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Feeling safe until I don’t

Work is a safe zone. It’s one of the few places I can speak freely. It’s one of the few places I feel competent, where I can act and speak with confidence. But it’s fragile state. It’s not just the people I work with, though they are great (my second family). It’s the setting. It’s the subject matter of most discussions, or the ones most likely to come up. It all combines to create a comfort zone that exists in too few places in my world.

Every three months we’re allowed to take a long lunch as a team. It’s our quarterly luncheon. It consists of most of us (since all of us usually can’t get away from court on the same day), a restaurant, a meal, a brief meeting, and time to just hang out away from the office. It is not a safe zone. Take away the office and it’s like any other social setting. My mere presence requires effort, which requires energy, which slowly drains as time passes. I can feel my silence physically. It hangs around my neck like a heavy sign that says, “pray for me, I’m a doofus.” Words don’t just fail me, they abandon ship, and without them I sink.

It’s quite a transformation and it exposes one root of my shyness. Unless I’m extremely familiar with the people AND the topic discussed, I feel inferior. What’s worse, this feeling creates a feedback loop, decreasing the likelihood I’ll have something to say exponentially. I feel inferior so I don’t join in right away. Then I feel self conscious about my silence which leads to anxiety, which in turn leads to greater feelings of inferiority.

The effort I talked about before comes into play at this point. This is where I maintain the front. The front is calm, cool, and collected. The front doesn’t sneak away to hide someplace safe. The front tracks the conversation with eye contact and appropriate facial expressions. The front erects a shell of comfort while the interior is anything but. The front is exhausting. Sometimes I wonder if my friends or family recognize the front when it’s present, if they realize how paralyzed I really am, or how often.

Work isn’t my only safe zone, and for that I’m very thankful.

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