But, telephone or not, neutral/positive or not, it was a meeting. And meetings? Oh God, they bring out the worst of my social anxiety.
Now, I’m not talking about parties and conferences. Those get me squirmy, but at a party, at a conference, I can find a job. I’m the random parent who co-opted the cake table and started offering stranger children juice. I’m the person who snatched all the pamphlets so I could hand them out. Because bewilderment from others is so much less painful than the anguish of not knowing when to speak or what my lines are.
And I’m not talking about presentations. With a script, I can pull those off. I don’t enjoy classroom teaching. I talk too much, and mine is an interactive subject. I don’t know how to seal my lips. When I taught in person, I left every day feeling a weight lifted because I didn’t have to talk anymore. (Only by then, I was so wound up, I couldn’t stop.) Still, I can come in with notes and cover the right material. It is a manageable thing for me.
But at a meeting, I can only play guessing games. Often, I’m expected to chime in. Or maybe I’m expected not to chime in. Maybe you want me to say, “OK” at two minute intervals to show I haven’t fallen asleep. Perhaps, the whole purpose of the meeting is to impart information, and I just need to shut up and listen. Only somehow, I missed that memo. (I always missed that memo).
I’m the person in the back of the room who just asked the most inane question and won’t let the topic go, because I’m missing all the other people’s cues that I’m off track. I panic in meetings, and I don’t know what will fly out of my mouth. Or, online, off my fingertips. (Because I type way too fast, and “enter” is far to conveniently reached.)
My employers would like me to attend online meetings once a month. You’d think this would be easy. I don’t have to say anything, there’s nothing face to face, and nobody is looking at me. But I cannot be quiet in a meeting. Do you feel the extraordinary pressure of silence as strongly as I do? I’d rather volunteer myself for a thousand activities than endure a full minute of uncertainty. Should I say something here? I don’t know. Is she pausing for questions? Why isn’t anybody asking a question? Should I ask a question?
The very thought made me break down and cry. I can’t do meetings because I can’t tell the important information apart from the unimportant, and silence makes my skin crawl. We figured out a workaround for the present, though I’m honestly not sure how long it will be practical and possible. And I do not know what I’m going to do if I have to attend a meeting once a month. I attend meetings as rarely as possible, because I lose days of productivity to the emotional recovery.
Of course, it didn’t help that I was going straight out of the phone-in performance review and into a face-to-face meeting with the kids’ principal for something she swore wouldn’t be a big deal. I knew it would be. I was right. And even if it hadn’t been, it was a meeting. A second meeting in one day. It was one I’d had no chance to prepare for, even though I’d had all weekend to dread it. One where absolutely anything could have come up. And oh baby did it, for our older child. (I’ll send details privately to the interested.)
It’s Wednesday. You’d think I’d be better by now. But I’m not.
In fact, if you need me, I’ll be gibbering over here in my corner with my laptop, grading papers and trying to prioritize my notes. Send anti-anxiety medications and strong alcohol please and thank you.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.