When I was a kid, I was painfully shy, a product of both nonstop bullying and natural disposition. I learned to read when I was three and found books to be more interesting than people. I was always with a book, always with my nose in it, always with a new one every few days. At one school-funded book sale, my mom gave me a blank check and I came back with seventy-two dollars worth of books. I read all of them. I still have most of them. Ella Enchanted is still one of my all-time favorite books. (As for the movie, despite Anne Hathaway, I thought it was bad.)
My reading caused a lot of trouble with my teachers. I was in an academically accelerated program and performed well, but I didn't have any friends. Like I mentioned, I was bullied pretty badly by both the boys and the girls, and I didn't want to work with them on projects or even talk to them during lunch. My teachers told my parents that I was too shy and that I needed to learn to deal with people. Since then, bullying has become a contentious topic among teachers and has been addressed as a growing problem, but back then, if you were bullied, you sucked it up and dealt with it, either with a punch to the face or you just tried extra hard to be part of the group. When we had a class trip to Philadelphia, my teacher specifically told me not to bring any books. She wanted me to socialize. I brought books anyway and spent most the trip in the hotel room, reading.
My social skill were fairly stunted as a child, but once in college, I found that the older students liked me and I hung out with them. I had a few friends who were my age, but the majority of them were grad students. I lead a lot of groups both in class and out of class, like when I tutored kids in my astronomy class before the tests. I didn't go out and party like a lot of the other girls, but I got good grades and kept my GPA at 3.8. Honors societies were a commonplace thing.
My parents weren't very impressed regardless.
They wanted me to bring my friends home and to go out with them a lot and to be a social butterfly. I was usually in my apartment, doing homework, reading, and writing. They took it as sort of a failing of themselves that I wasn't out and about town, living it up. One time, when the writer's club I was VP of came over to my place and got drunk, the president got into a fight with one of the other guys and broke some of my teacups and bled all over my chair. When I recounted the story the next day, my parents weren't angry and upset with me for having three drunk guys at my place at midnight on a Thursday. They were proud that I had 'broken out of my shell.'
But was there a shell to begin with?
The reason why I'm writing this post is because I was reading this article here over at the NY Times. It talks about how we're medicating shyness out of people and how it might spell disaster in an evolutionary sense. The writer states that shyness is in danger of being seen as a disease and that we're unfairly treating it like a bad thing instead of a survival trait that assures that some of the population survives disasters.
I'm still shy, even though I self-publish on the web and write blogs and sing karaoke. I don't like giving speeches, I don't like being the center of attention, and I don't like walking ahead of people. Leadership isn't something I strive for, but something that I'll accept if I have to. I'd rather sit in a park or at home and write than be out at a party. Is that a disease? Is it wrong of me to devote most of my day to writing instead of to socializing?
My parents sit on the fence. They want me to write, but they don't think I'm happy. My mom still blames herself that I wasn't one of the popular girls in school. My dad has tried multiple ways of stamping the shyness out of me. He nearly put me into Outward Bounds in the hopes that the program would shock me into an extroverted success who didn't push people in front of her so that she didn't have to go through doorways first.
In my defense, the whole 'I won't go through doors first' is easy to ignore when I'm with a group. It's weird, I will admit, but when the zombie apocalypse happens, at least I won't be the one being eaten in a doorway. I'll be the one shooting the damn thing in the head.