To Be Shy, Or Not To Be Shy…

Have you ever asked someone to describe you? I’ll bet their assessment would vary greatly from your own. We don’t see ourselves the way others do. Sometimes it’s nice to hear what people say. We can understand so much more about ourselves by listening to the reflections of what we show to the world.

I recently had someone tell me they love the way I’m always so happy and bubbly.

Someone else told me not long ago that I have the happiest, most outgoing personality.

It’s funny….that’s not what I feel inside most times. Perhaps I over-compensate. Maybe I work so hard at being happy  on the outside to overcome the melancholy I feel inside. Or, to mask it – hide from it. Or maybe I am actually happy and the moments I don’t feel it are the times when I let my head interfere with my heart and soul. At least the world gets the happy part.

After reading my post “When You Go Home Again,” someone said to me “I didn’t know you were shy.” I can see how that would baffle someone. I am typically the one with the quick, sarcastic comment or loving jab for people I’m with. I’m the one in the group who will speak up (and possibly take over) when direction seems to have lost its way. Truthfully, I would easily, willfully stand in front of 200 strangers to give a lecture or teach a class. And I have. But a small, intimate, social gathering of acquaintances or slightly-known colleagues? That’s where I crave my corner of solitude (like Superman’s Fortress only smaller and less icy).

After my high school reunion, I had a work reunion a week later. I was employed by a large manufacturing company that sadly, slowly closed down. We were a big family and it was a wonderful time to see so many familiar faces whom I’d missed. Office workers, warehouse workers, designers and IT staff all reminiscing about the old days. But, like the high school reunion, I found my people and stayed in my corner. I watched people milling around, talking and laughing. I smiled from the safety of my corner. I strained my shadowed memories for names to put with faces. Some people had been eclipsed until I saw them – then a rush of memories came flooding in. Familiar feels safe. It was a lovely evening, in which I only half participated. There is already another similar event in the works – or at least the desire for one. Perhaps at that one I will be more bold. Or, perhaps, I’ll find my people and my corner and I’ll watch.

This is my world. The life of the party who fears being the center of attention. Everybody’s friend who thrives in solitude. Is it possible I am both shy and outgoing at the same time? After writing about my reunions, I am seeing other parts of my life a little differently. Which is really why I write – this blog is my catharsis and edification. This is how I tear my life down and build it back up, how I try to put the mismatched pieces together into something that makes a little sense. Through this process, I realized that I present as mostly happy and outgoing to the world. Whether it’s genuine or forced doesn’t much matter. It’s me. If dancing and singing like a fool in my car brings a smile to a strangers face – I’ll keep doing it. If making Bailey’s fudge makes co-workers a little happier, I’ll make it again. And, if I do these things while my heart is breaking, or while I would much rather be in my safe corner – well, then aren’t we all benefiting? If I can get out of my own head and sorrow and discomfort long enough to make someone else smile, it’s a win-win, right?

Balancing the incongruity of inward and outward feelings can be a challenge. In my instability, I have sometimes let people have too much power in my life. I’ve given them the power to take both my inward joy and my outward happiness. We all have times we feel less than joyful on the inside. It’s part of life – of learning and of growing. But we work to keep an outward persona of smiles – our mask. It helps others feel at ease and helps us to return to more harmonious feelings quicker – to find our joy again. I feel so angry when I realize I have allowed someone to steal that mask from me. When I trust someone – which doesn’t come easily for me – I let go of my masks. I hand them over to this soul in whom I have confided. I believe they will care for my masks, and care for me. When that proves to be untrue, as it always does, I often run away. I don’t leave easily, but I put a cavernous distance between us. In my haste to flee, I forget to gather my masks. I am left vulnerable. Exposed. The sadness that accompanies me in my quiet days and somber nights has nowhere to hide. She is there for all the world to see.

Perhaps that’s what hurts me so much when I am struggling through a painful transition – that I let someone have enough power to steal this from me. My heart’s been broken before. I walk around with it pinned to my chest – not even on my sleeve – right out there in the open for everyone to punch. And, it’s been punched. So, it’s battered and bruised, but we go on together. Sure, a broken heart needs time to heal, but when I’ve let someone break my spirit – that’s when I get stuck in the darkness. When I lose the ability to put on that outward mask of happiness I am lost to my very core. Simple things become monumental tasks. I can’t get out of bed. Cooking and cleaning are too much to bear. Music becomes offensive to my ears. That’s when I know I’ve truly been broken – when music no longer heals me. As much as being broken by someone I trusted hurts, knowing I gave away the key to my joy hurts more. It’s all I really have to claim as my own.

After all these years you’d think I’d have learned how to better care for these things. But, sadly – no. Maybe I’m getting a little better. Or a little more selective. I still give power to the wrong people – but not to as many people. Is that better? Not exactly. But I’m learning. Baby steps, after all.


For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.

Othello, Act 1, Scene 1 (William Shakespeare)

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