Saturday, March 2, 2013

Monkey Balloon Adventure: A Portrait of Social Anxiety


So, I somehow convinced myself that this was going to be a good idea. Everyone reassured me that it was a fine idea when I explained it, so I felt okay about it. Here is a graphic representation of what I envisioned along with a poem that inspired me.



This is how I saw it. A great time, framed by this whimsical poem of spring.

The idea was that I would buy a balloon and give it away. I imagined that I would be a little awkward like Cummings's balloon man, but I would make people happy. That's not quite how it went.

First, I went to the party store. I picked out a big monkey balloon. A big monkey balloon. I tied it to a hair band around my wrist. I drove to a store I was not accustomed to. I felt lost as I wandered through the aisles looking for someone to give the balloon to. 

I felt like people were staring at me because I was carrying a giant monkey balloon. They were. I knew I should look them in the eye and smile. I think they were grinning at me. But I started feeling self conscious. Where was my inner extrovert when I needed it?! "Square your back, chin up, don't look at the floor," I told myself. And just then I saw a mom with a toddler.

I approached my "prey." I asked the mother if she wanted a balloon. Her eyes widened. She looked flustered. I freaked out."Oh, no. Oh, no. What does she think is wrong with me? Oh, no. Oh crap,"  Uncertainty crept through my spine like seeping, black, fog. That made her feel even less sure. As I drew the balloon toward her, she tensed. Okay, this was stupid. "Well," I said, "he's probably too young"

"Yeah, too young... I was going to say," she responded. I walked off. AGH! Why did I decide to walk around Wal-Mart with a giant monkey balloon? Could I please explain that to myself again? How did this seem like a great idea? I felt like a big, stupid, clown. It was as if the monkey was screaming, "Idiot! Idiot!Idiot!"

I hid in the toy isles and pretended to look at some Batman action figures. I felt a burning in the back of my eyes. Was I going to cry? "Dear Heavenly Father," I prayed, "Please do not let me cry in Wal-Mart while holding a monkey balloon."

I emerged into a clearing of children's clothes. I passed some people who stared at monkey and me. I felt ashamed. I had to get rid of this horrible, smiling, banana munching anathema of evil. A girl of perhaps three or four and her mother were picking out clothes. They had their backs to me. Great, now I had to get their attention.

"Um," I stammered, "excuse me." They turned around. "Um, I was buying balloons for a friend" a partial lie, only a partial lie, "and I had this extra balloon" that was true, "and I'm trying to give it away." She looked slightly confused. "So, um, do you want it?"

Ahh! This awkwardness surpassed Napoleon Dynamite! "Sure," she said politely. Turning to her daughter, "It's your birthday next week anyway, isn't it?" 

The little girl happened to be wearing a monkey hat. "It matches your hat," I said. She smiled as I transferred the burden from my wrist to hers. I felt like Frodo finally dropping the ring into the volcano. I turned to go. "Thank you!" the mom said.

When I got to my car, I felt like the most giant loser on the planet. What had I been thinking? "Stupid,stupid, stupid!" I told myself. I suppose, in feeling these things, I was doing what my therapist, Dr. Headman, tells me I often do. I was figuratively sticking an ice pick into my leg and twisting it all around. I didn't actually do anything wrong. In a sense, it happened a bit like I had imagined, but with minor setbacks that I blew out of proportion. I gave a little girl, who obviously loved monkeys, a giant monkey balloon a week before her birthday. 'nough said.

Sometimes, people think that shy people are snobs and that's why they don't interact more. A cool, quirky girl wrote a blog entry that discusses how this is usually not true.

http://www.aquirkygirl.com/2011/03/life-as-shy-girl.html

In the case of people with anxiety, it's not that they don't like people or don't want to have positive interactions with them. It's not that they don't want to make friends. It's that it's hard for them. They may feel foolish, as if they're carrying around a giant monkey balloon and are inevitably going to elicit rejection.

Until my next awkward adventure,

Namaste (bye in Napalese)