Monday, January 12, 2015

Approachability

God is nudging me to make friends. You know, like, in real life. Not Facebook friends. Not just people I say hi to and smile at as I pass them in the halls at work or at church or at the grocery store or at Katie's school, or wherever I routinely see people whose faces I instantly recognize but whose names I don't know. God wants me to talk to people. About things. You know. Like people do. Nothing too fancy or deep. Just, you know, what's going on in your life, what's going on in mine.

When I was a little kid, it was easy to make friends. I remember just walking straight up to other kids and saying "you wanna play" and they'd say "sure" and then we'd be friends. Just like that. No big deal. Easy peasy.

Over time I've grown self-conscious and awkward. It's not that I have a low opinion of myself. It's that I have a low opinion of new social situations and my ability to fit in. On more than one occasion I've had friends tell me that they were surprised by how nice I am once you get to know me.

I'm back on my meds now, and they help. I take sertraline for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It helps with social anxiety too. But when you've spent your entire adulthood more or less trying to avoid uncomfortable social situations, it's difficult to change your ways.

Social media has helped big time. I'm much more open online than I am one-on-one. I'm super spacey and I like to think before I remark, so a written conversation is much easier for me than a verbal one. It's hard for me to know what to say to people because when they talk I don't want to interrupt them, so if I think of something to say I hold on to it and then I lose it by the time it's my turn to say something.

"Uh, I forgot what I was gonna say," is a phrase I say during most of my conversations with other humans.

Approachability - my word of guidance for 2015
Star Sunday at GCPC

So it was funny when I pulled a paper star from the basket we were passing around the pews in celebration of Epiphany. I picked yellow because there weren't any purple. As soon as I passed the basket to the girl sitting next to me, I flipped my star over and read what my nudge is this year: approachability.

 Here's a blurb from my church that explains what these stars are all about:

Join us for a favorite Grace Covenant tradition: “Star Sunday.” On Epiphany Sunday, January 11, we remember the Magi (the 3 wise men—or “kings” with their gold, frankincense and myrrh) who followed a star all the way to the manger. During the service, everyone receives a star bearing one word of guidance for 2015. You do not have to be wise or a king to have one of these stars. You do not need to bear any gifts yourself. You do not even need to be a member. Just come to worship January 11 and get your own star....

So my word of guidance for 2015 is "approachability". Hmm. How do I do that?

As any socially awkward person would do, I asked the internet. I turned to WikiHow. They actually have some good advice:

http://www.wikihow.com/Be-More-Approachable

As I was reading their recommendations, I kept thinking, "but when I do these things I feel like such a fraud". When I'm having a good conversation with someone I don't know well I feel like shouting, "oh yeah, you think I'm so nice and funny now, but it's all a sham! Once you find out how nice and crazy I can get, you'll think twice about befriending me!"

The evening after I got my star, I forced myself to socialize with a group of people I don't know very well in real life, other mothers of kids who are in the choir at our church. As the kids were rehearsing, the five of us sat in comfy chairs and chit chatted. Yes, me, too. And you know what? It was nice.

At first when I saw the four of them sitting there I said hi and smiled and walked by. I've become Facebook friends with three of them since I joined the church last spring, but I barely know them in real life. It's a big church and it's easy for a socially awkward person like me to scoot out as soon as church is over without hanging around to talk to anyone.

I started to head out the door toward the parking lot when I realized I only had about forty minutes left until Katie's choir practice would be over. By the time I drove home I'd just have a few minutes before I'd have to turn around and come back. What a waste of gas.

So, between God's nudge and my own frugality, I decided to stay. I felt like finding a hidden corner somewhere to do one of my favorite activities--sitting and staring at the wall--but I decided to be brave and go talk to the other mothers.

"May I sit with you guys?" I asked.

"Of course!" they said.

So I did. And we talked. About our families--our aging parents, our young children. About our daily lives--how to cram all our duties into our jam-packed schedules. We discussed whether or not being chronically late is just a sign of a flaky personality or if it's a sign of depression and we need to up our meds. We complained to each other about things that might seem small to people who don't devote their lives to the care of small children--how difficult it is to get our older kids to wash and brush their hair, how babies inevitably poop in the tub, how wonderful it is when the kids have a sleepover and we get to go on a date with our spouses, even if it's nothing fancier than dinner and a movie and maybe a couple of beers.

The time flew by and soon the kids started flooding out of the sanctuary and into our arms. All the kids were talking to their moms and I didn't want to interrupt. I started to feel anxious. So I collected Katie and left without having a chance to say, "goodbye" or "thanks for the conversation". I felt both energized by the good conversation and disappointed in myself for my impolite exit. I gave myself a little pep talk on the drive home.

Good job. Way to put yourself out there. Next time just take a few breaths and stay put til you can say goodbye.

When we got home I felt like taking a break before starting dinner, so I sat in my comfy chair and logged onto Facebook.

There was a message from one of the women in our little group of mothers saying how much she enjoyed visiting with us. We all agreed.

As someone who has struggled with depression and PTSD most of my life, little things like visiting with my fellow human beings can seem like such an overwhelming challenge. So moments like this, I feel proud of myself for having he guts to override my knee-jerk reaction to hide away and instead step up and announce: challenge accepted.