I looked around the room. I felt different. Someone saw someone else they knew. They smiled. Chatted. Hugged. Moments later they were lost to the world in deep conversation. Someone else made a beeline straight across the crowded room, having caught the eye of someone they knew.
I stood alone, Starbucks latte in hand. I didn’t even have an excuse to stand by the tables where people were getting their coffee.
I felt different. I always feel different. What is wrong with me?
Someone came up to me and told me that the reason they trained to become a Cognitive Hypnotherapist was me. A friend of theirs was one of my clients. They heard about what I did, read my books, and were inspired to do it for themselves. I was flattered. And amazed.
We went to sit down and listen to the first speaker. I found myself surrounded by empty seats. No one else was on their own. Just me. The speaker asked questions. Other people answered. Engaged. I answered in my head. My answers were different. A great speaker, but little that really resonated with me. A group exercise. Awkwardly I turn to the person behind me.
Reluctantly I head to the room with the tea and coffee. I would rather go and sit somewhere on my own. And yet I want to be the one chatting and laughing. I spot a person I trained with. We smile and join each other for a chat. She points out how she had felt isolated. She had just had a conversation with someone else, who also felt isolated.
We chatted about business. Even though we are connected on Facebook, we rarely get a chance to chat. That’s the downside of living up here in Scotland. She talked about comparing herself to me and wishing she was more like me.
I was confused. Why would anyone want to be more like me? Everybody else was so together. They easily flowed in and out of conversation. I was different.
We return to hear the next speaker. Now I am with the person I was chatting with over the break. I don’t feel so alone. Questions asked and answers. I see it differently. I stay quiet.
Lunch. I gather myself together. I join a conversation. I have nothing to say. Soon I am just listening. They share stories of past shared experiences. I drift off.
Another talk. Afternoon break. I take myself off to get my own coffee. I don’t want to go to the main room and feel uncomfortable. Someone I spoke to earlier is in the same queue. We chat and sit together. I find the conversation turns to therapy. We talk case studies. I talk, others listen.
Final session. A guy talking about mindfulness. Very entertaining. Loads of ideas that I can use with my clients. Then he leads us through getting into a space to be mindful. I follow his instructions. My body begins to shake. A darkness begins to creep in. I stop. Scared. He asks people how they felt. Calm. Peaceful. Relaxed. In my head I answer “Scared”.
I leave before the 10 minute exercise and sit outside. I phone home and talk to my daughter and husband. I smile and laugh and relax. Now I’m relaxed. The light comes back.
I’m different. I don’t want to be different. I want to be normal like everyone else.
When I get home I take to Facebook and ask ” Irrespective of how well you know me, if you were to describe me in just a few words, what would you say? Looking for what sort of person you think I am…” I want to know what makes me hard to talk to. I want to understand how others see me. I don’t want to be different.
Kind. Intelligent. Non-judgemental. Caring. Strong.
That didn’t explain anything for me. But from my husband ” frighteningly intelligent, insecure, driven, obsessive problem solver, martyr, loveable, incredibly caring”
And from a fellow therapist ” I also get the feeling that you are sometimes quite isolated and lonely. On the other hand, I have seen how well respected you are and you seem very resilient. You are confident and not afraid to ‘get it wrong’, but sometimes lack passion”
And then my best friend pointed out that I still have a bit of a f**k off shield. This was a shield I developed for protection many years ago to stop people getting close to me.
Then I had a chat with a friend and fellow therapist and I realised something. When you are on a journey of improving yourself, you often regard everything as something to fix, when the reality is it’s just as important to learn acceptance, and, if necessary how to adapt to situations to fit into them based on who you are.
I am not great at small talk. I am a problem solver. My head is always racing, so I’m either triggered into following a bunch of ideas from what someone says (and therefore not present) or motivated by something someone says to fix their problems (which is often not welcome and not what a conversation is about!) So I struggle with small talk. As a result, I don’t engage in it easily. I rely on people coming to me and asking me something – which fits into my nature well! I used to have a f**k off shield because people were scary and I didn’t want them near me. Now I don’t have that, but neither do I indicate through body language or anything else that I’m ok chatting. Because I’m not comfortable chatting.
Whenever I can I withdraw and go and get a coffee on my own, or lunch on my own. This is my choice.
I have been trying to understand how I was seen, so I could address it. I don’t like being different.
But I have realised I just need to accept. Accept who I am. I am ok with that. It is not something to fix, it is something to accept. And for those situations that require something different, situations outside my comfort zone, instead of judging myself as being flawed for my inabilities, I can accept who I am and either treat it as a problem to work out how to adapt, or just not worry about being who I am, I can treat them as an opportunity to gain learning.
So recently I went to lunch with a group of therapists. I went to it with this new found ability to accept who I am. And I really enjoyed myself. I observed the skill that others had at small talk. I learnt from it. I zoned out occasionally. And that’s ok. And sometimes I joined in.
Sometimes it’s not about changing who we are. It’s about accepting that we are all different and enjoying those differences.