When you have schizophrenia, there’s no easy way of relating to people. It’s like there’s a block between you and what you want to say or how you want to be perceived. I don’t know if this is due to social anxiety, the resulting paranoia, or just the simple fact that your meds cause you to have a rather flat affect.
Talking to people, although something we all have to do in order to survive in our modern world, is not something that I enjoy doing. In pretty much every instance of having to talk to someone, even if it’s just to order food or coffee or pay for gas, my throat tightens up, I get short of breath, and my eyes get wide because it’s like I just don’t know what to expect. That’s a pretty run of the mill fear response where I can either fight or flee, and most times I stick it out and fight simply by attempting to have a normal conversation with another human being.
Sometimes it doesn’t go so well. Just yesterday I was having coffee with a friend I haven’t seen in years, maybe once since college. She was sitting next to me on the couch and for the life of me I didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept getting paranoid that I was making too much eye contact, and then I’d look away and I’d wonder if I should probably look back at her so as not to let her think that I wasn’t interested in what she was saying.
On top of all this, she spoke softly and instead of asking her to repeat herself I’d just respond with a catch all answer like “yeah” or “ok,” and then she’d look at me as if I was crazy and I’d be like “oh crap,” and then it would get awkward and I’d tell her about the fact that I had trouble hearing, even though I don’t.
It wasn’t going well in those first 10 minutes. I could also hear the baristas laughing, and this may not be true but they were probably laughing about me. Because of that, the whole two hours I spent with my friend felt as if I had a vice around my chest. I just don’t have any clue why I was so nervous. It should have been low pressure. Suffice it to say that I have trouble with this.
There are some things you can do to take the edge off, though. First, you should know that in most cases you don’t have to talk to someone for very long. You can keep it brief, and that’s perfectly ok. Secondly, recognize that the things your brain is telling you are simply inside your brain and they’ll never exist in the real world unless you say them out loud.
These are things that you experience, and even if it shows that you’re a little weird outside your brain most people are pretty forgiving of that. Just don’t take off your pants and stand on a table and scream that you’re freaking the hell out; in that case you’ll probably get a ticket to ban town, and you won’t be able to enjoy the mediocre coffee of this place you’ve been coming to for years anymore.
That’s the thing, though: people are forgiving of your quirks, your quirks are what make you uniquely human, so it’s worth keeping in mind that even if you’re weird people will mostly be tolerant of it. That’s the one thing that helps me the most.
Also it’s important to remember that people are far more focused on themselves than anything you said or did in a relatively short amount of time while you were talking to them. People are self-absorbed, and that’s your saving grace. They’ll be too worried about how they’re being perceived. Overall, just remember that you can keep it brief. Remember that your brain is not right and that accounts for all the weird stuff inside it, and remember that people don’t actually care that much about how you act and you’ll be ok.