The truth about me

This is me.

This is not me.

This is who I’d be if I could be me without fear.

I’ve often wanted to talk about work in this space because it’s such a big part of my life – possibly too big.

There are three important things in my life: my family, work, and you. This poses several problems. You’ll notice there’s a big hole in that group. Nowhere do I mention friends. There’s no such thing in my life independent of these three groups. My only friends are my family, my co-workers, and you. Not everyone can count their family as their friends, so don’t think I’m not grateful for this bit of fortune. Many of us love our family. Some of us can trust our family. Not all of us can really count on them as friends – folks we can turn to in a pinch, or call on a whim to discuss what troubles us.

Work can be work, and even though I find value in what I do, what truly makes it special is the rapport I have with the people around me. But unlike some, that rapport stays at work. I rarely speak or interact with them away from the office. Inside, they are my friends. Outside I go my separate way. I don’t know why, other than the fear.

Then there’s you. The internet can be an amazing place, but when I think about it, the internet feels like having supercharged pen pals. The internet is a much faster way to communicate than the good old USPS and a first class stamp, but blogs, twitter, and everything else we call “social media,” are still mostly the printed word. We can learn a lot from them. We can even grow care about/for people through them. But we’ll probably never really meet. I’ll probably never recognize you by the sound of your voice. I’ll never shake your hand, give you five, or share a hug when it’s needed.

Maybe none of that should matter, and I certainly don’t want to alienate or diminish my fondness for any of you, but it does matter to me. It matters because outside of family and work, you are my only friends. While the internet can be an amazing place, it can still feel isolating, for the reasons I give above (even though they’re a bit vague, leaving them to wither alone as if they’re self evident).

That’s what it means to be me: the shy guy with my love and my very best friend Cheryl, a relatively small family, and a smattering of relatively loose connections I consider friends, who pass through my life rather quickly. Words flash on a screen, or turnover churns the mix at work, but either way it leaves me wanting.

Why don’t I connect with people?

Normally the question doesn’t bother me, but at times like these, with my wife and kids half way across the country, it plagues me. I’ve mentioned we’ve lived in our house for many years, but have I told you I can only name one last name among all the people around us? Have I told you I can only name two first names? Surely that’s not normal.

Folks aren’t obligated to be friends with their neighbors any more than their family – but people usually know their names… don’t they?

That’s the extent of my fear.

The sad truth is, if you were next door I probably wouldn’t know your name. I still wouldn’t shake your hand, give you five, or share a hug when it was needed.

You may not understand. I wish I understood. I wish any of the “professionals” I’ve seen really understood.

It’s not as depressing as it might sound. It’s all I’ve ever known. Mostly I don’t feel alone – because I’m not. I have my family, my friends at work, and you. But take either of the first two away for any period of time and I’ll carry the loneliness like a dark, heavy cloak – masking all of my life’s color from others and myself.

Although it doesn’t always bother me, no matter what I do the fear never goes away.

This is me.

1 Comment

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.