I’ve seen so many articles in the last few years that seemed to be geared towards “educating” normal people on how to treat people with forms of anxiety. Like how to take care of introverts, hyper-sensitive people, people with anxiety, and other personalities that simply don’t tend to follow social norms. And at first it wasn’t such a big deal. I read that first one on introverts and thought, that was a nice way to break the ice. It was new and innovative and I saw no harm in it.
And then more popped up. And then more, and more again. Each one repeating the same maxims like, “don’t pressure us to talk,” “don’t take it personally if we don’t make eye contact,” “don’t be offended if I don’t want to talk to you.” Some were helpful. Some were border-line demanding/whining. At first I was happy because it was reaffirming that a lot of the things that bother me (loud noises, big crowds, talking to strangers) bothered other people and that it was okay.
But you know, the more lists I see now, the more people post about how they should be treated specially, how they require warnings and notices for everything, how they are highly intelligent and therefore deserving of more allowances, and generally how much “better” they are than normal people, I started to get annoyed by these lists. I knew they were about people like me, but I was starting to want to distance myself from these listicles.
Sure, I don’t like to be uncomfortable in big crowds, but sometimes I have to endure them—I table-run at conventions! And sometimes I don’t want to go to parties, and celebrations for my friends, but I do it anyway because my friends want me there, and people I like are worth making sacrifices for.
If I posted this list and insisted that everyone adhere to it, I’m like that one jerk who goes to a Mexican restaurant and demands eggplant Parmesan. “You don’t serve eggplant Parmesan? Well too bad! That’s all I can eat and you should accommodate me!” When in truth I should either a) try some Mexican food, or b) take my business elsewhere.
The world isn’t meant to accommodate me. I have to adapt to the world. That means pushing myself into situations where I’m uncomfortable. It means practicing until I get better. It means gathering my courage and realizing that if I want anything from the world, I have to be willing to meet it on its own terms. And if I’m not up to the challenge, I need to make a quiet retreat until I can try again.
I’m also not so arrogant to believe that I’m the only one with problems. I may hate crowds, but maybe someone else is really nervous without them. I hate loud noises, but what about people tormented by silence? I hate talking to strangers, but what about the person who’s worried they’ll talk too much? Everyone has their hurdles, and we should be insightful and compassionate enough to help people who are obviously uncomfortable.
Most importantly, we should be brave enough to be honest with our friends and family. Instead of posting passive aggressive lists online, why not try telling our friends how we feel. “Go out to the club tonight? No thanks, I actually don’t like loud places so much. Maybe we could do something else like Pho?” “Yeah, I’ll go to the Christmas party with you, but could you introduce me to some people? I have trouble striking up conversations,” and most importantly, “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. Do you mind if I excuse myself to collect my thoughts?”
Anecdote: For the longest time I would get panic attacks at checkout counters. When I was with my husband, I’d always say, “I’ll take the kids to the car and fasten them in while you finish up here.” And leave before he got to the register. He never knew exactly what was going on, and I really didn’t want to tell him I was having a panic attack, but one day we were shopping without the kids. I didn’t have excuse to leave him so I had to be honest and say, “The checkout counter always gives me panic attacks. Can I just meet you when we’re done?”
And darling hubby, just shrugged and said, “I figured it was something like that. No problem.”
After that, I started to get fewer panic attacks. It was enough to know that he knew what I was going through and that I could walk away from the register without having to explain it or make an excuse. Our openness actually helped me with my anxiety.
Living in a bubble, untested, untroubled, and most of all, alone, is no way to live. We stagnate, we fester, we’re never forced to challenge ourselves so we never win and we never grow. I’ve seen too many people who have shut themselves off from the world because the world would never bend to fit their needs. You can’t live like that. You’re a human as much as everyone else. You’re special, but so are they. So here’s my:
CARE AND FEEDING OF HUMANS.
- Never assume.
- Ask how they feel or what they would like.
- Treat them like individuals with their own lives and interests.
- Feel free to help them understand you.
- Try your best to understand them.
- They will make mistakes. Forgive them and try again.