Have you ever found yourself at a party where you felt alone or unable to mix? I have – far too often. I dreaded every occasion where I would have to meet people, and my best recourse in my single days was avoiding those social occasions. No surprise then that people stopped asking me.
Even when I met Trish and felt more comfortable in my skin there was always this reserve in me. I would arrive at a gathering – wedding, confirmation, engagement or birthday party – and avoid people as much as I could, seeking out family or friends for conversation so . I might be introduced to someone and stick with them for as long as I could – or they could stand me! However, I would generally stay well away from mixing with others.
This awkwardness is something I have never been able to rid myself of. It has stalked me since I became conscious of my face in my teens, and when I noticed people were staring at me. My usual defence back then was to shun gatherings as much as I could, and if compelled to go, endure it with as much grace as I could muster. I found those nights painful to be honest.
Trish, fortunately, is made of sterner stuff. She likes people, and loves socialising. If it wasn’t for her life would have been a lot duller and I wouldn’t have met so many people. She’d drag me to pubs and restaurants, those dreaded parties, and holidays abroad where the company of strangers helped me a lot.
But still I struggled to get on with life, to relax when socialising. Simple things like standing in a bar ordering drink was excrutiating, especially when the barman took ages to serve me. Why was I so self-conscious when I was now happily married and with two lovely kids? Everything I tried never seemed to work: not all the soothing words from Trish, nor the comfort of knowing I was now loved.
It was some years before it dawned on me that people were not staring as much as I thought. A few did, of course, but the vast majority were too busy to notice me. Better still, I slowly began to lose my self-consciousness.
Some years ago in Manchester I finally realised something was different. I was at the bar ordering drink when my future son-in-law appeared next to me. Trish had told him how nervous I was standing at the bar, but in that moment I had lost the fear and the anxiety was gone.
At our daughter’s recent wedding something even more remarkable happened. Instead of just sticking with my family and friends, I actually sought out as many people as I could to chat – many of whom I had never met before. Yes, I actually walked up to people’s tables and started talking, or introduced myself at the bar,
And it wasn’t the drink talking as I don’t, as you know, imbibe. I was so thrilled for Sarah Jane and Tadhg and so utterly serene. I had never been so happy before and so chilled out.
I was the same way throughout the three days we spent at Castlemartyr, three days I will never forget. It’s taken me a while to be so comfortable in my own skin, it’s just a shame it didn’t happen years ago. Here’s hoping I stay that way.