My social anxiety gets in the way of what I read and how I read.
Some people won’t get this. That’s okay. Every time I’ve talked to someone about this, especially in face-to-face conversations, I get a lot of confused faces and people telling me that they don’t understand how it works, how I could get anxious about that. It’s just a book, no one cares what you’re reading, no one is paying attention, etc. etc.
But it’s a real issue for me. My social anxiety plays a big role in my reading habits.
I hate going to the bookstore and bringing up my choices to the cashier. I hate the way they look over the cover or make comments about what book(s) I’ve chosen. I hate that I want to talk about my excitement about stories while also find it uncomfortable to talk about what I’ve read and/or want to read. I love being able to see books all lined upon shelves, but I hate when someone can see me looking at them and trying to decide which one(s) to buy. I feel like I’m being judged even when I’m not. I feel ashamed about my choices even when I shouldn’t be. I feel like I made the wrong choices or I’m inviting strangers to talk to me about my choices or… or just being seen and judged.
And then there’s the books themselves. Look, I love seeing POC on book covers. I love the visibility because we deserve to see ourselves prominently in literature. But I hate eyes on covers and not just eyes in general, eyes that seem like they’re looking at me. My anxiety flares up. I get that irrational feeling that I’m being judged by (yes, I know, what the hell?) a picture. I get that way about all pictures that feel like making eye contact with someone. It’s weird. It makes me uncomfortable. It conflicts with my excitement over POC on book covers.
And then there’s the actual reading. I don’t like showing covers. I hate when people can see what I’m reading. I hate having that possibility of strangers getting insight into what I like by seeing what I’m reading. Do you know what solved that for me? eReaders. eBooks. Very very small font in those ebooks. When people complain about ebooks, there’s me in the corner, feeling bad because I rely heavily on ebooks to get any reading done. These days, I mostly use the OverDrive app through the Toronto Public Library.
Oh, the library.
When I was little, I loved the library. When I was little, I didn’t have the social anxiety I have now. A couple days ago, lovely human being and talented writer June Hur tweeted about a heart-warming encounter she had at the library. Her tweet reminded me of just how much I used to love the library, even if I didn’t like reading (I liked photography books though!). But it also reminded me of how I don’t go to the library anymore.
The last time I physically went to a library was last year to get a library card. I haven’t had one since high school. When I used the library while in high school, I used the tiny library at my school and usually only browsed during after-school hours when no one was around. Going to a library in Toronto last year… well, it triggered a panic attack for me.
It’s a big space. It’s bigger than I remembered. There’s so much organization and so much of my time there was aimless wandering, wide-eyed and breathing heavily because my social anxiety Did Not Like Being There. It didn’t matter that I was excited about getting my library card so I could use the OverDrive app. It didn’t matter that I had more access to books. The library, as much as I wanted to love it, made me panic.
I haven’t gone back since.
And it breaks my heart. It fills me with shame. Does that make me a bad reader? Is it ridiculous that I’m like this? I am terrified of the library. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. Seeing how important libraries are just makes me feel worse. I’m happy that they matter, that it makes books available to more people. As much as I love libraries and I support them, I’m still scared. I’m still ashamed of that fear holding me back. I’m still sad that I am held back.
One day, I’ll be able to go back and explore the shelves. I hate that I haven’t yet. One day, I want to face my fear and get rid of it. Maybe that’s dreaming big, but I tend to dream big anyway. One day, I’ll go to the library and conquer my fears and enjoy my visit. One day, but not yet. I’m not brave enough yet.
Reading is one of my favourite things to do. I wish my social anxiety didn’t get in the way of it. It does though and that’s my current reality.