Wednesday, March 29, 2017
An Introvert With Anxiety Walks Into A Coffee Shop
I'd say a bar, but I don't really go to bars much because... people. Sometimes lots of people. Sometimes loud, annoying, drunk people who bump/push/fall into you. So, an introvert with anxiety, both general and social, walks into a coffee shop. That was me one morning last month.
I needed some headspace, and I didn't have to be to work until later than usual (woo hoo holiday hours!), so I thought I'd relax and write, sip some coffee, and have a granola parfait. For some reason, I thought that being a holiday, the cafe would be less crowded. I figured people stopped in on their way to work, or had their informal business meetings there, and being a (bank) holiday, they wouldn't be doing this. At first, I was affirmed. I walked into only a handful of people there, dispersed throughout the shop, bought my coffee and parfait and sat down. I was about two minutes into writing when a pair sat down at my table and started talking - not to me, but still, talking.
Now, the tables are "communal", but they aren't overly large tables - I think five chairs, and one of those is on the short end (head of the table style). In fairness, this pair sat on the corner, so I have to give them that. They didn't just plop down next to me and completely invade my large sphere of introverted personal space. But still, I ask before I just sit down. Maybe that person is expecting others. Maybe they're just having a really shitty day and need to not have two strangers sitting at the same table in relatively close quarters. Maybe they've been hermiting themselves away and finally had the courage to come out some place, but weren't ready to be sharing their table with people they don't know (or do), because being out with other people is about all they have in them.
To be clear, I wasn't upset at this pair. They didn't do anything wrong. I was anxious. They didn't say anything, but I'm pretty sure that I was visibly slinking towards my little corner of the space. If I'd slid over any further, I would have fallen off my stool. I actually pulled my coffee, parfait, and notebook closer towards me, like some sort of invisibility shield. As the coffee shop continued to fill up, a line formed right past my table. People stood on either side of the line (and the space is not large) waiting for their orders. This included people standing almost immediately next to my table, like I could have reached out and touched them (I didn't, that's creepy). I actually felt like walls were closing in. My breath started to get shallow, as it does with anxiety.
And then, something miraculous happened. A dog walked in. A good sized dog (my favorite!) that looked like a yellow-lab, German Shepard mix. And the people melted away. I looked imploringly at the dog. By which I mean awkwardly stared, hoping the owner would say "Oh she's friendly, you can pet her". It did not happen, much to my chagrin. But for that ten minutes while the dog was in the coffee shop, my anxiety was in the background. I don't know why dogs are less intimidating than people. But I do know that I could have 10 dogs literally sitting on me, or two people sitting five feet away at the table, and I'd take the 10 dogs any day.
Now, I get that extroverts without social/anxiety probably think: "Well, if you don't want to be near people, don't go to a place where there are likely to be people." And they have a valid point here. Which is why I tend to like to be home and with loved ones. I'd rather spend a Friday night reading than out at a party. In fact, I actively avoid social situations where there will be 1.) a lot of people and 2.) particularly, people I don't know. Because those involve interaction and quite often, small talk/superficial interaction, which is tricky and unpleasant for the introvert side of me. Talking about unimportant stuff that I really don't care about because I'm obligated to seems rather pointless and soul dredging. But coffee shops, minus a quick "I'll have a black coffee and a parfait", don't tend to involve this. So they are a safe haven. They give me the opportunity to be out and about without having to be overly social. But when people start sitting at your table, holding conversations two chairs over from you, that blurs the lines for me. They're "kind of" in your personal space. They're not interacting with you, but they're at the same table, not far away from you, and talking. You could jump right into the conversation if you felt like it (of course I didn't). It's a weird feeling.
Luckily, they finished their drinks and left, hopefully no wiser to my massive level of discomfort. I felt bad - this wasn't their fault, and they were doing what many people do at communal, albeit barely, tables in a public space. So I tried my hardest to look pleasant and avoid any eye contact that might give it away. But I'm curious what other introverts with anxiety would feel. Would this type of thing make you anxious? What if they were dogs (insert favorite domesticated animal here) instead of people? Are there other situations like this that have given you bad anxiety in the past? Do you have tricks for getting past it? I'm all ears!