We all have social phobias – from public speaking to smiling with spinach lodged between our teeth to walking out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to our shoes. I am no stranger to such phobias. Growing up, I was petrified of talking to cashiers, answering the phone, and mingling in any group of people. Many of these childhood phobias have stuck with me (though I have learned to deal with them).
Unfortunately, the blinder I get, the more social fears I experience. Imagine trying to exist in a world where communication is 90% nonverbal as the silent cues fade away? This, combined with intense concentration just to make it from one place to another in one piece can really put a strain on coexisting with society.
So, here a few of my most nerve-racking social phobias:
The Dreaded Handshake
The handshake – America’s way of greeting. From business meetings to church gatherings, the handshake makes an important first impression. In the same way, a handshake shunned makes an equally lasting impression. Sadly, the handshake makes 0 noise, and can be extended in a variety of ways. This is very bad for the blind person. I dread meeting new people for this reason.
Some instances are easier than others. If I am meeting someone one-on-one, I compensate by finding where the voice is coming from and extending my hand first. This usually works well when standing directly across from the other person. When standing in a triangle formation, circle, or random order, it can get tricky. If there is more than one person, I often find myself pre-extending the hand, getting embarrassed and removing it, only to find the person is now waiting to shake my hand. Dang.
Then there are parties, where some shake and others don’t. Of course, there is usually an overwhelming amount of ambient noise so I can’t tell if the person is talking to me or the person next to me…which can lead to awkward situations quick.
But the WORST of all is church greeting time. Sadly, I dread this small portion of time so much that I can’t concentrate on the service until the moment is over and I have lived through the ordeal. Boy, church service greetings. Dim light, loud background noise, and dozens of hands thrusting themselves at me randomly. Of course, those attending the service don’t know I can’t see them. I always leave Bob at home in favor of my husband…and even if I did tote Bob along, he’d long be tucked away before the onslaught of hands. I’ve often wondered if i can get around this predicament. But, no solutions. The best idea I can come up with is taping a huge sign on my shirt that reads “sorry if I don’t shake your hand, I’n blind.” But, that sign won’t happen any time soon. Until then, I will keep randomly extending my hand to find the person next to or in front of me is not looking my direction, and accidentally ignoring those who are. …And don’t even get me started on the huggers. I have accidentally kissed one too many cheeks trying to accept a hug.
Yes, I still have the old fear of cashiers/employees/servers, but this time it’s for a totally different reason. Ordering food is super awkward. I can never tell where the cashier is, if they’re ready to take my order, or if they’re looking at me. This leaves me guessing and 95% of the time very embarrassed. If simply ordering isn’t hard enough, exchanging money is worse. I can never find the person’s hand. And forget it with credit card machines. They are all different and touch screen. Finally, most cashiers make close to minimum wage, so I can’t really expect them to be sympathetic toward my situation. Thankfully,I very often have my husband with me, who comes to the rescue and removes at least 50% of the awkwardness of this situation.
Another terrible retail moment is the fitting room experience. Again, I always have someone with me to shop for clothing (who is almost always my husband). He will usually nudge me toward the fitting room attendant, where I will look down and say the number of items, embarrassed. Then comes the worst part. Naturally, men aren’t usually allowed in fitting rooms. This is where I have to swallow my pride and quickly ask the hurried attendant for assistance through the maze. Good thing I like to dress presentably, I would have resorted to t shirts and bad fitting pants to avoid the drama.
Yes, I still hate mingling…with a passion. But, now this dread is tenfold. Not only do I have the underlying feeling of bothering people, interrupting where I am not wanted, and generally going blank due to my fear of mingling, but in addition I now have to stay in one spot so as not to bump someone, constantly deal with being in the way (I could stand in a corner and someone would have to be there), try to see if the voices around me are talkingto me (no one addresses anyone by name, that’s all done with the EYES), and generally try to figure out what the heck the person talking to me is saying as there is almost always the drowning noise of a crowd or music to garble the voice. Sadly, I have lost the ability to read lips long ago (which is taken for granted until you lose it). All of these factors combined make parties and social gatherings exhausting rather than a great way to meet new friends.
So, there are a few of my social phobias. I could write a book detailing all the stresses my mind races through daily, but those are especially challenging. Until next time, Hooah! (hey, I had to say something lighthearted)