15 Days of Social Anxiety: Day 5. Sun Ain’t Shining.

I apologize in advance if this post has some weird vibe to it – I’m just listening to Pink Floyd for the very first time and I’ve got four pages of notes to decipher and structure into something comprehensible.

Alright, let’s jump into it: It’s 20 minutes after 12 noon and I’m jittering. My goals for today are twofold: Approaching 20 people with excuses like looking for directions, and approaching one girl. Yes, one. That is surely going to be hard enough and all that is needed for busting my irrational fears. I can’t really explain the fear that I have, and I don’t much care why it is there. I am removing it. Case closed. One is infinitely greater than zero. I know that this one approach will bust my fear sufficiently to do it again and better.

While exiting my train, I catch a girl’s eye. She quickly looks down – bingo. Way too young though. I look outside the window and do my favorite weirdo smile while her girlfriend is checking me out. I probably just look confused. Who cares.

Out of the train station, I’m still jittering. And my back hurts. And my feet hurt. And pretty much everything hurts. That’s no excuse. Nor is the bad weather. For the first time these holidays, it’s been raining just an hour before and the sun doesn’t show any intention of changing that. But I’m dressed for the occasion. I am prepared. So I start my 25-minute walk to the town center.

At 12:25, I’m feeling better. I’m smiling. There isn’t the faintest reason for it, but I’m starting to enjoy this. After all, that’s only reasonable considering what I’m throwing myself into. I want to ask two elderly men for directions, but they’re chatting – so, I pass. Making my way to the city, I ask some people I pass (of which there aren’t many, making it easier) for bookstore recommendations. The first three or four people have no clue, but still try to help, recommending going into a certain city quarter or mall. The next man, however, reacts really positively and explains the way to the city’s largest bookstore. It’s too complicated for me, but that just means asking more people. Perfect.

I’m in a really good state now as well: Asking people, something that frightened me for years of my life, now feels automatic after two days of practice. I decide to ask a woman witch a cigarette – looks like she’s having a smoking break – for directions regarding the first part of my journey to the bookstore, even though she looks kinda pissed. And, contrary to my expecting a harsh rejection, she happily points me in the right direction. Man, how easy people can change their mood. I spend the next minute contemplating whether I’m like that too.

At 12:55 pm, I’ve hit the pedestrian zone and I’m really frightened of the people. But I have directions, and so I continue my way. Trying to stop an elderly man to gain more certainty, I’m blown off. The guy doesn’t even look at me, but says “no time.” It may be the notebook and pencil in my hand. I overthink my decision to scribble notes down every minute or so – do I look like a survey guy? Whatever. Rejections mean more practice opportunities – they cost barely two seconds.

After this realization, though, comes the best part of the day. I spot two young girls (probably even younger than I am). Of course I have second thoughts, and I have third thoughts. But that doesn’t matter, because unbeknownst to my mind, my body has already started walking straight toward them and before my mind is allowed any fourth thoughts, my mouth opens and I ask them for directions. Just directions. They seem a fair bit frightened – the most frightened I’ve ever made anyone so far – but I completely understand that. I respect that. Just directions. I get them. I turn around (seems like I’ve missed my target the first time) and feel like I’m flying. The weight that’s coming off my shoulders would be too much for the fucking Mountain to deadlift – and yes, yesterday I talked about a mountain coming off my shoulders – but the image here is stronger, which matters way more than the actual mathematical weight. Gotcha.

Thinking about it… in just ten seconds, I’ve become braver than 90% of men. That is a very dangerous way to look at it, but let my ego bathe in that for a few seconds.

A ‘lil longer….

Okay, enough.

I fly through the streets and look for someone that has time to help me – after all, I don’t want to interrupt people’s conversations. I want them to be able to enjoy helping me. I find a man, I ask him. I’m not far from the bookstore. And I’m in thriving mode. I get outta people’s way and automatically assess how busy they are. I get in, I look at the hilarious titles of English books that have been translated into German, I get out.

At this point, by the way, I’m sweating like crazy… Because it’s warm (and I’m wearing long clothes) and I’m the most joyful guy in town. Let’s relax a bit. I ask some folks if they know any nearby parks. None do. One woman is just locking her bicycle and doesn’t seem eager to help me at all – which I totally respect, she may have something more important on her mind – but even she gives me some directions. This has gotten robotic. I don’t really think about it any more. I just go for it.

I have, however, only about 45 minutes before my train leaves – unless I stay two hours longer, as I originally intended… But I’m making such quick work today, I might as well approach some eight more people. I’ve already got the girl – and it was a 2-set – approach done, and I thought that would take two hours.I pick up a 50-cent voucher from the ground and exchange stares and nods with some black guy my age. That doesn’t count as approaching, though.

So, without a real pretence and just to see what happens, I enter a big department store and ask a guy working there for self-help books. He reacts surprisingly by walking me to the shelf that may satisfy me. I’m already anxiously thinking of a humane way to get out of here without buying anything. He points out his favorite, and I ask for English versions, calling German translations a shot in the knee. He leaves very quickly after that. I’m glad. By the way, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, published in 2011, is atop the bestseller list here… Mad world.

1:40 pm. About five approaches remain, and I’ll have to complete them on the way to the train station. Easy. I ask a mid-aged woman (I’m a little hesitant because she’s looking at some shop window) and, although she is really confused that I want to take a 25-minute walk to the central station by foot out of the city, but don’t even know where it is (my answering her question of what I want to do there with “get into a train” doesn’t seem to help there), she gives me a great explanation of the way while going the first short bit – which makes for half of the turns on the way – with me. I’m short on time, but it’s enough to wish her a wonderful day and ponder at the beauty of humankind. I complete my challenge by asking a few more people for the way, which gets more ridiculous with every step as I’m walking straight toward it, clearly being able to see it. Or perhaps I’m short-sighted? That may be an explanation they might think of, until they see me asking another person the very same thing thirty seconds after passing them. I even take out my notebook and pen to ask a woman if she wants to participate in a survey. She doesn’t. Good for me, time is sparse.

I’m done for today, but I’m feeling to awesome to not compliment two men on their outfit and ask another guy whether that building in front of us is the central station. I give him thumbs-up for the answer.

Now what? Now I almost want to rip my own hair out. I recalled the time of departure from the train I used yesterday – in a different city. Now, I’m a half hour early. I walk up to the right track, wonder whether I should compliment an old man’s nice white dress – nope, he’s talking to himself – and put on some music to enjoy for the next half hour. At some point, a young mother asks me whether I know where the train’s bike cart (for her buggy) will halt. I don’t. But she reminds me of myself: Looking a little uncomfortable, wanting to exit the interaction and thus thanking twice. The second time is when people add something while you have already turned around because you’re glad you’ve done it and just wanna go home now. I know that.

Train’s arrived. I look around to see that the mother is in the right place. I’m still in thriving mode. I’m still feeling magnificent. Time to get home. I’ve hit it.

 

One thing that stood out today that I haven’t mentioned: Persistence. I’ve had to say “entschuldigen Sie” (excuse me) or “Verzeihung” (sorry) twice in some cases, after people didn’t react the first time. I did that automatically, and most of them stopped or turned to me the second time.

Other than that, I can really only say that I’m proud of myself. I’ve bust the barriers. I can now ask strangers for directions – or survey participation – without relevant second thoughts. I’ve never been even remotely able to do that. I have approached two girls. I can do that, too. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t even get rejected. Time to get rejected by girls.

Oh, and I’ll have to look for my bible friends tomorrow. Me missed each other today.

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