When I hear people talking about their childhood memories, I always envy the way their eyes sparkle when they narrate funny incidents and memorable playtime stories. I grew up as a shy kid, an extremely shy one to be true and I was shy for a very long period of my time before I finally eased my way out of it. So when people talk about how they had jumped fences of neighbor’s house after stealing mangoes, or how they had won toffees after winning a game against the neighboring colonies’ kids or how happy and carefree their childhood was, I am always at loss of words.
My early childhood memories date back to the time when I was maybe three years old, being sent to pre-nursery school for the first time. True, the first time a kid is sent away from home is horrifying for kids, but in my case, that horrifying phase never transitioned into the exciting phase, as it happened for most of the kids.
It was not the thought of going to school that scared me, it was the thought of meeting and talking to people- the teachers, the bench mates, the peon and the headmaster that sent shivers down my spine. I remember eating my lunch alone, not because nobody talked to me, but I had nothing to talk to them. I once lost my way to the classroom after lunch and I still have vivid pictures of how terrified I was, more because I could not even respond to the janitors who tried to help me get back to my classroom and was full of shame as to how can a three-year-old kid lose her way from the playground to the classroom? My happiest memories of early school days used to be the last bell that marked the end of the day when I used to go running towards my dad who would always come pick me up.
This happened for at least a year. Thankfully the situation eventually improved when I joined my school but I would still lock myself in my room whenever we used to have guests over at home. I would reluctantly come out and greet them (after a whopping amount of persuasion from mom), but I never knew where else to go after a shy hello, unless, of course, a question about my studies or books were thrown at me. I still despised going out and playing with the kids of my neighbor and this became a serious concern for my mom, to the extent that one day she would not let me in unless I went out, introduced myself and played with the kids across the ground. Terrifying day it was!
No wonder when people chat ecstatically about their childhood days I cringe. I was always the shy and the quiet one and no wonder I was my class head so that I can shut up the others kids who chatted a lot (i never really knew what they could talk about nonstop)!
These were my memories up until the age of 7 or 8 and then somehow the situation improved exponentially and now my close set of friends who know how perky and crazy I am, would not even believe these stories if I tell them. I am the one in my group who constantly makes plan of which restaurant to try on a Monday night, which artist gig to attend on a Tuesday, which movie to watch on a Wednesday night, where to party on a Friday and where to go on the next long weekend. My flatmates wanted me to skip paying the rent as I was hardly ever home. Sometimes I was forced to divide the seven days of a week for seven different types of get together. My weekends were usually planned as breakfast with the friend in town, lunch with colleagues and then a dinner/movie date with my BFFs.
Sure I have a number of friends now, ranging from just acquaintances to people I would vouch for, I have a pretty good social life, I have traveled far and alone and I have done my share of crazy and outgoing deeds but throw me in a room full of strangers and I might just cringe again. Just the other day I met my best friends’ date for the first time and the minute she left me alone with him and went to the washroom I could hear my inner demons screaming that pretend to look into your phone or admire the painting over the wall so that he might think you are busy. Eventually, after a number of such incidents I came to terms with the fact that I had been, and will always be the shy and the quiet one.
You might think how could I have ever been shy with an occupied routine like I had, but that was the case when I used to live my best friends, people who knew me inside out and where I was safe in the undeniable congenial comfort zone.
Somehow destiny took rounds and I found myself sharing the roof with new people, people whom I did not know and the worst part being, people who did not know me. How will they ever be able to know how difficult it is for me to get comfortable around new people and how it takes a gallon of effort from the other side as well. No wonder I was labeled shy and quiet again and I conceded that I can grow out of my shyness but being shy will always be an integral part of me. As lost as I was in my self-woven specter of having overcome my childhood fears of meeting and talking to new people, I can not deny its existence entirely, even after two decades of my first day at school!
When I look back at the various stages of my metamorphosis from an extremely shy wee toddler to not so shy teenager and an outgoing adult, I know what changed inside me to bring about this revolution. The more comfortable you are in your skin and the more confident you are, the less shy you are.
As a child I always over thought about situations and was almost always afraid of saying or doing something inappropriate in public, thinking that I would be mocked of, later on. Sometimes or rather most of the times I did find myself guilty of actually behaving unsuitably. This would leave me overburdened by the sick feeling of too much self-consciousness and I became overly self-critical of myself.
I think there were two turning points that made me grow out of my extreme shyness. I made my first best friend in school and discovered that I can be comfortable around a different person, apart from my parents. I finally opened up to someone and came to know that I can be loved with all my flaws, awkwardness and stupidity and no one has the time to scrutinize me all the time.
Second, I also started brimming with confidence because my academic excellence in school made me the apple of the eyes for most of my teachers, favorite of many peers and an inspiration for most kids. People at school knew and talked about me, welcomed me in their groups, and it helped immensely in facing my inner demons of shyness.
This appreciation and recognition somehow dissolved my inner fears of being the awkward girl. I stopped being over self-conscious and eased into my skin. I did things at school that I would earlier fear to do; participated in social events and thus overcame my social anxiety, I made efforts to make all sorts of friends and did not hesitate even if I knew I would say or do something unbefitting. Soon enough, I was no longer the clumsy kid or the inappropriate person in social outings.
Sometimes I can not help but wonder why I had put in so much effort to overcome something that was, in fact, a part of being me. Being a part of the society where extroversion is considered kind of cool and impressive and introversion is almost always negatively spoken about, we shy breeds constantly exhaust ourselves to be social to just fit in that criteria. I remember usually coming up with excuses to cancel on dinner dates with my friend and her new boyfriend, to the point when it created a cold war between my friend and me. She called me a selfish and a boring person and that was when I finally agreed to go out (who wants to be called boring?).
I am still bewildered when a person enters all smiles in your room and happily greets everybody and can almost always strike a conversation with anyone about anything. These are the popular breeds, with whom people generally want to spend time with. But I had always preferred being on the sidelines rather than being in the limelight. I, on the other hand, would avoid making eye contacts with people so that I do not have to strike a conversation.
It is not that I do not want to go to parties now or divide my seven days of a week meeting seven different people, but it is just that I find it more comfortable in a quiet me time. I have two sets of people in my life- one who constantly ask me to shut up and know my crazy side, the other who ask me to speak up and it is equally difficult for each of the sets to fathom the other side. It is usually a matter of time when people go from “can you talk a little louder” to “can you keep it down”.
I am now aware that not everyone you meet is going to understand your shyness, not everyone will pass without judging you for some rude obnoxious bitch but it is completely okay to be shy and even shy about accepting being shy. Unless you feel you are being held back because of your shyness, you have nothing to worry about. It is just a matter of time when the new environment and people sink in and you are heard again. For me, the trick was about finding the balance between being outgoing and being my shy self and also being super confident in my skin about being who I am. The good ones will eventually stick by, they always do, and the others would pass by as they were always meant to be.