Ian had a thing yesterday (he’s here visiting me) with his old colleagues at Game Informer (GI) for their 300th issue of their print magazine. He asked if I wanted to go, and I said sure both because I wanted to meet the GI crew and to support him. Immediately, I was assaulted with anxious thoughts about the event. Would I look stupid? Would I sound stupid? Would I embarrass him in front of his old colleagues? Objectively, I know I’m decent at small talk and mingling with people. In my brain, however, I’m THE WORST PERSON EVER AND NO ONE WILL LIKE ME. It hearkens back to my days as a kid–fat, friendless, and endlessly picked on. It’s hard to escape that mentality, even forty years later.
Another problem is that I don’t interact with people I don’t know very often in my real life. Online? Sure. But it’s much easier to curate an interaction online and to end it when you’re done with it. It’s not as easy to do in real life, and I’m not good at gracefully extracting myself from uncomfortable situations. I’m the one who gets cornered at the party and has someone talk her ear off for hours about a problem I could care less about. I’m also the person who has cashiers pouring their hearts out to for no apparent reason, and yes, I’m working on curbing this behavior in others. I know part of it is my own fault for asking follow-up questions, but it’s ingrained in my head. Also, eye contact. It feels rude not to look someone in the eyes, though.
Anyway, my point is, I was fretting about this shindig for the whole week leading up to it. Not constantly (which is an improvement), but once in a while, I’d think, “Oh shit. I’m going to make a fool of myself.” What helped was to shove it in the back of my head whenever the thought popped up. I haven’t been able to do that successfully before, but I was able to this time. Then, the day of the shindig, I started telling myself things such as, “You aren’t that big of a deal. No one is going to give a shit about you.” I know that sounds horribly negative, but it’s not in this case. One of the problems with having a low self-esteem is that, paradoxically, you think too much of yourself. What I mean is that I simultaneously think I’m the worst person in the world (which is low self-esteem) and that everyone must be thinking of how horrible I am (which is egotistical if you really think about it). When I was at my lowest, I thought everyone was constantly thinking about what a terrible person I am. The minute they met me, they’d say it to themselves, and they wouldn’t let up until our interaction ended.
This is pure horseshit, of course, First of all, most people care more about themselves than they do about you. I’m worrying about how I’m coming across to others, and they’re probably doing the same to a greater or lesser extent. Even if they aren’t, they’re not laser-like focused on me, waiting to pounce on any misstep I may have.
The other thing I told myself is that if I get stuck, just get the other person to talk about themselves. This is something I’m really good at, and I can do it for hours on end if need be. It works ninety-nine out of one hundred times because as I said, most people hunger to talk about themselves, and for the last one out of a hundred, well, that’s a bit more difficult. I have only run into that person once or twice, however, so it’s not a big deal.
I was still nervous before going to the event, in part because I never know how to dress. I don’t wear jeans, and most of my t-shirts/hoodies are pretty grungy. I usually default to a nice pair of black patterned pants my mom bought me from Taiwan and one of a few shirts, also from Taiwan. I have no shoes, though, so I can either wear boots or tennis shoes. I chose the latter because the shindig was at a bar (which I just found out before we left), but I should have chosen the former because the snow was all melting which meant puddles.
The actual event was fun. The GI crew are really nice people, and they were easy to talk to. It helped that the event was at a bar, so there really wasn’t much opportunity for talking one-on-one. Ian and I casually moved about and socialized, talking to most of the GI folk who were there. It was strange to be talking to people I’d only seen in video before, but they were all pretty chill and laid-back, plus most had a sarcastic sense of humor which is my jam. I also could say ‘shit’ without feeling uncomfortable, which was a bonus.
It was a really Minnesotan type of affair. I can’t explain exactly what I mean by that, but I felt comfortable interacting with people. It was really great to finally meet the gang and to find out that they’re all cool people. I tried to be chill myself, and I think I kept it cool for the most part. I didn’t want to gush because I know how uncomfortable that can be from my performing days, but I also wanted to let them know I appreciated the work they’ve done and their product, for the lack of a better word.
We stayed for roughly three hours, which was about two hours more than I had planned on staying. One of the ways I made it easier on myself was I told Ian I would go, but I reserved the right to leave whenever I wanted. Ian took a key so he could call an Uber if need be. I also reminded myself that I could do almost anything for a few hours, and that helped as well.
I would like to be able to tell you that I went and didn’t felt anxious or uncomfortable at all. This is not true, however. I still felt anxious, worried that I was saying something stupid, but I was able to keep it in check. I didn’t trip over my feet or blurt something weird out in an uncomfortable moment. I was able to mostly stay in the present, and I was even able to cut a weird conversation relatively short, though I wish I had ended it earlier.
I think part of my prep for situations like this is to accept that my anxiety around going to such events isn’t going to go away. It’s the same with how I have a hard time getting ready to leave the house, even if it’s for something I want to do. I have to talk myself into it, and one of the key things I tell myself is that I can leave whenever I want to. There have been times in my past when this wasn’t true, so it’s important that I affirm it for myself now.
Last night’s event was a success, not only because I had fun, but because I was able to give myself the emotional support I needed in order to attend. I chalk this one up in the win column, and hopefully, it’ll help me cope as well with these kind of events in the future.