In addition to being somewhat introverted, I also suffer from social anxiety.
And, I am a borderline Highly Sensitive Person(HSP)/Empath.
All three came crashing together this past week. In order to understand their impact, I first need to explain the differences.
Introversion and its colleague, extroversion, are simply personality traits. They are not conditions to overcome. They are a part of us. We learn to manage them, to live with them. When I have been around people for any length of time, my energy is depleted and I feel exhausted. The larger the group, the longer the time I am around them, the more exhausted I feel. So, I naturally try and avoid large group situations. For me, a large group is any amount greater than about five.
Anxiety and its counterpart, depression, are learned. We ruminate over the past that went wrong and then anticipate the future that will go wrong; well, at least go wrong in our heads. All of this worry causes us not to live in this present moment. It is a difficult pattern to break, since we can’t control the outcome, but it can be done. Social anxiety is usually centered around how we might be perceived in a social situation, that someone might discover our ‘secret’ should we have one. We might have to reveal something too personal. Of course, we don’t have to reveal anything we don’t want to, and my experience has been that what I’ve been anxious about, doesn't usually come to pass. But, it is a very hard habit to unlearn. I should also say that, in my case, the greater the gay male factor in the impending situation, the more anxious I am likely to become.
An HSP/Empath feels the emotions and energies of a situation as if they were their own when they truly aren’t. When I see someone hurt, I feel with them, in addition to feeling for them. The deeper the HSP/Empath feels the external feelings, the further along the spectrum they are. I am barely across the threshold into Empath.
So, as you can see, under the right conditions, i.e., being around a lot of people for an extended amount of time, I can become an emotional mess, timebomb, and/or disaster.
Conditions this last week lined up perfectly for such an opportunity.
I had jury duty.
In downtown Los Angeles.
Whenever I go into downtown, I prefer taking public transportation rather than sitting forever in rush hour traffic. I had taken the subway for almost a year to and from work, so I am used to it. But, I have my little rituals for preparing myself for public transportation because I certainly don’t want to feel all the emotions of the various people on the train. The trip into downtown was uneventful. I listened to some native flute music on my iPhone as I felt it was too early for something less calming.
Still half-asleep from waking up earlier than I’d become accustomed to, I walked the two blocks from the station to the courthouse, went through the security screening, got yelled at by the young sheriff-in-training because I forgot one small thing in my pocket which set off the bells and whistles, and then sat through the monotonous forty-five minute orientation where we were told several times we could not be dismissed before 4:00. It was now 8:45. This was going to be a long day.
And then waited.
And waited some more. The first two panels weren’t called until 11:00 or so and I sat there expecting my name to be called because I believe things happen for a reason, and I believed this was a lesson to teach me something. I just wasn’t sure what, yet.
Sitting in the jury assembly room with upwards of 250 people was nerve wracking. So many emotions and energy were floating around the room, I tried to remain grounded. But, I so wanted to go home. I was fearful of being called to a panel where I would be interviewed by the attorneys, where I could end up actually interacting with eleven other strangers, allegedly my peers, ultimately to decide the fate of the defendant, a role I am not comfortable with. Let’s add the anxiety of possibly wrongly convicting someone to the social anxiety I’m already experiencing. Plus, the introversion of being around hordes of people. This was not adding up to be a nice time. But, I had no control over any of it except my reaction to it all. Could that be my lesson here?
Lunch came and went and I was still not assigned to a panel, despite three (or was it four?) panels having been called. Okay, so far so good, and 1.5 hours for lunch. I could do this. Unless…well, even if I were called for a panel, I could still do this.
After a mediocre lunch in the courthouse cafeteria, I reported back to the jury assembly room and waited.
Shortly after lunch, a panel was called and I knew my fate was sealed, after all, the pool was shrinking. The pool was now down to about 50, more or less, as very few other jurors had been released from the prior panels. But, to my surprise I survived.
2:15 and another panel is called. Nope, still not my turn. About two more hours, at least; how many more panels could be called on a Thursday afternoon? Who knows? Now I know my fate is sealed for the last panel of the day. Maybe they’ll just have us report to the courtroom tomorrow.
3:15 and an announcement is made: The jury office has received an all clear and can release all remaining members in the pool!!! And it’s before 4:00!
I wait to be called to be dismissed (I was third from the last of about jurors 30 left) and hurried to the Metro station. I have now completed my civic duty for at least the next twelve months and have my certificate to prove it!
|Red Line Train|
I walked briskly to the station and arrived with about five minutes to spare before my train arrived. I boarded and found a seat next to the window, which gives me some sense of not being confined, even if we are underground. As this was the second stop on the route, the train was still relatively empty being afternoon rush hour was just getting underway. We left for the next stop where more people got on. We went on to the next stop. Some people got on and a few disembarked and the car is filling up. People are standing, and the man sitting next to me brought his bike on board. I will say, he made it very clear to me he would move the bike out of my way when I needed him to. I thought it was kind of him to acknowledge me being somewhat trapped in, and I told him I was riding all the way to the end, so there was no worry. Having ridden the trains before, I knew the approximate time the train takes at each stop. But, this seemed to be taking longer than usual. After about five minutes the driver announced there was a problem at a station further along the route and we would be holding for a while. Maybe up to ten minutes. Eventually we moved along to the next station, a major transfer point between four train lines and multiple busses in DTLA, so many people boarded and a few disembarked. And we hold yet again.
Being that I am sitting, listening to some music on my phone, I feel relatively disengaged from the people around me, somewhat soothing my introversion, though the handsome man, not the bike man, next to me does make a few comments regarding the delay. Being that the comments are about our common dilemma and not overall small talk, I respond and go back to my music. The overall energy is increasing as the delay lengthens and frustration begins to set in.
Eventually we are cleared to move along to the next station where we are told that this train will now undergo a route change; it's no longer the Red Line, but is converting over to Purple. With this station being the last station common to both lines, all Red Line passengers must disembark and there will be another train along in a few moments.
I've heard this before, but usually when trains go out of service due to a mechanical issue, not for a route change due to some problem at a station. But, what can I do? The Purple Line won't take me back to my car.
But, all these upset, frustrated, irritated people on a subway platform during rush hour on a Thursday afternoon was a potential for something to happen. But, I was only concerned for my anxiety, introversion, and epathic feelings. I'm glad I grounded myself that morning.
After waiting for the third Red Line train to arrive, the first two arrived already filled to standing room only and still many of the stranded passengers still tried to board, I, and my new companion-a middle aged Asian woman with whom I kept sharing what rumors I heard among the Metro workers and the LAPD Transit police-found seats and headed onwards to our ultimate destinations, our respective homes, roughly two and a half hours later than what a normal, uneventful trip would have taken us.
So, did I learn my lesson?
In terms of my introversion, I will learn to manage it. I knew about the jury duty, and realized it would just tire me out from being around all the hordes of people. Mental preparation is the key.
Anxiety is a step by step procedure. I made it into the jury room, then through each of the panels called, just taking one moment at a time.
In terms of my empathicness, I imagine myself encased in either a white light, or cement, whatever I need to repel the emotions of others. The weaker I feel that day, the heavier the material I envision.
Yet, all in all, I survived.
So, yes, I’d say I learned it.
Yet, I never want to go through a day like that again.
But, invariably, at some point, I will.