Friday, July 30, 2010

sociophobes of the world unite!

I thought I made up the word, but no! It's out there, and apparently so are we. Though I'm not sure it's in the DSM IV. I started reading some of the diagnostics, as well as case histories of folks who consider themselves extreme sociophobes. One in particular caught my eye, first he talked about how easy it is for him to do public speaking, and to lecture at his university, but stepping outside his own door is close to torture.

And that, of course, hit home.

I have no intention of exploring the pathology or etiology of sociophobia (my own or the syndrome itself). I thought it would be a whole lot more uplifting to offer my home-baked solutions for any cringing sociophobe who happens to stumble upon this post when nobody's watching. What follows is in no particular order, although I'll probably start with the more obvious solutions — the ones you've probably already tried.

close your eyes — If you close your eyes they can't see you. Although truth be told, recently I've not had much luck with this one. It worked a whole lot better when I was a kid.

turn it into a virtue — I'm borrowing this from Oliver Sach's recommendation for Tourette's Syndrome, and Gille de la Tourette's Syndrome is a whole lot more conspicuous than sociophobia. His point was that Tourette's is associated with greater facility in the creative arts because the inhibitions are lowered to such a great extent. Thus, go off your (Tourette's) meds to play in that jazz band or you won't be able to jam terribly well. Ditto for sports... For sociophobia, the advantages may not be as glaringly apparent as the up side of Tourette's. But a few examples follow:

call it work — When you have to be in the presence of others outside your own domain, just call it work. If it's work, it's not social, and therefore doesn't count. (Kinda like those tiny pieces of pork in the chow mein at the Chinese Restaurant on Shabbes).

get a Ph.D. in anthropology — This is a subset of the above. In this instance, every human encounter outside your door becomes participant/observation: a fieldwork experience of utmost importance. And in that case, you can:

apply for a grant — To study 'it.' And because this is such a difficult piece of work (if you write it up properly), and if you make your argument compelling, you could live your whole life on soft money researching and publishing your results.

invite people over — You may have already tried this. But we all know it sure beats the alternative: going out. Here, you get credit (bravery points) for holding the event to begin with, and when you can't stand it any longer, you can creep upstairs, shut the door and curl up with a good book about the fall of civilization or one of Tom Brown's survivalist guides. Just make sure no one has thrown their coat on your bed, so they won't come up to retrieve it. If you really train your friends well —(yes, you have friends. They are the most tolerant people on the planet) — they will keep the party going a good long time, clean up downstairs, and sleep over so that you can have a fabulous time at breakfast together the next morning talking about what a great party it was. They know where the linens are. And they know where to sleep ...

belly dance for the very very timid — We started this class in my living room, and it was very successful, until some of the participants tried to get a little too chummy. A little too successful. Thankfully our fabulous instructor was going off to grad school, and so we put this one to bed gracefully. I don't remember a thing from the 'routines' that we were taught, but I'd do it again... Oh wait, we've also had the past 15 years of kabbalah at Beit Malkhut, so never mind. It doesn't have to be belly dance. Maybe this is why quilting bees used to be normative?

neutral ground — If you flee in the middle of the night when you're at a lover's house (or Big Sur, or someplace stranding them), pick a spot that won't make you run. Don't pick your own bed, 'cause when you get the get-me-outta-heres it's terribly awkward. I mean, you don't want to wake them with your mishegass, but you're ready to bite your leg off to get away. Too many times have you ended up on your own guest bed because you were being so polite about it. Don't let this happen to you! Favorite neutral spot: under a waterfall a good long hike away. Terrific spot, and you can't really sleep the whole night there.

go into occultation — I'm serious here. Mystics are rather a lot like anthropologists, able to perceive and enjoy the larger patterns from outside the system. If it's good enough for the Shekhinah, it should be good enough for you. Or think of my 16th century namesake, Mirabai. She escaped her tethered fate by jumping off her dead young husband's funeral pyre, and ran into the forest — all the while warbling songs of newfound freedom. Much of her poetry is about escaping abusive family pressure, and falling into the arms of her mystical lover, Krishna. Which is so much more satisfying. Others, come to mind...

become an ecologist — You open your mouth, and clearly no one is listening.

or a psychoanalyst — This one's great. I mean, the patient pays big bucks to lie on a couch and not look at you. And if you say anything at all, they've missed it 'cause they're so self-absorbed. (Bonus: you no longer need your M.D. under your belt before going through the training). And don't worry about those analyst parties: they're all talking to themselves anyway (or trying to avoid their own analyst at the party). Although, to tell the truth, the best way to handle the analyst parties is to go straight to the library in the house (mansion) and sit down in a comfy reading chair with one of the 24 volumes of Freud's Standard Edition. When that no longer works, head for the garden to 'get away from the cigar smoke.' Keep switching between garden and library, until you've put in your time. Warning: hard to get away with your usual torturous twenty minute obligation with this one.

offer to drive — So that when you run from the event (Cinderella was a famous sociophobe—being better with cats and mice and gourds than say, siblings), at least you've got the keys and you're in your own carriage. Having stranded my closest friends and lovers, I must confess this is a tad risky. But it usually works out okay in the end. They meet someone else. Who takes them home. And they have a very very good night. Try not to strand them too far away. Big Sur is definitely too far. Berkeley Hills is probably the most you should try to get away with. (That case was not my fault. It was Rosh Ha-Shanah at the Aquarian Minyan, and I ran like hell when they started doing Pygmie chants. Jesus, what were they thinking?). My good friend and kabbalah partner whom I stranded is a really good sport. He got a marvelous ride back to the City (and brought back my glass slipper as well). He should get a medal for all he's put up with over the years.

When I was a kid, my mom once asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her cheerfully that I wanted to be the keeper of the woods. Have a little cottage in the forest all alone (I was thinking Muir Woods). With a broom to tidy up. She burst into tears and stormed out of the room saying that was the most depressing thing she ever heard. What was she thinking? It still sounds delightful to me (although, curiously, I've never actually lived alone in my entire life). To wit:

surround yourself with people — Especially gregarious ones. Then, no one will notice.

cross the street when you see them coming — This works especially well if you cross before they see you. Because then you can wave heartily and walk a little faster, demonstrating your good intentions and that you're late or trying to catch up to the white rabbit in the waist coat receding in the distance.

If they love you, they'll forgive you.

And why should they love you? Because you're sometimes pretty good one-on-one. And you do care about them (in the abstract) (and especially when they're gone). When they're really gone, you miss them just terribly. Besides, these days people are pretty tolerant of all kinds of psychopathology.

When all else fails ...

I know. You thought I was about to say "when all else fails, jump," Or, medicate. But no, I'm not a proponent of either one.

When all else fails, call it a virtue, get that Ph.D. under your belt, get the grant, take notes, publish the whole damned thing (with analysis), don't strand them too far away ... and most of all: laugh. And let them laugh too.

Or call it a commentary on the human condition.

Or... or ... You'll think of something...

So. Sociophobes of the world unite! — but maybe just not in person.


  1. That was excellent. Let me see about 15 minutes . . . a bill for half an hour is in the mail, see you next session.

    p.s. Oakland is where you stranded me.

  2. Oh my god, forgot about that one! I am sooo sorry! And that one was recently. Well, what can I say? See above.