Help! My Neighbors Give Me Social Anxiety
It’s 8:30 AM. I’m walking my dog, carrying a mug of hot water, lemon, and a dash of pink salt (ask me about that later). My phone is at home, I’m embracing silence, and appreciating the stillness of the morning.
“Hey! What’s that? Yerba mate?”
It’s 8:31 AM. I’m walking my dog, carrying a mug of partially sipped hot water, lemon, and a dash of pink salt, and I have just been verbally accosted by an innocent passerby, also known as one of my many neighbors.
What comes out of my mouth? Oh, nothing! Just “Oh! Heh! You know! Hot water! Immune system. Haha! Morning weather. Mercury is in retrograde!” Yeah, totally cool. Really great. No big deal. Mercury is not even in retrograde.
Listen. I think the pandemic will leave us with PTSD for a lifetime. For me? The deep entanglement I have with my neighbors, and therefore the immensely awkward interactions that leave me obsessing over things I’ve said in passing, has become my fardle to bear for years — lifetimes even! — to come.
Now picture a 45-min walk, where several more neighbors are encountered. Maybe even two every block! “Keep up the spinning!” I scream to one. “I’m so sorry to hear your marriage is ending!” to another. “When is your wife due?” I yell across the street. I look down at my dog, “Henry, why am I SCREAMING???”
I’ll tell you why I’m screaming. Because now it’s 9:15 AM, my frontal lobe is still asleep, and I’ve ruined my neighborhood reputation with embarrassing ‘isms, a full breakdown of my dog’s physical therapy routine, and poor commentary about Licorice Pizza, which everyone seemed to love, but I honestly don’t understand why. I haven’t even scored a 4/6 on Wordle yet!
Did I mention that I’m currently writing this from my neighbor’s couch? Why? Because I’m house sitting her two dogs and two cats, obviously wondering if their Furbo is secretly taping me while I watch Love Is Blind S2 on their Roku. Oh, and she is just one of three families in my neighborhood I’ve housesat for… and I’m not even a house sitter! I also babysat one family’s 18 month-old once, but spent most of the night paralyzed on the couch, once again terrified there were cameras watching me watch their TV.
The days I get it right (i.e. a solid joke with a solid punch line, a clear thought clearly communicated, a seamless laugh followed by seamless eye contact) I feel really strong and able to do anything.
My mom says it’s all in my head, but then again, she doesn’t seem to remember my story about that one neighbor who hid from me in his driveway so he wouldn’t have to speak to me. “What am I? A MONSTER??” I said to my mom that morning.
“Annie, you’re just reading into it. Don’t take it personally.” Unbelievable!!
My therapist thinks I’m just applying generalized anxiety onto all of my social interactions, but she didn’t say “Your car window is going all the way down to the door,” when her neighbor said, “Hi,” one morning from their vehicle.
The days I get it right (i.e. a solid joke with a solid punch line, a clear thought clearly communicated, a seamless laugh followed by seamless eye contact) I feel really strong and able to do anything. “I’m an extroverted introvert!”
The days I get it wrong, however, leave me on the phone with a woman who shares the same name as my mother (my therapist), telling her how I think I’m an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) — a term I found on the internet — that suggests I get hyper stimulated by my surroundings. She validates my inquiry and tries to remind me that my fellow neighbors are likely dealing with their own anxiety, which feels possible, but not certain!
While my ideal solution would be avoidance, I find myself trying to brave through the sentences, relying heavily on astrology as a conversation buffer, and ending every interaction with “SEE YOU, BYE” as a solid sign-off.
Okay, this is awkward. BYE.
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