A loooong time ago—like, in December or something—I got an invitation to attend the book launch of Paul Offit’s new book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, at the National Press Club in DC on January 5th. I was delighted to have received the invitation and immediately RSVPed yes.
I wrote the date on my calendar and watched it get closer and closer. Every day that it got closer, I started to think of another reason why it was completely unreasonable that I should go. Alex would have to come home early to watch the kids. I work from home at night; should I really take a night off? It’s Wednesday and Modern Family is on.
Really, the reason was that I was fucking terrified.
Here’s the thing: I have terrible social anxiety. Like, interfered-with-my-career-choices-and-success social anxiety. Like, spent-a-lot-of-time-avoiding-even-friends social anxiety. I am on medication now (which helps) and have built up a fair amount of success interacting with The People (which helps even more), plus I have learned to laugh at myself (which is invaluable), but I tend to do and say a lot of dipshitty things (this is less helpful). Nonetheless, there are some situations that are completely outside my comfort zone.
Walking into the National Press Club all by myself for a type of event that I have never experienced and don’t know what to expect while wearing business casual clothes and having to worry about standing there by myself or making intelligent conversation if someone deigned to speak to me? Well, THAT is three time zones away from my comfort zone.
I tried really hard to back out. Alex was really cool though. He never flat-out kicked me out of the house, but he told me I’d be fine and he told me that I had committed to being there, even though we both knew that my presence wasn’t going to make or break the event. He told me to go. He was nice about it, but he didn’t give me the easy out I was looking for.
He also told me that as the event was a book launch for Paul Offit, that people wouldn’t be focused on me, which was bruising to my (huge) ego, but probably accurate.
I drove into DC and did a very poor job of finding a place to park. Usually I’m pretty good about triangulating in on a DC location, but not last night. In fact, I ended up on the wrong side of the National Mall, which is a pretty significant driving mistake to make.
I finally ended up panic-driving into a valet parking garage, which I didn’t realize until the guy told me two times, “Leave the ignition key in your car.” I had my epiphany before he actually had to say, “LADY, GET OUT OF THE CAR ALREADY,” but I wasn’t all that smooth about it.
I walked a couple of blocks to the building, where I saw a line of people standing outside the doors for no discernible reason. I was about five minutes late and I couldn’t imagine that people were being held outside before going up, but I’ve never been to a book launch, maybe that’s what they do at the Press Club. And, honestly, what if I went up and tried the door and they all started pointing and laughing? But I couldn’t just stand in the end of the line because what if it was a line for taxis or something and then I had to find a graceful way to step out of the line and, again, they all started pointing or laughing?
I walked directly past them and around the corner, where I stopped to breathe for a moment. After a sufficient amount of time had passed, I turned around and went back. They were all gone. I think they were waiting for a bus.
Maybe my social anxiety is a sign that I am Too Dumb to Mingle With the Normals.
I walked inside and made my way up the Press Club with little to no trauma. I even made small talk with the other lady who walked in at the same time as me. I was really happy to see that the event was not a meet and greet, but rather had chairs arranged in front of a podium, which gave me a good way to sit quietly by myself and pretend to be busy on my phone.
I felt a little bit like my body was going to shatter. I looked around and tried to make eye contact with some people, but it looked like either people had come together or knew each other already and everybody was engaged in deep conversation. I started to compose a tweet about how I was trying to look busy.
But right then someone sat down near me and made that eye contact, so I took a deep, internal breath, stuck out my hand and introduced myself. It turns out that I knew the guy. We’d emailed a lot last summer for a piece I’d written about his organization for my Autism Unexpected column. I still mumbled a lot and was vaguely incoherent, but at least we had a conversation starter.
He was very nice too, which helped. I do remember that he told me where his son went to school and I told him about how one time Jack got into a sand fight in the playground behind that particular school, which is probably not the appropriate response to such a thing. Honestly, I need note cards with sample sentences for possible topics of conversation.
Oh, and hey, you know how no one ever sits in the front row at these things? Maybe it’s because if you do, you might inadvertently choose a seat in an empty row next to a chair with a briefcase on it. That briefcase might end up belonging to the guest of honor and you might find yourself sandwiched between Paul Offit and his wife during the introduction.
There was, again, some mumbling and incoherence, as we chatted about autism moms and how we don’t all feel represented by Jenny McCarthy. I am being kind (to myself) by referring to it as “chatting,” but he was very nice. I did refer to Ms. McCarthy as a nut, which is one step up from calling her “a fucking loonybin,” which I refrained from doing, but perhaps I should have because then I would have been “the delightfully colorful autism mom in the front row,” instead of the “stammering sycophant who took my wife’s chair.”
Once Offit started speaking, I was really glad that I had pulled my shit together and attended. He was charming and rational and it was lovely to hear him speak.
I have a lot of thoughts about what he said, especially in light of yesterday’s (not entirely new) news that Andrew Wakefield’s original study about the vaccine-autism link was not just bad science, but fraud. I hope to write about this later today, so feel free to obsessively check my column at Autism Unexpected to see if I managed to do so or if I got sidetracked by Twitter.
Speaking of twitter, thanks to all of you who talked me off of the ledge about my event. My victory speech (140 characters or less!) went something like this:
It’s a little embarrassing to write all this down, but I do so for two reasons:
(1) My philosophy that when you have to choose between laughing and crying, you should always try to laugh means that I have to laugh at myself here. I encourage you to do the same. Laugh at me all you want.
(2) I want to let people know that social anxiety is very real. If you suffer from it, you know what I’m talking about, and you’re not alone. If you don’t, next time someone tells you they have anxiety about a social situation, realize that it’s not a buck-up-and-get-over-it situation. No, it’s not rational. Yes, it is real. It’s serious, it’s all-consuming at times, and although it can be dealt with, it’s not easy.
A couple other things. Yesterday, I spent my day vacillating between abject terror about my evening event and high on some really wonderful things going on in my social media life. First, thank you to everyone who is donating to Jack’s hockey team. You guys blow me away with your generosity and support. Thank you so much. I wish I had better words, but instead you’ll have to accept these psychic hugs I’m sending.
Also, the amazing WhyMommy and Sue from Laundry for Six are working with a couple of fantastic organizations to help get lymphedema sleeves to breast cancer survivors who can’t afford them. Until I saw Susan/WhyMommy experience them, I had no idea about the difficult and long-lasting effects of cancer treatment. Please go read Susan’s post and consider tweeting or facebooking* it. All she wants to do is get these sleeves to people who need them. Awesome.
* I’m calling it. “Facebooking” is now a word.