Sometimes we can get so used to living with a fear that it ceases to seem abnormal or unusual. This must be the explanation for why I drew a momentary blank when Heather asked, "Since my word for the year is fearless... name one thing you wish you could do if fear did not stand in your way."
What does fear keep me from doing?
If fear didn't stand in my way, I would be a better friend.
It's not that I don't have friends, but I wouldn't say that I do a good job of maintaining or building my friendships. I've had a long-standing fear of calling people on the phone, and for many years I wouldn't even get together with others because the thought of social gatherings--outside of family--terrified me. It's a cop out, of course, to not form meaningful friendships because all it means is that I value my own comfort zone rather than people. Still. Recognizing that doesn't make living fearlessly any easier.
I wasn't always this way. When I was in college, I had a circle of friends that I loved to hang around. We all lived in the same hall our freshman year, and most of us had classes together. We called each other on the phone, wrote each other encouragement cards, laughed until we cried. We were good friends, some would say best friends.
My sophomore year, I developed some unfortunate personality traits. I don't know what it was...ego, or something. At any rate, my roommate got tired of me and moved out. A few days later I got a letter from her saying something to the effect of, "It just happened one day that we decided we didn't want to be friends with you anymore."
And just like that, I was unwanted.
I should be clear that I don't blame them for what happened. I did for a long time, but after all these years I've figured the blame went both ways. We did try to work things out the next school year--I even had a couple of them in my wedding--and we tried to build on our friendship again. But I was nervous, and probably came across as desperate to keep them as friends. Eventually I stopped being invited to things, and after Jason found me sobbing on the couch one day, he decided to confront them on their behavior. They told him that they just didn't want to be friends with me anymore.
No one should be forced to be friends with someone you don't like, but being the "someone you don't like" was heartbreaking.
So began my descent into the world of social anxiety. I stopped trying to make new friends; I stopped keeping in touch with the friends that I did have. I have a vivid memory of me sitting in my office, holding the phone number for my best friend from high school and wanting to call her but being terrified to actually dial the numbers. The phone sat on the desk, untouched. I never called her.
I stopped going to weddings, baby showers, friendly gatherings. Whenever Jason and I weren't invited to events, I (egocentrically) assumed it was because people didn't want me there. It was hard for me to see Jason being snubbed from invitations to things on account of my aloof behavior, but I just couldn't bring myself to move past superficial friendliness. Making friends post-college seemed impossible because everyone around me already had their best friends. As far as I could tell, I was too late to the party for anyone to want to hang out with me.
It's ridiculous, of course, to make excuses for my fear. But excuses were the only thing that kept me afloat. I suspect most people never guessed my deep seeded fears of being rejected. I faked exuberance well.
Things have improved.
Since Sydney was born, I've gotten better at connecting with people, particularly other moms. There's a natural conversation topic, and living in a city without any family forced me to ask other women for help. Going to my MOPS group has been highly therapeutic, and I genuinely enjoy being around other people now. I'm still not good at calling people on the phone, or inviting people over, or setting up play-dates--partly out of fear, partly my schedule, and mostly because I'm out of the habit. After so many years of fear, I came to normalize my social anxiety, and only when I wish I could call someone in the middle of the day to tell them I passed my graduate exams do I realize that I'm still not where I want to be.
It's a process, though, recreating and finding that part of myself that used to be outgoing and willing to find a friend in anyone. And so I take it one day at a time. Fear might always be part of my life, but it doesn't always have to stand in the way of picking up the phone and calling a friend.