It is said that grownups can’t hide their fragility when they want to go home at the slightest hint of pressure. For me, I want to go back to an empty house. I find it just as exhausting to be under the same roof as someone else, even those closest to me. Famous Japanese actress Amami Yuki once claimed that she chooses to stay single because she hates to find there’s someone else there when she gets home; now I totally get her.
It’s not like I would suffer from a panic attack, nor would I fight with those who intrude into my personal space to clear the security zone. Actually, I enjoy pleasant company from friends and family. However, when I return to my solitude, I feel a void inside me that makes me feel emotionally numb, isolated and anxious. I am too fatigued to do any daily routines such as cleaning, exercising or reading. I take refuge in the internet while slouching on the couch after work, which I call “idleness therapy”.
At first, I interpreted the feeling the other way round – I took it as a reflection of my deep fear for loneliness. Not long ago, I realized I had been wrong. Last month, my family and friends paid a visit and stayed with me for a few days, leaving me with no alone time, and the fatigue accumulated. I became more quiet and low-spirited, and it took longer than usual for the idleness therapy to work and for me to regain vitality.
That’s when it struck me. As I have grown older, a social phobia has awakened inside me.
I am not trying to be cool with the label of some harmless mental issue. Although I do well in meetings and presentations, don’t have difficulty asking strangers for directions and even enjoy parties as one of the most active guests, there are signs that I am not really the cheerful and high-spirited person everybody thinks I am. I hate telephone calls. For many years I have put my cell phone on silent mode. I would rather text than make a phone call if possible. I hate to be in the US because everybody greets you with an enthusiastically highpitched voice saying, “Hi, how are you doing?” I hate it when I get in a taxi and the driver wants to talk the whole trip. I am not interested in his family situation or being dragged into some sort of political debate I really can’t be bothered to have. I feel so awkward when I run into a colleague on the same bus or elevator and no one seems to have topics to share with each other, leaving me saying things like “I’m so hungry” or “it’s so hot,” meaninglessly. I also don’t know how to respond to a compliment except for a dry “thanks.” I don’t know what to say when the boss tells a self-deprecating joke. It tortures me, and when in doubt, I give an inappropriate response. The Japanese describe someone who has difficulty reading the subtleties in social situations as “can’t read the air.” For me, it’s the “reading” part that makes life so hard.