CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Have you ever witnessed something that shocked you to your core? I’m not talking about something as devastating as seeing people or animals injured or dead. No, nothing like that. I’m talking about seeing someone do something that alters your perception of that person. Specifically, seeing a respectable and upstanding member of your community exit a Thai massage parlour and immediately run across the road to a boutique florist. Seriously, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground and plug my eyeballs back into their sockets after seeing that!

“Mummy, what’s wrong?” My three-year-old son had asked me. “Mummy, what are you looking at? Why are your eyes all funny?”

My general practitioner had just exited THE DOOR. A sordid looking door nestled between two family friendly establishments in a community strip of shops. This door is the entrance to a dank and dark stairwell that leads to a Thai massage.

Have you ever wondered why the windows are always covered? What are they hiding? And what’s with the flashing neon open signs? Are they really a front for nefarious activities?

I have only been for a Thai massage once. It was a result of a cheap Groupon deal for two, an eager girlfriend and my temporary loss of sanity. It involved a dusty stairwell, a few wary female masseuses, a notable lack of English, questionable stains on the carpet and a whole heap of miming about no-go zones. There was not enough soap in the world that could have scrubbed the icky sensations left on my skin from that experience.

Not so long ago, I was sitting in my car waiting for my pizza order. I just so happened to be parked near a Thai massage parlour. In the space of twenty minutes, a tradie had plonked his ute in front of me, gone for his “massage” and left, all before my pizza was even ready for collection! Now tell me, what bloody massage is that quick? You can bet I gave him my biggest judgemental glare.

I have my suspicions. Yes, my doctor could be innocent. He might have needed a Thai massage and the only convenient time was during his lunch break. By chance, it may have been his wife’s birthday or their anniversary and after his “session”, it was convenient to stop by the florist on the way back to his clinic. He probably buys the world’s biggest bouquet of red roses on every special occasion, and this time was no different. Maybe it’s just a series of unrelated events. Though, I find it hard to believe because his actions suggest a man with a guilty conscience.

You can probably sense my strong dislike for these businesses. If you tell me that you frequent these places for legitimate massages, chances are I will automatically think the worst of you. And if you bring me flowers for no apparent reason, I might judge you on the size of the bouquet… the larger the bunch, the bigger the guilt.

Am I jumping to conclusions too readily? Is my perception coloured by my experience and pessimism? Maybe the reason people aren’t as affected by the sight of men coming and going from massage parlours is because mostly, nothing untoward happens. Maybe people do simply go for massages because they are effective and cheaper than treatment with a physio. And your partner randomly giving you flowers is sweet and doesn’t equate to any misdeeds. Am I too judgmental and see the worst in people too quickly. Could I have delicate sensibilities?

Whatever. The bottom line is this… If I ever get random flowers from my husband, there will be hell to pay. Oh, and we’re getting a new doctor.

Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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THE DREADED SCHOOL RUN

When my daughter started primary school, I had a master plan. Despite suffering from crippling social anxiety, I was going to shove my insecurities deep down where the sun doesn’t shine, pull up my big girl pants, and be sociable. I was going to make an effort to introduce myself to other mums because I understood that I was the gateway to my daughter’s social life, and I wanted her to have positive experiences. I didn’t want people to see me as the awkward and antisocial person that seldom spoke and therefore, unfairly judge my daughter.

So in the first year of school, I tried getting to know people. I soon realised that there were many cliques and not all were welcoming, not everyone was friendly and some would outright ignore me. It surprised me to see strangers becoming fast friends within such a short space of time. People were enjoying family holidays together, picking up each other’s children and organising play dates.

All the while, I was struggling to get an invite to the end of term park gatherings and classroom parent dinners. Most of the time, I was invited as an afterthought or at least, that was my perception. I couldn’t even secure play dates successfully, bar one mum who took me under her wing.

I would watch with envy and disappointment as groups of mums would leave for coffee dates after the school runs. Why didn’t they invite me? These situations would evoke powerful emotional childhood memories of insecurities and inadequacies, making me feel like that outcast once more. Suffice to say, I spent a lot of those early days hidden in the car until the very last minute.

Fortunately, I did make a few good friends that year, and I’ve clung on to them since (You know who you are – thank you!). School runs can be intimidating, especially for someone who suffers from social anxiety. On days where I don’t find a friendly face, I feel anxious waiting around. Small talk is a mammoth task for me, especially with people I’m not comfortable with or know well.

My husband doesn’t understand my irrational fears with the dreaded school runs. How could he though? He doesn’t have social anxiety. He wasn’t an outcast as a child in school. He is confident in his own skin and has his tight-knit group of childhood friends. He has no problem with small talk or meeting new people, even though he is an introvert by nature.

I, however, allow this debilitating mental illness to dictate almost every social interaction that I have. It has become a stranglehold that keeps me from meeting new people, forming friendships and sometimes even keeping friendships. I’m plagued by insecurities and anxiety over forming connections but at the same time, I doubt why anyone would want to be my friend. I’m not interesting, I don’t have hobbies, I’m not well-travelled, and I’m not worldly or cultured.

My husband made an observation that gave me pause. “Why is it that you think so little of yourself? Why wouldn’t people want to be your friend? Why don’t you ask to join them for coffee?”

Upon reflection, I surmised that I am simply scared. I’m scared to put myself out there, to allow myself to be vulnerable and be judged. What if I’m found to be wanting? What if people don’t like me? What if I let myself hope for friendship and be sorely disappointed? What if I’m rejected for being me?

Recently, I met a wonderful and kind school mum, by chance, at one of my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. It was only upon getting to know her that I realised that I am not alone in my feelings, that perhaps there are many of us that have our own doubts and insecurities. She made me understand that having meaningful social connections and friendships are important, and that it is worth pursuing, particularly for people who suffer from social anxiety.

This year, I haven’t hidden in my car or pretended to be on the phone as much and I’ve continued to work on my small talk and forming connections with other people. I would like to think that my social anxiety has lessened in intensity and that my communication skills have improved.

But as we creep towards a new school year, where undoubtedly there will be new faces to meet and new connections to make, I know my anxiety levels will rise and there will be an overwhelming urge to hide in the car.

Does it get easier? Can someone overcome social anxiety? I really hope so because I don’t like the idea of hiding in the car for the next decade.

Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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