com·mu·ni·ca·tion | \ kə-ˌmyü-nə-ˈkā-shən \
1a: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. also: exchange of information
b: personal rapport*
I was born with the gift of gab, sharing my thoughts far and wide from a very young age. My elementary school teachers frequently mentioned it in report cards, so I know this to be true.
Unfortunately for me, speaking and communicating can be two very different things, and it took quite a long time for me to figure out the difference.
Anxiety can have a big impact on our ability to communicate. After all, it’s hard to build a rapport when you are anxious, distracted, or fearful. It’s easy to miss both verbal and nonverbal cues. Anxiety can have a profound impact on how we interact with others in social situations, to say nothing of developing solid interpersonal relationships. How can we make a connection with another person when we can’t get out of our own head?
Luckily for me, I have always been pretty good at one-on-one communication. I have been able to develop some very close friendships over the years and because I spent a long time as a dental hygienist, I have had a lot of practice conversing with strangers. (And yes, I removed my instruments from their mouths first!). But put me in a crowd of people and I have a hard time holding a thought in my head. I have a whole host of scenarios, ranging from mildly awkward to horrific, running like film through my mind. (Because of this ability, I’ve often thought I’d make a good screenwriter in the horror genre.)
For a couple of years, I worked at an art gallery, and every few months, we hosted a Vernissage, a party, open to the public, to celebrate an artist’s work. As much as I loved the artists, I hated working these events. I felt panicked from beginning to end. The crowds made me feel so overwhelmed, I worried that I would not be able to focus enough to carry on a conversation. I would try to hide in plain sight, and if I moved, it was only to refill the water jug or wine glasses. Smile and keep moving. While all around me, people were easily conversing and having a great time, I was busy listening to the internal monologue (one word-RUN!) that accompanied my mind’s movie reel, counting the minutes until it was all over.
Incidentally, I was told by a friend who I first met at one of these events, that she would never have guessed that I was nervous. That’s because, after all of these years, I’ve learned to fake it. I’ve learned how to narrow my focus and speak somewhat intelligently when needed. I’ve learned how to ask questions to get me out of my own head. But, inevitably, I always left these events exhausted.
So, after all of these years, I have learned, through reading and therapy and practice (and more practice), how to communicate effectively. But am I consistent in my communication? Of course not. Is anyone?
I have always been a blurter, frequently spewing out whatever thought is in my head. Filters, especially when I am anxious, can get thrown by the wayside. Let me tell you, I have said a lot of stupid things. I have said the wrong thing to the wrong person. I have made jokes that fell flat. And I have been chastised. But the alternative of letting my anxiety get the best of me and never communicating with others is not even fathomable. Living with anxiety is hard enough without having to go through it alone.
So away I go, blab blab blabbing my way through life. And sometimes, even communicating.