Lost For Words

13 Jan

I think the Internet was the best thing ever invented.  OK, make that the second best thing, after coffee, which when you think about it, wasn’t actually invented in the true sense of the word.  One reason the Internet is so great is that it enables me to keep in touch with people without actually having to talk to them.

Lord, that sounds awful, doesn’t it?  It makes me sound like an arrogant, antisocial jerk who doesn’t care about the people in her Facebook friends list.  Let me assure you that this is not the case.  I care about people a great deal, and my friends are very, very important to me.  I realize that this is the kind of thing that anyone would say, even people who would sell their grandmothers to the devil.  But I really do mean it. I have my fair share of faults, but I believe that the people I care about would describe me as a good and loyal friend.

So when I say that I want to keep in touch with people without talking to them, it’s not the actual people that I have an aversion to.  It’s the talking.

Let me pause for a moment to say this: what I am sharing today is a glimpse into a part of my life that I have difficulty with.  It is something that, while not exactly earth-shattering, is not easy or comfortable to talk write about.  And while there are certain aspects of my life that I will never share publicly, I just-about-kind-of-sort-of feel brave enough to discuss this.

You see, all my life I have suffered from pretty intense social anxiety and awkwardness. While I always enjoy being around people, I frequently don’t know what to say when I’m with them.  Or to put it more accurately, I know what I want to say but I find myself unable to say it.

Are you confused yet?

Here’s what it’s like for me.  I often find, when I am talking to people, that I am able to formulate an idea in my head.  I can script the words I want to use in order to verbally express that idea.  But when it’s actually time for me to utter those words, I cannot.  The best way to describe it is that the words get lost somewhere between my brain and my mouth.  It’s as if the synapses in my brain that are responsible for translating thought into speech just aren’t firing.

Picture yourself sitting in your car in your driveway, intending to drive to the post office, and suddenly discovering that all of the roads between your house and the post office have suddenly disappeared.  So you sit in your car at home, at a loss as to what to do.

Or if you’re me, you sit there not taking part in the conversation, and people just assume that you don’t have anything to say.  And you get more and more frustrated because you do have something to say, but you are unable to say it. Or when you can say it, you sound awkward and stilted, and because this whole conversation effort is so stressful, you come across sounding abrupt or disinterested or babbling in an uncomfortable way.  If I’m in a situation of conflict with another person, this problem multiplies a hundredfold.

Some people who know me personally are probably reading this and going “Huh?”  This verbal debilitation I experience is not visible to everyone – a lot depends on who I’m talking to and what the circumstances are.  This problem is a disability of sorts, and people with disabilities learn how to adapt, and how to live life as seamlessly as possible without letting the disability take over.  But even at times when I give the appearance of having a normal conversation, I am capable of feeling a level of anxiety that most people probably cannot relate to.

Although certain events in my life may have exacerbated this issue, it is really something that I have always lived with.  I had a variety of developmental delays as a child, and only developed a reasonable level of functional speech at the age of five.  Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my social development was far behind that of my peers.  At an age where most of my contemporaries were going to parties, acquiring boyfriends, and traveling in large, noisy packs, I was the quiet, awkward one who never said much.  My social anxiety was frequently misconstrued as shyness.

As an adult, this has impacted my life in a number of ways.  Certain events in my life can be attributed at least partly to the fact that I did not have the social skills I needed to deal with things differently.  These events have ranged from the minor events that you forget about the next day to the bigger events that stay with you for life.

My social interactions tend to vacillate between two extremes: one the one end, I kind of clam up and don’t say anything.  On the other end, I talk non-stop, saying inconsequential stuff to cover up the anxiety I feel.  In the middle of these two extremes are the “normal” interactions I enjoy with my family and my closest friends; with people that I have a high degree of trust in.

Telephones terrify me.  Seriously.  I hate the things.  If I could get through life without ever talking on the phone, I’d be happy.  When I do find myself on the phone, I get the hell off as fast as I can.  Again, there are exceptions.  My Mom?  I could talk to her on the phone all day.

I love to write.  Love, love, love it.  My tendency to lose words does not extend to my writing – in fact, I have a theory that my writing skills have developed pretty well in order to compensate for the difficulties I have with oral communication.  This is a good outlet for me.  It is a way for me to share a part of myself with the world, without going through the anxiety that I might otherwise experience.

I find my social anxiety issues to be disabling at times, but being the eternal optimist, I strive for things to be better.  I adapt, I compensate, and I seek opportunities to overcome.

(Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License)

8 Responses to “Lost For Words”

  1. patriciahysell January 13, 2011 at 4:46 PM #

    I am entirely awkward with new people. I have to warm up to people before I can comfortably speak with them. I don’t think I have quite the same level of fear with new people as you do, but people who know me can’t ever remember me being shy when we first met. But … I was.

    The older I get the less noticeable it is. Or maybe I am finally overcoming my nervousness and am more in line with the “like me or not, this is all I have” philosophy.

    • runningforautism January 14, 2011 at 9:22 AM #

      Patti, Gerard’s the kind of guy who can walk into a room full of strangers and strike up a conversation with any of them. I wish I had the ability to do that!

  2. SweetB January 13, 2011 at 4:54 PM #

    Wow. I am, honestly, in a state of shock right now. Speechless. Thank you for being so brave and open to share that with your readers.

    • runningforautism January 14, 2011 at 9:23 AM #

      I’m enjoying the irony of you using the word “speechless” in response to this particular topic! LOL!

  3. Veronica Samuels January 13, 2011 at 9:53 PM #

    Total shocker! You write so eloquently and open. I’m so glad that you have found writing to release your true feelings and thoughts, your true self. I love your posts. 🙂

    As for me, my husband says I talk like a teenager. And, I’ve had work colleagues tell me that they didn’t think I was smart when they first met me just from talking to me. I have trouble speaking, sometimes because I am soooooo excited to talk that I can’t clearly express myself… and I wind up sounding like a teenager! Too many thoughts running through my head and I can’t focus! Once I calm down, I’m ok then. I think at least!! 🙂 But, I do like to talk… 🙂


    • runningforautism January 14, 2011 at 9:25 AM #

      Thanks, Veronica! Writing really saves me, I think. Without it, I would not have any comfortable form of expression at all.
      LOL’ing at your description of talking like a teenager!

  4. Bad News Banker January 22, 2011 at 9:18 AM #

    At times as a kid, I stuttered as bad as Mel Tillis. As an adult, I can go days without stuttering and then some days I will stutter all day long. It’s so bizarre. I attribute the sudden stuttering to nerves, anxiety, or lack of sleep. Several months ago, I spoke with a gentlemen that is dyslexic (He is national spokesman on dyslexia). He said that stuttering is a mild form of dyslexia and he said that people who have trouble speaking are in a way like a reverse dyslexic. A true dyslexic sees the written word but it gets jumbled up in the brain and it can’t process it in way to understand it. Most dyslexics use their hearing to learn and process information. Most dyslexics can’t write either but can speak and socialize really well. Our (You and me) brains see and hear spoken and written words fine but it gets jumbled up before it comes out of our mouth. You definitely have a gift for writing, but my writing skills have gotten a lot better over time but are still not at a level that I wish it could be. I’m very envious of people who are exceptional or have a gift for speaking and writing. My best advice to people like me is to slow down and relax when I have to speak to people. For me, anxiety, nervousness are a recipe for disaster when I’m around people. People say you should do twice as much listening as speaking because you have two ears and only one mouth. I have taken that saying to heart because I worry if today is the day that I am going to stutter so I don’t say as much. I say to myself, “slow your brain down so it can catch up to your mouth.” LOL! So I do a lot of listening! I love your blogs and especially loved this one, because it hit home!

    • runningforautism January 24, 2011 at 12:59 PM #

      Wow, the reverse dyslexic theory makes a lot of sense! My husband is a true dyslexic, and now that you mention it, I can see definite parallels.
      Thanks for reading, and for the perceptive comment!

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