I’ve never been a particularly social person, so joining groups wasn’t something I was used to see myself doing. New places and new people never seemed like a mix I could be okay with, it just made me anxious. However, about three (or so) months ago, I was encouraged to join one of many groups that could work to help me get into work. This didn’t seem like much of an issue – surprising, considering my history with stressing over things, but I suppose I went into my default setting of not seeming bothered but worrying at some unknown unconscious level. When the first Monday of this new club caught up to me, I panicked – the usual symptoms sprang up (feeling nauseous, stomach aching, perhaps even feeling a bit shaky), my body begging me to not go, as it had successfully done so many times while I was in school. I had to slow down and breathe, reminding myself I had no real reason to worry, and that I wasn’t in school anymore; I’m an adult, and I needed to face this small part of my world like it. I pushed myself to leave the house, after spending a few minutes checking and re-checking that I had my house key and was fully ready, before listening to the loud ‘thud’ my front door makes when it closes properly. Another mental check that I was totally ready occurred, before I set off, hurrying to the other side of the city, feeling ill the whole way, but pushing onward regardless.
I reached the steps of city hall, finding myself seemingly alone, as I was there at least fifteen minutes early. I sat on a cold step and waited – using my phone for the distraction I so desperately needed. The time ticked on, and I watched as a small group steadily formed over the road from me; unsure of who I would be with for the morning, I had no idea whether this group was a huddle of friends, some other group, or those I was waiting for; I was too socially anxious to get up and approach them, so on the step I stayed.
Around the time the meeting had been set up for, the man leading the group showed up with a few other young people, and the group from over the road joined us. We shuffled in, and were guided to a large meeting room. Another wave of unease hit me as I noticed the microphones; I’ve never been great with public speaking, trying to steer away from it as much as possible. I played the game of trying to sit down with at least one space either side of me, not wanting to sit beside a stranger even though I was in a room of them. There were several of us in the room, including a few adults leading the group, and a couple of guys who would feature as that week’s guest speakers. First, we listened to them talk about their group, before we had post-it notes passed to us, on which we were meant to write something we were good at. My brain froze as that dreaded question came up – stressing more over it when we were called to get up and stick the note to someone’s back, even though I had yet to think of anything I’m good at. I hovered awkwardly as everyone else, who clearly knew each other, stuck notes to one another; I was eventually coaxed into mentioning that I’m (kinda) good at video games, and stuck the note to the main guest speaker. We sat down again, and wrote on our passed note (or in my case, a completely new note, as no one had approached me, partly because we were in an unevenly numbered group) something we needed to improve on. Mostly, the answers centred around similar issues, like lack of confidence or motivation. We got back up again, standing in a circle, while each picture we were given was explained as a different activity the guests’ group had led.
Once the guests were finished, the dread came back, as I stared at my microphone and continued silently praying they weren’t going to ask me to talk about myself (one of my least favourite questions of all). Being asked to stay back after the session by the only guy I recognised put me on edge for the remainder of my time there, but it turned out he just wanted to arrange a meeting with me for a later date.
You can bet that as soon as we were told we were allowed to leave, I hesitated awkwardly, then bolted back across the city to get to my volunteering job – relief flooding over me as I put increasingly more distance between myself and city hall.
The next week’s meeting saw me staying as far from the group huddled outside our new destination as possible, and continuing to worry, fearing they would ask me what I’d been up to since last seeing them; they didn’t ask, and I got to continue being silent for the whole time I was there.
I’ve been going for many weeks, and have slipped into a state of comfort while being in this group of mostly familiar faces. Heck, I’ve even had a few say ‘Hello’ to me, when they didn’t even used to look at me. Since then, I’ve chatted and laughed with them, and have come to like attending the group – something I certainly wouldn’t have expected back in school, or when I attended my first Monday club session.