I’m just going to come right out with it: I have major social anxiety. I’ve always been shy and a tad introverted, but my issues go well beyond that. I can get sweaty over the mere thought of meeting new people. When I get home from grocery shopping or running errands, I am completely tapped out of social energy–and don’t get me started on small talk.
My family and closest friends could tell you that I stress out for days in advance of even the most mundane events just to have the courage to speak to people I don’t know. Sometimes, I get anxious over family get-togethers. I worry I won’t have anything to say. Or I’ll say too much. Or a million other scenarios that will, frankly, put me right over the edge into a panic attack.
You might find it surprising to learn, then, that I have a background in Theatre. Well, maybe not that surprised. Lots of actors express the same thing. If you put the words in my mouth, I have no trouble spitting them back out in front of hundreds or thousands of people. But the thought of making impromptu small talk with a stranger jacks my heart rate like no other activity in the world.
Many of the people I encounter on a daily basis have no clue that I’m so awkward. That comes from years and years of practice; the theatre training helps. Contact with people in the real world will always get my blood pumping, but I’ve developed coping skills to manage it. Mostly, I just copy what I see other people doing. It usually works out okay.
Enter social media. It’s my latest social anxiety craze.
When it comes to social media, I am the lurker. I am the one who will like your pictures but rarely finds the nerve to say, “Looks like you’re having a blast on vacation!”. I can retweet and share and pin all day long, but ask me to comment? No, my friend. That’s going too far.
The whole idea of being actively social on the internet paralyzes me. What if I say something someone doesn’t like? What if I don’t use the right *lingo* for the site I’m on? Was it lame that I used the little *s around the word “lingo”? See? Now I’m even anxious on my own blog! ARGH! Who are all these magical, mystical people of YouTube and Instagram fame, and where do they get their nerve to share, share, share with the world?!
As you can see, I’m still working through my fears.
When I began researching how to promote my book, I knew I would have to sink or swim when it comes to social media. Lurker that I am, I’ve long followed a vast array of indie authors and book groups–but I still find it hard to voice my own thoughts and ask my own questions. I sit in the back of the class, diligently taking notes and hoping others will ask the things I want to know.
That won’t cut it if I want to meet new people and get my books in the hands of their intended (potentially enormous) audience.
So, I sat down to research how to be social. (Yes. I had to research how to talk to people online. I’m really that person.) I’m still researching. I’ll never stop. Because the internet is forever. In real life, I might say something silly and personally regret it, but the likelihood of someone else bringing it back up later is pretty slim. That’s not necessarily the case when it comes to the internet.
My research returned more results than I knew what to do with. I found plenty of Social Media for Dummies-types of guides. What I haven’t yet discovered is a comprehensive guide to social media for the socially awkward or socially anxious.
So, I’m blazing my own trail here. I’m hopeful that one day I’ll learn to fit in enough online that people will be surprised to learn that I have social media anxiety, but I fully expect to say and do some things I’ll regret along the path to that height of enlightenment. I wish I felt fearless about that fact. I’ve seen what happens in forums–I’m aware that admitting weakness on the internet can instantly chum the waters.
All I’m saying is: if you see me out there bumbling around on Twitter and stumbling my way through Facebook posts, please be nice. I promise I’m a pretty cool person, once you get to know me.