Being shy is like being in prison. Not a literal one of course. Instead, imagine for a moment a prison in which the prisoner and the gaoler are the same person. And imagine that they argue. A lot. It doesn’t matter how much the prisoner begs and pleads; the gaoler has an answer for everything. “But I really feel very strongly about this issue, and if I don’t stand up and say something right now then who will?” the prisoner will whine. The gaoler, her body stooped with the weight of self loathing, a perfect picture of paranoia, is having none of it.
“I’m having none of it!” she will cry. “Remember the last time? Remember how embarrassing it was for us? Don’t do it! Just don’t do it! Right, here’s a compromise, how about you just imagine that you do it. In many ways imagining doing it is far more satisfying than actually doing it. Think of the applause! The adoration! Remember, imagination is our safe place!” The prisoner is defeated. Yet again.
“You’re right I suppose…” she mutters as she slinks further back into the darkness of her cage.
You know when you speak to a shy person, and they respond by standing rooted to the spot, face twisted in fear? Well, their having the exact same conversation with themselves, their cheeks gradually reddening, as you stare back at them in mild bemusement. Shyness is crippling. Countless times I have wanted to grab people by the shoulders and scream, “I’m not like this. I mean, really, this isn’t me! If you really knew me, you’d see a nice normal girl, a girl that can muster more than a nervous giggle! A girl with opinions, thoughts and dreams, but she’s in prison! I keep myself in prison! Help me escape! Help meee…”
I’ve never actually done this. I would probably end up in a real prison. It does nothing for the “nice, normal girl” image that I’m trying to get across. The trouble is I have no other way to communicate my problem. Except for maybe a badge. “Hi! I’m shy! Please don’t speak loudly or look at me directly in the face…thanks!” It’s hard to write all of that on a badge though. I’ve tried.
Being shy is to trap one’s self into a cycle. The shyer you are, the further you creep into yourself and thus the shyer you become until carrying around a cardboard box on your back so that you can shrink into it like a snail at times of distress becomes a much played-out fantasy. Of course you wouldn’t really do that. The snag is, it would cause too much attention. You see a true shy person will use every ounce of energy they have on appearing not to be shy. If we were open about our shyness, people would look at us differently and, really, we don’t want to be looked at full stop. The true shy person is a master of all disguises, blending in as much as possible. We look the same as you, we act the same as you, but we are not the same as you. For every casual conversation there are the belongings covered in nail marks from where your fingers tried to bury themselves in. For every coffee date there is a napkin, a straw, a plastic spoon, that is left mangled and twisted in your anxious hands. And for every new acquaintance there is a prisoner screaming to be let out.
So what do we do about shyness? Do we break free of our prison, overpower the gaoler and make a giddy run for it? Nah. Maybe tomorrow. But really the best thing for now is just to stay put. This is a nice prison, safe. I can’t get out but at least no one else can get in. It has all the fantasies I like and I can just pop them on and re-enact them all while I’m sitting staring blankly on the District line. Yeah. Think I’ll stay here for a bit longer.