Monday, 27 September 2010
On my first day of kindergarten, I threw up in a garbage bin. I repeated this morning ritual for many days and even years afterwards. Being with a group of people I don't know well throws me into panic. While growing up, having to meet old family friends or relatives I didn't see very often made my stomach sink.
I vividly remembering thinking as a child that when I grew up I wouldn't be shy anymore. While I'm less shy than when I was five, shyness is something that still plagues me.
Events over the weekend that just passed made me think about my shyness and how it affects my life, how it affects my kids and how or if I can change it. Firstly, I met up with a bunch of bloggers for churros and coffee. This is something I would never normally even contemplate. Meeting a bunch of strangers. A group of strangers. Having to sit down and talk to them. Eeek. I decided to put myself out there and go. I must admit I nearly backed out a number of times, I wasn't feeling 100% so nearly used that as an excuse. Skip said to me "Go, you may just have fun." So go I did. Guess what? I didn't completely flake out or say anything incredibly stupid. The other women were lovely and I did, indeed, have fun. I was proud that I put myself out there.
On Sunday, I took the girls to the park across from our house. Being a lovely sunny Sunday, there were some birthday parties going on. One of them was for a child the girls often play with in the park, and the guests were a whole bunch of other kids they play with. Almost every day. I could see Lil-lil watching and wondering why they were all having a party without her. It killed me as I knew the answer. The reason was me. I often talk to the other mums and dads one-on-one but they've formed quite a tight knit little group and, me being me, can't make myself part of their group. They probably think I'm being snob. Think that I don't like them. Think I'm being aloof. In reality, I'm way too shy to talk or chat as part of their group. It's like the wiring in my brain short circuits and the words can't physically come out.
My girls are both very outgoing, shyness is something they don't often experience, so it kills me that I'm holding them back. When we're out they will often greet and chat away to strangers, inside I'm dying as I find it so, so difficult to do what they can do with ease. They often force me to talk to strangers, but stomach will tie in knots, I'll sweat bullets and I'll talk rubbish.
At school, I had a small group of good friends. I remember at a school excursion in Year 10 a fairly popular boy trying to talk to me and me clamming up. He said: "Why do you hate me so much?". Of course, I didn't hate him, I just couldn't talk. Or say anything that was particularly witty, nice or clever. Sure I could think of a million great things to say, but none of these could actually be spat out of my mouth. I had completely shut down.
When I studied journalism, we had a class of about 25 people. I spent most of the time in silence. I never really contributed or was part of the group. I had a couple of friends, but my shyness crippled me so I couldn't speak up or join in. I worked hard and I did well, but I think I was still known as the aloof one.
My career has definitely not progressed probably as far as it could have because of my shyness. I struggled to speak up when I had good ideas. At my first job as a journalist, a workmate and I were put up for consideration for a good position. The publisher said to: "There's no way you could do the job properly, you're too quiet." I was furious. I worked hard and I was good at what I did. A few months later I ended up getting the position due to a string of strange events. I did a fantastic job and the client who I was putting the magazine together for told the publisher how happy he was that I got the job.
Other stories have not ended so well. When I worked on big titles with a lot of staff, I tended to blend into the background. I wasn't the charismatic person who was pushing or selling myself. When I worked on small teams and I had the time to get to know people and come out of my shell, things worked out much better. Still I think my career would be quite different if I wasn't shy.
When I got into my 20s, alcohol became a way to get over my shy. Dutch courage. The problem is as a 34-year-old mum, alcohol is not a good way to get past shyness. I've had a couple of unfortunate incidents recently when I've been uncomfortable in a situation and drank as way of relaxing myself. Of course, I drank too much and embarrassed myself and those around me, which is really hard to admit and write about. Which I'm so ashamed of. It's why I really try and watch what I drink these days. Make sure I'm not drinking to squash the shyness.
Shyness is a weird thing. As I said, it can cripple me and affect me every day of my life, but I'm sure there are people close to me who wouldn't think of me as shy. When I know people and I'm comfortable, I can be a chatterbox, I can be out there, I can be loud. It can take a lot to shut me up.
I wish I could smash open the shell that forms around me. Let the real Corinne out. Be relaxed and calm. Be witty and charming. Be the me that goes on in my head. Let other people in.
I hope, one day, I can.
Image by Martin Sach