A question I get asked is, “What is it like to suffer from social anxiety?” Actually, I cleaned up the question a bit, but that’s the essence. I could counter with, “What’s it like not to suffer from social anxiety?” Ever since I can remember, I’ve had this problem. When I was in therapy a few years ago, I wrote an abstract story to describe what I feel like (The Traveler and the Little Girl). What? Too trippy? Let me try and explain a little clearer.
* In recognition of May’s Mental Awareness Month I am posting two of the blogs I wrote describing Social Anxiety. I encourage anyone who needs help to seek it.*
The tired old traveler looked down at the invitation he held in his hands and stared at the brilliant white paper with gold ink. He looked at the address on the invitation and slowly looked at the building in front of him and his eyes rested on the corresponding numbers from the invitation. Fate had brought him back once again. He lifted his hat with his right hand and ran his left hand through his silver hair and tugged on his ponytail. He now came more out of a sense of gratitude. All that he had acquired in his life, had come from attending the party in times past.
His deep blue eyes caught a slight movement to the right of the building and he glanced in that direction. To his surprise, he saw a small wooden door. Not as flashy as the main door, it was no surprise he had never noticed it before. Did that lead to the party also? Why would two doors to the same place be so near each other and so different? His curiosity got the better of him and he walked slowly to the small door. As he approached, he glanced at the large flashy door just yards away and knocked on the small brown door.
There was no answer so he knocked again. Still no answer. Curiosity leading him along, he put his hand on the knob and turned it. He squinted as the door opened to a small white room. There wasn’t much in the room, except a large window in the wall opposite him, a bright yellow door in the wall to his left, and a swing hanging down from the ceiling. To his surprise, a little girl dressed in white was sitting with her knees tucked under her chin in the far corner.
“Excuse me,” said the traveler feeling a little embarrassed that he intruded upon her solitude. “I didn’t know anybody was here.” He started to back out but stopped when he noticed the girl didn’t look at him. “Do you live here?” he asked unwilling to leave such a young girl by herself.
The girl glanced at him but did not speak. He could feel her eyes studying him. “I’m sorry,” she said almost surprising herself more than the traveler. “I was surprised when you used my language. It’s been awhile since anyone has spoken to me. Sometimes I forget what words sound like.”
“What is this place?” he asked looking at the nearly bare room. “Surely, no one lives here?”
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
“You don’t live here, do you?” he asked.
She continued to study him for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. I’ve spent an awful long time here though. I can’t remember where I live now, if I even have a home,” sadness colored her speech a little and made her voice squeak.
“Who built this place?” the traveler asked.
Her eyes darted around the room before falling upon him again. “I don’t know.”
He put his hand to his mouth and pulled it down over his mouth, “What are you doing here?”
She looked down and back at him. “Do you really want to know?”
He nodded his head slowly.
“When I was a little girl…” she started slowly.
The traveler had to cover his mouth with his hand quickly so she wouldn’t see him chuckle. “Must have been a long time ago.”
She looked at him. “My mother taught me to never to walk through a yellow door. Yellow doors are bad luck and should always be avoided.”
He nodded his head even though it was the most absurd thing he had ever heard. “But what about this door?” he asked pointing behind him to the brown door he had come in. “Why can’t you go out this door?”
“Try it.” she said and waited as he searched the door.
“There’s no handle.”
“And no way to open the door once it closes. The people who have passed through this room have all tried.” She saw him glance at the window. “They’ve tried breaking the window, too.”
He sighed as he surveyed the room. “And you won’t go through that door, just to get out?”
“Out?” she asked as she opened a pocket in her dress pulled out a white paper with yellowed edges.
The traveler recognized it at once as it looked like the one he had in his pocket. But he took the outstretched one anyway and looked at it. The corners were a bit torn and it seemed to roll naturally in a certain way. He also noticed little round blurred spots and wondered if they had been caused by teardrops.
He looked at her waiting for more of her explanation.
“I’m invited to the party.”
“The party?” he asked. “The party is right through the door, you are so close.”
She squinted her eyes at him. “I know. I lean against the wall and listen to the music and try to imagine what’s going on.”
The traveler listened for a moment. “That’s ridiculous, nothing will happen to you by going through a yellow door. Come,” he held his hand out to her. “Take my hand and I will show you. We will enter together.”
She looked at his hand and stepped back to the far wall. “You’re not the first to say that.” She motioned to his hand, “Or to offer that. But it’s no use. Once, someone even opened the door for me and I stood on the threshold, but I could not make myself take that step.”
He continued to hold out his hand before slowly dropping it to his side. “So what?” he asked, “you plan on staying in this room forever?”
Her look became agitated and she slid down the wall and sat in the same place he had found her. “I’ve tried everything. I banged on the door, but the music is always too loud. I’ve waited by the brown door for what feels like forever and nobody comes in. Nobody seems to come in until I’ve given up. I didn’t even realize you were in here until after the door had closed. “I’ve even offered people this,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small box and carefully opened it. Inside was a beautiful white pearl. “If they would only remember me after they left the party and open the brown door before they left. But a lot of people must have pearls, because no one has remembered to come back for me. All of them tried to get me to come, but I can’t do it. So, they eventually leave me.”
“So you stay here alone?” the traveler asked.
Her eyes got big. “Not exactly alone. I have found a talking spider who likes to sit on my shoulder. Mostly he just tells me how bad yellow doors are.”
“That’s why I’m glad there’s a swing. It seems that when he gets too loud for me and I start to get a headache, I can swing and calm him down some so that he’ll quit talking to me for awhile.”
The old man squinted his eyes studying her shoulder and sure enough, saw a little black dot on her white gown. “It seems to me that you have to get rid of that spider all together.”
She covered her shoulder with her opposite hand to protect the spider. “But he is my only friend.”
“You don’t need a spider,” the old man started to walk toward her.
“I do, I do need him. He is the only one I can rely on.”
The traveler stopped and backed toward the door as he did so he could see her relax. “I want to help, how can I help?”
The little girl looked down. “After you leave the party, come back and open the brown door for me.”
He nodded his head. “I promise.” His eyes followed her glance to the yellow door. “I guess it’s time for me to leave.” It only took two steps to reach the yellow door, he looked back at the girl just as her eyes began to tear up.
“Don’t forget me,” she cried out.
“Never,” he said softly and opened the door. The party was in full swing and as he shut the door behind him, he soon forgot all about the little girl and his promise. Just as the little girl expected he would.