I know, I know. I don’t need a lecture on why that’s terrible. When the mechanic took my car I 100% thought he’d come back a few minutes later and say, “Ma’am, are you aware that your engine is so full of sludge that it’s inoperable?”
“So it doesn’t run?”
“No,” he’d say. “The oil buildup is inoperable. There’s no known cure. I’m sorry, but your car has two weeks to live.”
It’s not like I was putting it off for cost (I get free oil changes through the dealership) or time (I work from home and set my own schedule). Truly, getting an oil change is about the easiest thing you can do.
But I was so f*cking scared.
I’d never gotten an oil change before. In the past I just waited until it got so bad that someone else just took my car and did it for me, but not this time. I was ordered in no uncertain terms to get an oil change before my car f*cking exploded and no, no one else was going to do it.
So I waited. I drove up to Wyoming a few times. Drove to Denver. Fort Collins. Denver. Denver again. And again.
Each time I knew I was risking real damage to my car, but the fear of imminent death wasn’t enough to make me get an oil change. And before anyone pulls the “well, if you had to pay for that car then you’d take better care of it! Don’t be so spoiled!” — I am paying for my car. If anything, that should tell you just how terrified of getting an oil change I was.
What was I afraid of, anyway?
I wasn’t particularly afraid of mechanics. I wasn’t afraid of cars or machinery. Not spending money, not driving, not getting lost.
Here’s what I was afraid of.
I pull up. Where do I park my car? What if I park it in the wrong place? What if I can’t figure out where to park it? What if I piss someone off with where I park? What if I park in the wrong place and then lose my car?
I meet the mechanic. What if he asks me questions I can’t answer? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I ask for the wrong thing? What if I look stupid? What if I don’t know what to do?
The mechanic takes my car and I go wait. Where do I wait? What if I sit in the wrong seat? What if I wait in the wrong spot? What if I misheard him and he told me to wait somewhere else? What if I wasn’t supposed to wait at all? What if I can’t figure out where to wait?
The mechanic returns so I can pay. What if I don’t have enough money for some reason even though I definitely do? What if I can’t figure out how to pay? What if I pay for something I wasn’t supposed to? What if they try to cheat me? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer? What if I answer wrong?
And on and on and on it goes.
That much uncertainty is terrifying for someone like me. I need to know everything in advance — what to say, what to do, where to go — or I’m completely paralyzed. Yes, I know that saying or doing the wrong thing in this scenario isn’t likely to get me killed. But the fear is just as impenetrable, just as real.
I’m so afraid of doing something wrong that I can’t do anything at all.
“Easy,” you say. “Just stop caring about what others think of you!”
If it were easy, believe me, I’d’ve done it. But fear isn’t always rational and it can’t be explained away with rational solutions. Telling me to “Just stop caring” is kind of like saying “Just run a marathon.” Yes, those words are easy to say, but there’s so much more that goes into it than “just” doing it.
I wish I didn’t have so much anxiety. I wish I could “just” call the doctor or “just” stop by the post office or “just” get my oil changed.
Fact is, I can’t. Those things require so much mental and emotional energy for me to do. I’m trying — I really, really am, even if it doesn’t look like it.
Be gracious with your socially anxious friends. If they say they can’t do something, don’t pressure them — ask how you can help. I promise you, they're not trying to be dramatic.
And if you’re the socially anxious friend:
Be gracious with yourself.
Give yourself props when you tackle a scary situation, even if it’s something as small as an oil change. And when you are paralyzed by fear, know that it’s okay if you need to step back and try again tomorrow.
You’re doing your best, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.