I know I have depression. I know I am introverted. I know I have generalized anxiety with a good dose of SAD. I know these well at certain times. One of those times is when I get my hair cut. Here is an account of my latest visit to “Aldos”.
As I walk into the shopping mall and approach the Barber Shop, I check the queue to see who has arrived before me. I really don’t want the confrontation which would occur if I jumped the line so I memorize shirts, hats, shopping bags, anything that will help me remember and pass through this experience largely unnoticed. Well … there is no line as such, just an unspoken rule of whoever arrives first gets cut first.
I sit on the bench outside the shop with the others, avoiding eye contact with anyone. I lower my head and play with my phone for a moment so that I look busy and no one will talk to me. But who are these people anyway? Objects … moving, chattering and making noise. I don’t belong here. I feel so far from all this friendliness, talking and laughter going on around me. They judge me for not being one of them … I know it.
I envy the sight of strangers meeting and just beginning conversations as they wait. It is normal. It is what people do. So what am I? Why can’t I? I know that being quiet and avoiding eye contact must make them think that I am pretentious. A “Mr Important!” But in reality, the opposite couldn’t be more true – I feel like “Mr Nothing”. I just want this over and I shuffle along the bench as a space is made by someone who has just moved onto the waiting seat inside the shop.
I look at feet and ankles, tattoes, shoes and socks, hands, the floor, posters in shops. I look at anything that will not try to interact or talk to me. If I did talk to someone, I am sure I would say something dumb. But I also don’t have the energy to talk right now. I am tired, my mind is busy with nothing – just full of these thoughts I am typing here.
The wait is long, or at least seems long, and the longer I am there, the more lonely and estranged I begin to feel. Why am I so detached from society? Why can’t I interact? Am I really this shy? Is it just introversion? Look at all these people! They can do it … why can’t I?
See … it would be different if I just wanted to be alone … if I just didn’t feel like talking. But the truth is I am lonely. I don’t want to be alone here. I want to belong. I miss him. I miss her. I miss someone being close to me and close to my feelings. I would talk to that person if they were here … I would talk a lot.
The Barber calls out, “Next! Come inside please!” and I feel the strangers all look at me, as it is my turn to move to the seat inside the shop. I feel my face burn as I blush for no reason at all. People can see my face is red and I am sure they suspect I am up to something. I do worry I have missed someone who might have been before me, I worry someone will call out, “Hey! I was first!” … then even more attention will be on me. But no one objects and I slide into the safety of the small shop.
I quietly move onto the bench. I don’t make eye contact and I don’t even say “Hi” or “G’day” to the person I am sitting so close to. It is a common courtesy to do those things. It is polite. It is friendly. It is normal. I want to. I just can’t!
There are some old and loud Italian Barbers in this shop. Two guys in particular that always argue with each other as they cut hair and who also like to joke and jibe with every customer they serve. I even saw one of them storm out of the shop one day after the other swept hair across the floor to his area of work – they are kind of funny to watch and most people enjoy the ‘show’ – but I don’t want to be part of it. I fear they will say something to me and I won’t understand their accent. I fear they will make fun of me and I will blush and then have them make fun of that.
But there are other less excitable and quiet Barbers here and I quietly pray that one of them is free first. “Next!” is called. And my prayers are answered. It is the young guy who I have had before. He is definitely a kid that has had it tough growing up. He is thin and his skin looks older than his 20ish years. Today he is sporting the remains of a black eye. Clearly his life is still tough. He has his reasons and I have mine, but we are both just happy to get the job done in silence.
Him: “What do you want today?”
Me: “Gauge 3 side and back, plus shorten up the top.”
<Clippers and Cuts>
<Staring blankly at myself in the mirror>
<Moving my head as it is pushed around by his hand>
Him: “How is that?”
<Shows me the back of my head in a mirror>
Me: “All good. Cheers.”
Him: “Thank you. Have a good day.”
Me: “You too mate.”
I pay and leave (okay … I escape). Hoping my hair grows slowly and that it is a long time before I have to return again.
I want to fit in, but I don’t.
I want to connect, but I can’t.
I want to be normal, but I am not.
“And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.”
~ Albert Camus
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I totally feel you in this! My problems are slightly different, but I do have the need to be social and my anxiety does hold me back. And I do get frustrated because I like people, I like to talk, but my anxiety keeps me at home. You know what helps me sometimes? This is more like an avoidance method than really dealing with the problem, but it does make me feel better. I bring a notebook with me to places where I don’t want to chat or where I have to wait and I scribble the entire time. I just get all my thoughts out about how I’m feeling and it keeps me busy and I’m less focused on what’s going on around me. Yeah..people probably look at it strangely, but hey, I’m a writer and I’ve got work to do, so it’s cool, right?! Oh and since I’m a girl, I avoid getting my hair cut at all costs. I’ll go years. Or I’ll make my husband do it. Yea..you can’t get much that way since he’s an engineer and not a hair stylist. Ahhh..Anxiety…you suck!
I like that idea … might try it next time I get my hair cut alone. I often take my youngest daughter with me, so I can escape into her world of wonder and fairies as I wait. It’s avoidance also, but the best kind!
Rapunzel had the same idea as you … locked away in a tower and never cut her hair. Sure she was isolated against her will, but how is that any different to the isolation anxiety brings.
As a guy though, if I didn’t have such an oddly shaped head (and I really do!) I would consider shaving the whole lot off. Would suit me just fine!
As for your husband … I’m sure he can engineer some awesome and well constructed styles 😉
The writing thing also works well for doc appointments which I hate. And the waiting room there is the worst too. Sometimes they make you wait…forevvveerrrrrr. You could always get clippers and have someone in your life cut your hair. I do my husbands hair and he likes it because we’re “saving” money! It’s pretty easy with the clippers that have different attachments. Blah..of course I’m the queen at avoiding the issue and not tackling it head on. Opps. I’ve had lots of practice, what can I say?!!
You know. I prefer sketching to writing. But, sketching draws attention when you do it in public – people want to know what you are doing. I do like poetry though and I do not spend any time exploring it – maybe these moments are the times.
My wife use to cut my hair. I was always happy with it, but she was not confident she was doing a good enough job. So the “saving” was abandoned. I really don’t mind avoidance in this instance. Plenty of other stuff that I absolutely must face and push myself though – no need for a simple hair cut (a pleasure for most) to become such a depressing and uncomfortable experience.
Thanks for your tips! 🙂
As one Alien to another, I commiserate. I feel very fortunate that in many contexts I have learned to mimic the behaviors of the natives such that my time waiting is taken up with keeping on task with that, but I never quite know if I am pulling that off except by their reactions. I’m glad for you that haircuts don’t come up so often. My haircutter has a nice quiet location. I’m sure I would not be able to tolerate the chaos surrounding yours! Take good care. I love your writing. It’s a treat!
I usually have to do this every 6 weeks. “Aldos” is the best option for me, because it is just like a shearing shed. Line ‘em up, grab the next, clip, and release! I have tried more upmarket hairdressers in the past. They tend to take their time, ask lots of questions and have no idea about personal space.
The whole experience I posted here took about 30 minutes – but always feels like an eternity.
… and knowing you like my writing is a very great compliment! Thank you.
that is so painful, im sorry you have to go thru that. i know exactly what you are going thru, as i feel the same way in most social situations. i have a hard time leaving my house, and cant wait to get back home when i do leave. am in fear the whole time of making a mistake, being judged, being embarrassed. for me, grocery shopping is the worst. im not sure why, i mean, how do you shop ‘wrong’?
good luck to you, working through this, as many of us do also.
Kat, thank you so much. Fortunately for me, I can manage most situations with familiar people around me – such as at work and with family or close friends. Although some work meetings and confrontations are too much!
I’m not so bad with the grocery shopping (don’t do it often). But when I go, I have a list, I get everything on my list, and GO!
All the best to you too. I know I am not alone and with that knowledge I feel a little closer to normal.
Whoa boy! Can I identify! Great writing too by the way.
Thank you Laura 🙂
I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, but there is still something very nice about being reminded of that.
Your writing brings me right there with you, and I’m so sorry you have all this anxiety. Thank you for sharing, and I hope you are able to find some help in working through what you would like to change.
Thank you Janet.
In general I don’t feel as though I have a particularly low opinion of myself, but in social environments like that … any trace of self confidence departs and I feel like such a lesser being.
Not feeling so inferior in social settings like I described above is what I would like to change.
I could relate to every word. Very well-written and engaging, and the drawing is fantastic, too. Thank you for your honesty.
Appreciate that Ziya 🙂
Glad you liked the drawing (it is my Gravatar). I completed it some years ago and whilst it does not reflect the me others often see – it does reflects the me I too often feel.
My ability to interact with strangers in normal social settings like this is so mood-dependent it’s a bit disturbing. Night and day, you might say.
Though I’m not particularly paranoid about others observing my behavior as abnormal. That’s what makes me think it’s a mood-related symptom that basically flips a switch between introversion/extroversion, and not a form of social anxiety (though it sort of feels like that). I figure that others hardly know I’m there and don’t much care how communicative I am; everyone’s really in their own little world, just like me, right? I tend to take the attitude that I’m “Dr. Invisible” rather than “Dr. Nothing” (sounds like a superhero/supervillian!) as though no one sees anything about me below the surface that I think I project – when the reality is that my moods are painted on like a neon sign. I just don’t want to admit it to myself; I can’t control how others see me but I can’t quite let go of caring how (random) others see me.
Oh, yes, I can relate to all of that. Some days not so pronounced, and some days just like you describe. Our society is a confident, boisterous, and talkative one, so to not fit that expectation is indeed a frustrating and sometimes lonely feeling. As you see from the previous visitors here, you’re certainly not alone, though.
Oh – and your questions. Is it shyness? Is it introversion? What’s up with the detachment? I’d love to hear what answers you’ve divined to those questions. All the best!
Yes. I am amongst comrades here, that is for sure.
As for answers … I think they are still fewer than the questions.
Acceptance of myself for who I am is a big part of it for me. Not feeling bad because I am different … and even though broken in some ways, taking comfort in the knowledge that I have great value to those who know and love me, so those who don’t can think what they like. Easier said than done some ways – but like yourself I am sure … we try! 🙂