I don’t know what it is about writing that makes me want to overshare. It’s almost like my feelings just muscle their way into the light of day and, of their own accord, lay themselves down on the page for inspection.
And that’s a fairly dangerous thing to do at times.
It’s taken me almost 50 years to be comfortable enough to do this kind of sharing. Deep down, I’m still the shy kid who prefers the company of her chooks and dog, riding her bike along solitary coastlines, writing poetry and drawing sketches of horses in her notebook, doing cartwheels and back bends on the front lawn (Wish I could still do that!!).
PHOTO: Teen camp. Guess which one is me? Hint: Who can't look into the lens of the camera? Lol
But that was the best part of my childhood. The worst part involved constant inspection from other people. When you’re a minister’s daughter and move from town to town (and school to school), you cop some unwanted attention.
I remember standing up with my family in front of every new church we went to. It was the way head elders generally introduced new ministers and their families to the flock.
I still remember one hot January Saturday when I was 13, standing in front of hundreds of people. We were all crowded into the hall for lunch at a new church in Newcastle. There was a big table in the centre, laden with food. They were being so hospitable but all I wanted to do was melt into the background! I only felt more embarrassed the longer I stood there.
Knowing that I was turning beetroot red always made it worse (curse my thin skin!). As I felt my face grow hotter, the more self-conscious I felt, and the more the blood flow increased, rising to burn and rage over my entire face and neck. People notice these things! I felt like crying but stared hard at the floorboards and kept a smile on my face.
From about the age of 10 onwards, there was always pressure to get involved in church stuff. As an early-teen, I was appointed Sabbath School Missions Secretary or some such position. All I remember was that I had to read out a mission story up the front of the church every month and give a report on the work in the mission fields.
It was agony. I remember sitting behind the pulpit awaiting my turn and trying not to draw attention to myself: having the tears back up and drip out of my nose, surrepticiously rubbing them away while trying not to sniff and keep a pleasant look on my face at the same time. Trying to fool people into thinking I really wasn't crying and desperately hoping for a miracle to rescue me from having to get up in front of everyone!
My parents weren't being cruel and neither was anyone else. I actually don't remember asking anyone to spare me from my pain. It was probably more likely that my very strong sense of obligation had kicked in when I accepted the role. I was a pretty idealistic kid and wanted to do what was right. I also think I must have felt it would make me a better person (what kind of therapy do they call that?).
Looking back, I believe my dad was an introvert too, and was never completely at ease in front of a crowd (No shade on you, Pa! Love you!). Yet he felt compelled to do it because he believed that God had called him as a minister. My dad's true nature is shy, but he never shies away from doing hard things.
As I grew older, I learnt how to hide my anxieties better and picked up some of the tools of successful socialising. My fallback was always to ask people lots of questions about themselves. I learnt that the more questions you asked, the less you focused on your feelings and the more relaxed you could be. I came to enjoy one-on-one conversations and loved finding out about what makes people tick.
While I generally avoided offering much information about myself, I did get to the point where I could even try that with some people and small groups of close friends. Often though, when I started talking about myself in a group of people, the attention of all those eyes on me would take me back to the old feelings and I’d stumble over my words and wish someone would just jump in and interrupt so I didn’t have to finish (thankfully, this usually happens when people lose interest in a failed story haha).
Whenever I felt my tightly-held control slipping, I'd timeout myself in the bathrooms or somewhere outside. A secret I've rarely revealed before is that I've been known to sit on a toilet lid for 15 minutes while collecting myself enough to head back into the fray. I've always been one of the first to leave if I've had my own transport.
And now I live the quiet rural life. I don’t have to contend with social anxiety much anymore (although I've also lost practice, sadly). For the most part, I spend my days writing from my home office, venturing out to meetings or the gym or select social outings like my weekly writers' group and lunch with close friends, and the occasional relief teaching day (I gave up full time teaching many years ago, partly because of the mental exhaustion of being 'on' all the time).
I’ve always liked people, gotten on well with most, and made deep connections with some, which is why some people find it hard to believe I am an introvert. However, long periods of quietness and solitude have always been important to me and the older I get, the more the anxiety I feel in crowds or in prolonged social situations.
So it may not make immediate sense that I write, especially fairly personal blogs like this one. It also might seem contradictory that I have become relatively comfortable using social media to communicate with people I know a little bit and even with people I don't know at all (previously very unnerving).
The thing I love about writing and social media is that these things allow me to reveal my thoughts in a measured way. They mean that I can take the time to think about what I want to say and edit as I go.
Personal blogs meet my need for honesty, for spreading the love, maybe even for being known. I like opening up and entrusting my heart to you. I like to spark conversation and share ideas. Please don’t be afraid to tell me what you think either :)
This is the simplicity, the complexity and the contradiction of what I do...