Afraid of Crowds and Being a Turtle

I put more effort into avoiding talking to people than I do when a conversation actually has to happen. Of course, there are people I love talking to, people whose company is profoundly welcome and pleasant and invigorating, but the cashier who gives me a weird look when they see I didn’t buy a mango and did, in fact, just buy a mango-flavored salty candy is not invigorating or pleasant or welcome. They’re exhausting. I think about that kind of person a little too much.

I’ve developed this–probably unhealthy–way of picturing how every interaction beyond those with a select few people is uniquely draining. Everyone’s got a needle, and depending on the interaction, maybe they only stab me once, maybe it’s a few times, maybe it’s in an artery, but no matter what, every time there’s another hole and a little leak. It’s not much, but as the day wears on, I get closer to empty. Chatting with a friend or taking a nap can seal a few breaks in the hull, but everything closes when it wants to.

I was thinking more along the line of a kind of cartoon-style fighting cloud with fists and needles and screams flying out of it… but this works too. You get the point

The little things add up. Some days it’s just that I’ve had to talk to a lot of people I didn’t want to, or slept too little so my skin is thin, or maybe it’s just that the grocery store was too crowded and everyone was moving and swarming and talking and talking too much so it’s hard to focus on what the person you want to listen to is saying and everyone has all these needles and then you’re the proud owner of a puddle of yourself. At least, that’s my experience.

I started hating crowds when I started realizing I was a person. Do you remember that weird time when you suddenly started being aware of yourself being aware, when you kind of woke up and noticed you exist and can think about that existence? That’s a weird experience that apparently a lot of people remember with strange clarity. Imagine little Thomas or Skyler or Jessica sitting in a classroom struggling through math when their eyes widen, they look around, and they notice they can remember the last few years but feel almost no connection to the person that lived them. And they realize every other person everywhere feels exactly the same way, that everyone is aware of themselves, makes decisions based on that awareness, and is constantly evaluating the information given to them by whatever they witness. That every person is a person.

If this thought makes you anxious like it does for me, it might help to imagine a turtle coming to this startling and life-changing realization. Just picture its little turtle eyes widening, it slowly craning its little turtle neck to look at its little turtle peers, and then it whispers “holy shit I’m a turtle.”

Who am I? What am I? Will birds still try to eat me by dropping me on rocks?

I have heard there are people who thrive on conversation and interaction and probably crowded Wal-Mart produce sections. I want to find one of these people because I’ve got a question: when you “woke up,” when you realized you and everyone around you was a person with thoughts and feelings and favorite episodes of Seinfeld, were you excited? Was your moment an “Oh!” instead of an “Oh no.”

13 Replies to “Afraid of Crowds and Being a Turtle”

  1. I distinctly remember the moment in my Philosophy 101 class where the professor rolled out the ol’ ‘brain in a vat’ theory, and how that sent me into a fucking existential tailspin. He was so cheerful, asking how any of us could ever be SURE we weren’t just brains in vats getting electrical impulses that made us perceive a programmed reality…but to me it was like, ‘no SERIOUSLY, how CAN I be sure? I’m…I’m really not sure. Do you hear that bubbling noise in the background? IS THAT MY VAT LIQUID?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All the faint background noise you think you hear before you fall asleep is really just the sound of movement just beyond your vat, but who is there? Lizards? Martians? That kind of off-putting cashier at Safeway who is actually an extra-dimensional space deity? We’ll never know.

      Yeah, the vat thing fucked me right up when I first heard about it, but now… no, I’m still fucked up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s the never knowing that fucks me up. That’s pretty much the only time I can understand the allure of organized religion. Subscribing to a set narrative for how life came to be and what will happen when it’s over makes a bit more sense when the alternative is a lifetime of terrified speculation.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I quit my gym membership because there were the same people there every day who just came to talk. Also, when my wife grins and says, “Please don’t be mad at me, but…” I automatically think she’s committed us to some social function. As long as it’s not that, even if she were to say, “I accidentally burned the house down,” I’m relieved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But imagine if it’s a social function that you could both cancel on! Canceling plans is the best thing anyone can ever do. Get ready for a fancy night, then cancel at the last second, order 5 pizzas and never leave bed again

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Not a fan of idle small talk, not good at it, and do not wish to be good at it. Totally get your post today, although all I could think of in your fourth paragraph was that we are something out of Dr. Seuss – like the Sneetches! You always make me think, sometimes laugh, and most times, I can also relate. That was the case again, today. Yes, we are all people but some of us like being around others much more than the rest of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to confess that part of the reason I’ve been writing these mental health posts is because people seem to relate and I’ve got this selfish streak where I just want to know people exist that are like me and I’m like them.

      On a lighter note, we’re the Sneetches! I had completely forgotten about that story!


  4. I so relate to your opening line, but I didn’t consciously realise till now that I do that! I am good at small talk, but it’s an auto pilot switch that goes on, it’s rehearsed and ingrained because I’ve worked for years in retail. It is not through choice 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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