So­cial pho­bia

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWO CENTS - By Cindy Rao

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.

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