When Social Phobia Gets In The Way


I am walking in the rain, feeling slightly ridiculous. I quite enjoy a light sun shower when I’m out and, if the time and place are right, a torrential downpour. Something about cloudy skies and water catapulting itself to the ground makes me feel hopeful. But on this occasion it wasn’t the right time or place and it was definitely a torrential downpour. It was the middle of winter and I was freezing. I had a black leather hoodie on, chunky black boots, ripped black jeans and no umbrella. The rain was coming down hard and at such an angle that my clothes were soaked. An elderly woman hurried up behind me holding an umbrella which she then shared with me the rest of the walk to the store. She had lovely brown eyes, the same golden brown my daughter’s are today, and a strong Italian accent.

I was touched by this random act of kindness. Even more so that it came from an older woman, carrying her green shopping bag, and a floral umbrella that matched her patterned coat. I was touched that she didn’t think to avoid the unsmiling girl dressed in grungy black clothing.

Since then, I have always strived to do small, simple acts of kindness when I can. Loaning coins here and there, taking the time to ensure a lost person finds their way, letting people in a hurry go before me in a line, anything that presents itself.

But not everything that presents itself.

Sometimes I forget that woman’s lack of judgement that day. Sometimes I forget to just offer. Sometimes I waste opportunities to help others because I’m so caught up in worrying about what they will think.

I walked right past an elderly man struggling to take his bins in a few weeks ago. He had a walking stick and was inching slowly down his long driveway with the smaller garbage bin. The large recycling bin was still at the front. I could have stopped.
“Excuse me.” I could have called out offering to help, grabbing the larger bin and following him down the drive.
I didn’t though. I kept walking. I was too afraid of bothering him or frightening him. I was too afraid of what he might think.

Two days ago a woman was struggling with two large suitcases in front of me. We had just hopped off the train. She was panting loudly.
“That was the worst journey!” She gasped, glancing toward me. “So many delays…just awful…been running around all day.”
Again I wanted to ask how far she had to walk. I wanted to offer to help her with her suitcases. I kept my mouth shut though. I didn’t even politely respond to her comments about the delays. I couldn’t. I literally could not force the words out of my mouth, even though I badly wanted to. Yet again, I was frozen by worry.

I can not make myself say the words I want to say. I can not do what I want to do. I cannot be the person I want to be. And I’m sick of it.

It’s not just random acts of kindness. It’s in my inability to read things out in class. It’s in the paralysing fear I feel when it comes to public speaking. It’s in the way I freeze, refusing to answer the phone if I don’t know who the caller is. It’s in my inability to speak or share or do. And it stops now.

I must remember that no one is going to look at me and judge me in the way I continuously do myself. They most likely won’t think or say anything except “thanks”.



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