I have a secret.
It’s not Lifetime Movie of the Week caliber. It’s not even a “break apart your marriage and family” type of skeleton in the closet.
But it is my secret.
It’s more like the thing you reveal at cocktail parties when someone poses the question: “What is a fact no one knows about you?”
I’m an introvert.
I’m not a traditional introvert; I don’t need alone time. In fact, I tend to get antsy if I stay home all day by myself.
I don’t need down time to recharge my batteries either.
What I really don’t like is social functions and socializing; I have a form of social anxiety. You know, “the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.”
Are you surprised? I appear to be a woman who loves to party and socialize. But I don’t. At least not until I’m comfortable in a situation. I think there are more of us out there than people know.
According to one study from Dr. Bella DePaulo mentioned in the book “How to Work a Room a Guide to Successfully Managing the Mingling,” 75% of people have social anxiety when they are at a party with strangers. That means that 3 out of 4 of us don’t like the most common situations in the military-forced fun.
Growing up I was the biggest extrovert you would know. I was a talker and I danced everywhere it was possible; in the dance studio as well as in the halls at school. I didn’t sit still. Strike that. I COULDN’T sit still. I had a desire to be moving and to be the center of everyone’s world.
When I had children all that changed. I didn’t want to be the center of attention or the life of the party. I wanted to stay home and be with my family. I also found that I preferred to listen rather than speak. Those two qualities combined to change my temperament and my desire to socialize.
This turned out to be bad timing. As I began to feel more and more at ease with my cocoon, my kids got older and I was running out of alibis to not go to social functions with my service member. I excused myself from First Fridays. I even canceled my invite to spouse functions.
When my husband was selected to command a squadron, I bowed out from Airman Leadership School graduations and I passed on chief induction ceremonies. I used the kids as an excuse. They always needed me for something – whether it was a school activity, band competition or sport. One parent had to be there, right? That was why I was a stay at home parent who worked part-time. I believed that my children should have one constant in their lives. The military couldn’t offer us that stability so I provided it.
A few years later, my spouse was given a group. A group! What a great day and affirmation of his abilities! But what a sad day for me. We aren’t required to do anything but the pressure is still there. I didn’t succumb to peer pressure instead I decided to take part in this facet of his life.
My first event as a second-time C.O.W. (Commanding Officer’s Wife) was a Patch On event. This is when the students who have gone through training are assigned to their new operations squadrons. My first touch of anxiety came when they said I had a seat in the front of the auditorium and would be introduced. What?? This was not what I expected.
I got through that day with the help of the other squadron commanders who made me feel at home. That experience gave me the confidence to continue. It also helped that now I knew a few people.
A squadron picnic came next. Talk about anxiety inducing. I was hoping that my spouse would be there with me so that I could tag along with him.
He’s my security blanket, after all. But of course, he ran late and so I went solo.
I found one person I knew and talked with them but that can only last so long. I found my way to the buffet line and stayed quiet. Slowly people came up to me and started conversations. It’s still not easy when you have little to say. After I ate, I left defeated and tired.
Each new activity started the same way: find someone to latch onto and hope more people you know arrive so you can talk to them and not feel foolish.
I hated meeting new people. As soon as the introduction was over, I would forget their names and faces. It was embarrassing when I would say, “Nice to meet you” to someone I’d already been introduced to. My social anxiety didn’t lessen.
Eventually these functions that I forced myself to attend got easier. The more often I saw people, the easier it was to relax around them. I became my outgoing self.
I learned to say, “How are you?” instead of “Nice to meet you.” And then I played off the fact that I meet so many people, it takes a few times before I remember. Everyone understood and I think they appreciated my candor. I can say that after two years “in the job,” I felt more at ease but not completely comfortable.
New anxiety begins at every new base but I need to look back on my time at the group level and remind myself that I can do it! Practice is supposed to make perfect but I’m striving for contentment; contentment with my mental well-being and myself.