I know the video from my presentation will be online eventually, but I really want to share the message now instead of later because patience is not my strong point. The slides have been posted, but without my notes so there isn’t much meat to them. Also, I’m better in text than I am in person. If it helps, you can read this in a slightly shaky voice and picture me trying not to wet myself while I talk too quickly. Feel free to skip this post if you’re tired of hearing about Northern Voice – I have to admit I’m getting there myself (I’m ready to move on to the next terrifying chapter), so I want to write this all down while I’m still energized and stuff.
At it’s very worst, my social anxiety was about an 8 out of 10. I could be convinced to leave the house, but it would take a long time to do so and I had to have someone glued to my side and/or standing in front of me in a corner, blocking me from terrifying eye contact with other people. It sucked ass – I hated having no friends, but was in no condition to meet new people. I was as emo as all get out and it didn’t feel like I’d ever get to have any fun.
My refusal to leave the house and be social led me to miss out on a great many things. Among the fun times I’ve missed out on are two Northern Voices, two Twestivals, every single tweetup, every single Sin City, concerts, and friendships. The last one is particularly scary, because Miranda is one of my best friends – yet she was about to give up on me altogether, because I kept bailing on her invitations to do things. It’s not that I didn’t WANT to; I was just too scared to. I’ve had so many adventures in the last three years with or because of Miranda that the thought of almost missing all that really freaked me out.
The quote in the slide above is from the song “Lonely Planet” by The The, and it speaks to the idea of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You can’t make all people collectively less scary, so instead look at yourself – WHY are you feeling the anxiety? CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviours, rather than external things like people, situations or events. If we can change the way we think, we can change what we feel – even if the situation itself does not change.
What’s the deal with the pants? They’re my crutch; my main excuse – I would never go outside because it was a HASSLE to get dressed and ready to go outside and interact with others. Why bother putting on pants when I can just stay home and be naked and comfortable? It took me a very long time to realize that I wasn’t just being a lazy naked slob but rather I had major issues with meeting new people, and not wanting to wear pants was just a convenient and hilarious way to get out of doing things.
So, now what? We’ve established that there’s some social anxiety at work here, but you still want to get outside, meet some new people, and maybe make some friends. “Social Media” is the new pet buzz word of the moment, but it’s actually an extremely useful way to connect with people in your community. Don’t worry about the “media” part – interviews and speeches will come later – just focus on being social and coming out of your shell.
Vancouver and Twitter are BFFs. Vancouver has a thriving scene on Twitter, and it’s chockfull of other people who like the same things you do. Think of something you enjoy – anything, legal or not – and chances are there’s a bunch of people on Twitter doing that very thing and talking all about it. Connect with these people. Look up Vancouver locals. Use Twitter lists. Talk with these people on Twitter first, then extend the socializing to Facebook if you want. Twitter is great for meeting people; Facebook is more to connect with people you’re already familiar with.
There are a lot of people on Twitter – how can you possibly make yourself heard over all that noise? Three words: FIND YOUR VOICE. Stand out in a crowd. Don’t disguise who you are. You have a voice, an opinion – use it. Don’t worry about others, or trying to be someone else – we already have one of that guy and that girl already; we need one of YOU. BE YOURSELF, for crying out loud. Let people meet the real you, even if just over Twitter, rather than some false face.
I have a rule for reciprocal following on Twitter: if your timeline looks interesting, I will follow you back. What’s interesting? ACTUAL CONTENT. No page after page of RTs, no spam links or offers to sell me something. Follow the blogging rules: no one cares what you had for lunch. Conversations with others? Golden. Witty or passable interesting tweets? Fantastic. If you look human, aren’t some kind of killer sales robot, and tweet with some regularity, I will more than likely follow you back. Bonus points (not really, there are no points) are given to people who use their Bio properly – tell the world a little about yourself. Where are you? What are you into? I’m almost guaranteed to follow someone back if they’re in the same city or area I am, and if their website or interests catch my eye, all the better – I’ll try to engage that person about something that piqued my interest.
Twitter lists are a great place to start when you’re looking for new people to check out. Start locally, then work your way outward. Find people who share common ground with you; who have the same hobbies or interests. There are dozens of lists filled with Vancouver people who are active on Twitter; check them out.
Then what? Say hello, that’s what. Engage others. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I can’t guarantee that everyone will always reply to your greeting, but some will – and those are the ones to start with. I know firsthand how difficult and “cliquey” Vancouver’s SM scene (not to be confused with Vancouver’s S&M scene) can be, but not everyone is like that. Sometimes it takes a little digging to find the good eggs, but they’re out there – I promise.
The most important thing I think I can tell you about Twitter is that it is NOT instant messaging! Private conversations should be in DM, and anything that isn’t is free for jumping in. If you see a conversation that interests you and you want to say something, go for it. Opinions, thoughts, jokes, observations – these are all awesome things. Don’t let chatter between two or three people scare you away; join the conversation. If you can see it, it’s not private. Jump in!
When it comes time to actually go outside and mingle with the terrifying others, start small. The Vancouver Twestival, as great as it is, is the perfect example of an event NOT to attend if you suffer from Social Anxiety or are not good in crowds. Instead, look for events or workshops that aren’t focused on 1-on-1 interaction; something in which you will not be the focus of attention. The Forensic Workshops put on by the Vancouver Police Museum are perfect, because they’re small, intimate, and no one is paying attention to you. There’s no time to stare at others when you’ve got a coconut full of fake blood to bash in with a hammer – people won’t be looking at YOU, they’ll be mentally planning the perfect murder. Mighty Ugly workshops are another perfect thing – you’ll get to meet people, but the focus will be on creating ugly things and not gluing your fingers together. Find events or meets that interest you, but have some sort of activity or thing to watch. Bring a friend, if you’re not comfortable going alone – but GO.
Remember: no one out there is cooler or more important than anyone else. Contrary to popular belief, you ARE a special little snowflake – just one who is no better and no worse than anyone else. We’re all the same, and you should never be afraid to approach someone in the local SM scene because “they’re so famous!” – that’s utter bullshit. We’re all the same, and no one is better than anyone.
(Funny story – the text “drink a lot of alcohol beforehand” is stricken out on the slide, but when projected onto the huge screen, the line through didn’t show up – so a good part of my presentation is me telling people that “get drunk first” was supposed to be tongue in cheek and to NOT drink before going out because it sooooo won’t help you in any way.)
It’s okay to be a little crazy – we all have issues. However, you need to learn that there’s a time and place to announce those issues to the world, and that time and place isn’t during your first face-to-face interaction with someone. Very few people have time for additional drama, and it’s far easier to walk away from someone unloading on you if you’ve got nothing vested in the relationship. I’d do anything for my friends and they know that, but if I just met you, I don’t want to hear your problems or have you cry on my shoulder. It’s just awkward. Once we’re friends, absolutely – I’m here for you. If we’re barely acquaintances, I don’t need to hear about that weird sore you found down there or how you’re deathly afraid of sandwiches. You don’t have to hide who you are – but using a little discretion at first is a very, very good thing.
.. I think I told a rambling story about milk, Ed, and Derek at this point here.
A funny thing about making friends – the more friends I made, the easier it got. I routinely refer to my friends as my safety net (aka “human security blanket”), and I know I can count on them to hold me up if I’m having a particularly bad day. The more people I can count on, the easier going outside gets because there’ll be a whole host of people I can hang out with if I don’t feel up to socializing with strangers.
Growing up in Victoria, it was inevitable that I would know some people in Vancouver before I moved here from Calgary – old friends plus people who read my blog. However, even with that foot in the door I found it agonizingly difficult to make friends. The people I hoped or assumed I would be friends with are out there, but the people I can count on are all people I met after I had arrived. It took some time – nothing worth having will occur overnight – but if you can make even one solid connection with someone, it could branch out into meeting dozens of others. Some of my favourite people are ones I met through friends of friends, meaning I’d never have met them at all if I hadn’t connected with the right people at some point in the past. Having a safety net is invaluable when you suffer from social anxiety, because these people won’t judge me if I want to run away and hide in a corner or strip off all my clothes and dance on the table (which hasn’t happened yet, but it might).
.. I had nothing to say here; I just wanted to use this picture.
My presentation can really be boiled down to two main points: there are some awesome people out there, and don’t be an asshole (more on this was said during the presentation; I can’t remember how it came up). It’s scary and terrifying to come out of the warmth and comfort of your shell, but it can be SO REWARDING if you do – there’s so much in this city to experience; so many wonderful people to get to know. Take a deep breath and promise yourself you’ll try – you’ve already come this far; just go a little further and see what happens. You deserve awesome, incredible good times and those are unlikely to happen in your living room (but if they do, please invite me). Say yes to everything – within reason, if you’re the cautious type. Try new things – the opera, volunteering, a museum, crafting. Get outside your comfort zone and have some fun. There’s so much out there just waiting for you to find it, and you deserve ridiculous happiness – so go get it.
There IS one surefire, fail-proof way to make friends – if all else fails, give people presents! (swag bags were handed out here)
That’s a lot of words. Even though the Twitterverse sort of exploded yesterday and everything sucked and people were being mean to one another, I stand by what I said – Vancouver is filled with beautiful, amazing people and everyone deserves awesome.
So, go get some awesome. Here’s a good place to start, or this, or this. Summer is coming; soon; there’ll be more fun things to do. Come to the beach and blow bubbles with me for my birthday. Be a zombie or a zombie hunter or a zombie DANCER. Go taste some wine, or smell a morgue. Miss 604 constantly lists Vancouver events and going-ons. See some shoes! GO HAVE SOME FUN! DO IT! DO IT NOW!
.. I’m pretty sure I didn’t yell that much during the actual presentation, but I haven’t seen the video yet – there’s a chance I went all Tony Robbins on everyone. If I did, sorry ‘bout that. I was nervous, is all.
Next year, I wanna be on the sex panel.