Cowboys and Steelers.
Love you, sister.
- Lori G