I had always thought of myself as a bit of an introvert, but recently I’ve started to change my mind. Definitely compared to my husband and my daughter, I find myself craving human interaction, outside of my immediate family, whereas I think they would generally be pretty content to just stay home. When I was home alone on maternity leave I would often find myself popping into work to say hi to people, and when my husband had a day off I would be badgering him to go out, when he just wanted to stay at home and relax. I thought our attitudes would swap once I went back to work and he was home with the baby, but actually he was still just as keen to stay at home, whilst I still wanted to go out whenever I had a day off, particularly if the sun was shining. Today was set aside to be my daughter’s birthday treat day, and when given all the options of fun things that we could do, her top choice was to stay at home and play with her Lego. From a very early age she would be far happier staying at home than anywhere we could go out to. She does love being outdoors, but it seems that our garden holds just as many thrills as anywhere else I could suggest.
So, then I began to wonder, if I am so drawn to spending my time with other people, why is it that I’m not the life and soul of the party? Because I’m really not. And I have come to the conclusion that actually I am an extrovert with an unfortunate case of crippling social anxiety. I worry constantly about how people may judge what I say, how I say it, when I say it, being too early, being too late, not knowing where I’m going, arriving alone, how to interact in a group, pretty much every aspect of fairly simple human interactions. I am completely terrified of telephones and avoid them at all costs. In the old days before text and messenger systems I would write old school letters to my friends in the school holidays to arrange to meet up. They’d write back saying ‘of course, here’s my phone number, we’ll organise something’, at which point I would be too scared and just ignore their letter completely! I have let many a lovely friendship lapse due an inability to phone people. If my husband didn’t make all the calls in our house nothing would ever get organised, and if he occasionally puts his foot down and insists I do it then it takes me literally days to psych myself up, and rehearse the conversation over and over again in my head.
If I try to explain these anxieties to people they always seem particularly amazed that I manage to do the job I do, having to work in a big team of people, with hundreds of members of the general public, and a fair amount of time on the phone even, but strangely I find that easy. I know my role when I’m a doctor, I know what to say, how and when to say it, and everybody else knows what to expect from me as well. There are clearly defined ways of communicating with each other that we have all learnt and rehearsed, real life is so much more unpredictable. Work brings me the enjoyable human interaction I crave so much, with nice rules that I know and can follow. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I am so happy to be doing it, rather than always worrying about being away from my babies.
Being a socially anxious parent, is particularly difficult. Especially now I have to face the sheer terrors of the school playground! This is a potentially intimidating environment for anybody but I find it very hard. I try to smile wildly at everybody, so I don’t seem like a total cow, without really managing to open my mouth to speak at all. When there are times I really need to speak to my daughter’s teacher about something, I find the pressure almost unbearable, not wanting to butt in at the wrong moment, or inconvenience anybody. I had heard the phrase ‘mama lion’ before having children, and assumed that once I had kids I would become all assertive, happy to fight tooth and claw to get something important for my child, but that hasn’t happened to me at all. I am very much a Mama Mouse, and often I feel terribly guilty about that. How can I let my anxieties come above doing the best thing for my child, but often I just can’t control it.
Once it became clear to me that my daughter was quite an introvert, and quite anxious also, I worried that she would suffer the same fate as me. However I’m starting to think she won’t at all. Her anxieties are troubling for her, but seem to revolve around sensory issues such as loud noises, and issues with routine; changes to it and unexpected events. She doesn’t really seem to care what other people think of her in any way! It was World Book Day this week, and she decided she wanted to go dressed as Doctor Pig, one of the lesser known literary figures, a little pig called Finley who wants to be a doctor. I was quite happy with her choice as it was at least an easy costume for us to arrange. When we got to the playground that morning, and realised almost every other girl in her class was a Disney princess I started to feel really anxious for her that she would feel terribly self conscious that she was different. Afterwards I asked her what she thought of her costume. She said she’d really liked it. I asked if she felt awkward because she was the only girl who wasn’t a princess? She looked at me a bit puzzled and said “No, why would I want to be a princess when I could be a doctor?!” I felt a little bit proud of her at that point, and just so relieved, that so far at least, my strange and individual little girl seems so sure of who she is, and doesn’t really spend time worrying about how others perceive her, or how she fits into this world. I really hope she manages to retain this, and particularly hope that I don’t pass my anxieties down to her.
It seems that my little boy is developing into the most confident and most extroverted of us all. I have a feeling that as he grows up that may present me with a whole lot of new challenges. Let’s hope they bring me as many positive lessons as my daughter has already managed to!