Is it isolating when you don’t talk at a group outing? Somehow, spending forty minutes alone in the company of others when the point of going out together was to be together, well…I guess I’ve answered my own question. I went to brunch with four other people and found myself dining without uttering a word. There was plenty of time to engage in conversation, too, including before and after our meals were served. It wasn’t that the topics which arose were uninteresting, I just felt like my voice didn’t matter.
Lately something feels off. My sense of self-worth fluctuates. Same for my levels of confidence. I get anxious, worrying about what others think of me, especially if they know about my diagnosis of schizophrenia. I’m prepared to answer questions, but none come up. Is this because they accept me as I am and don’t concern themselves with the stigma, or are they ignoring me because without my advocacy or hospitalizations to talk about, I don’t have much to say?
Since my last medication adjustment, friends have noted that I’m more focused and less disjointed, which should, for all practical purposes, produce a plucky conversationalist. So what’s holding me back from communicating when I’m in a social setting? I feel like I did in middle school—self-conscious and overly sensitive. Weary of slipping into a tongue-tied morass, I clam up and keep my head down. Maybe no one will notice that I’m vocally absent, nevermind that this is all counterintuitive to what I really want. Internally, I long to be part of the group, chatting away gaily on a host of subjects; externally, I’m presenting a façade of detachment, in direct conflict with my real emotions.
I’m anxious about how I’ll be perceived. Am I just “that schizophrenic guy” lost in his thoughts, or am I seen as an intellectual equal, capable of holding his own in any discussion? I know what I hope for, but I don’t know the answer. It’s hard to shake these feelings of inadequacy. I want to be involved in social activities, but I feel I lack the self-confidence required to pull it off.
So what can I do about feeling socially awkward? Focus on the root cause? Loneliness is probably at the core of it. That and being shy. So I did what I’ve learned to do when faced with a confusing emotional problem: I opened up to my therapist.
We talked about the challenges I’ve been facing recently, and how that experience is keeping me off my game. Last autumn I lost three months to a medication breakdown, effectively putting me into the worst psychotic episode since schizophrenia first appeared in my life. I received a concussion after falling into a rockery while in that fugue state. I’ve been struggling to come to grips with the resultant amnesia, trying to piece together the images I have of events that remain irretrievable. I’m dealing with a lot. No wonder I’m withdrawn. Given the circumstances, I should cut myself some slack.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to talk with me, since all I have to talk about is mental health. Yet I know that’s not true. I have many interests that could lend themselves to discussion. I like movies, books, music, gaming, art, comics, and graphic novels. I’m a writer. I love city life and a long walk. I enjoy nature. I’m learning to cook. There’s plenty to talk about. I just need to find a way in.
A solution is within my grasp. I can continue working on this process in therapy, a safe place to talk about my needs and ways to fulfill them. I can make this an ongoing thing. As my self-confidence builds, my feelings of awkwardness may subside to the point where I’m open to initiating conversation with others. I need to be forgiving of myself in the interim. Not everyone is “on” all the time. I’m being realistic when I accept that this won’t happen overnight. In a culture where we’re expected to suck it up and “Just Do It,” the braver tack might be one of adherence to the slow and steady.
One thing is for certain—I don’t like feeling socially awkward. That can’t last forever, though, no matter how it may seem in the moment. I want to confront my situation because I don’t like being lonely. General anxiety has me second guessing myself, and social anxiety keeps me outside looking in. As uncomfortable as it might be, I’m ready for a change.