Jeremy Vine just covered this story on his Radio 2 programme, about whether shyness should be considered a mental illness. While I don't want to get into the specifics of that, I took issue with one of his guests who suggested that shyness is selfish and indicates that someone isn't interested in the people they're communicating with. Rubbish! I'm more interested in other people than I am in myself most of the time. I don't think the level of my shyness and my interest in others have any correlation at all.
Why am I so shy? I can't put it down to one thing. Maybe this is what happens when you're a tomboy with very few friends as a child, one who much prefers to read Enid Blyton than play dress-up for her hypothetical wedding. I was a mucky kid, always out in the garden making a mess, but I can't recall shyness having an impact on my life until I got to secondary school and the bullying started. I was told by one teacher that I was visibly different and therefore brought it on myself. Perhaps that was when it happened. In order to stop 'bringing it on myself', I became ultra-conscious of everything I said and did before eventually evolving into Lucy 2.0: the person who has health problems partly due to her fear of interactions with other people.
It's irritating and I certainly didn't choose to be this way. Plus, I make a conscious effort to force myself into things that set my nerves on edge. I meet up with friends in public places, occasionally I sing karaoke and, later this month, I have to go through my upgrade viva as part of my PhD progression. Does it sound like I'm not pushing myself? Of course, I allow myself my 'me' days. I hide behind the computer - still completely invested in what's going on outside of my bubble - and relax a little bit more than I can when I'm out and about. Writing and study are inherently isolating and this also impacts on my life: these two things take up much of my time and hinder any efforts I might make to combat my shyness. As a distance student, reliant on public transport, I don't really have the option to participate in much that goes on at Sheffield but, frankly, I find much of it pointless. I'd rather be at home researching a political piece for 2020UK than discussing a long-lost poem with some English students. Not that I don't enjoy poetry; I just spend enough of my time on literature and want to focus on something that, I feel, can make a difference in my (rare) spare time.
All this said, I lose my inhibitions on occasion. Nothing makes you less self-conscious than having children to worry about. I've been known to hop, dance and sing my way around Asda in order to keep my twin nieces semi-amused and quiet during a shopping trip. I've had altercations with charity workers accosting me in town centres and, on one memorable occasion, I almost got myself beaten up by arguing with a scary bloke who criticised me at a climbing wall. Something else takes over my body sending my perpetual shyness away for a few minutes. Do I wish I could be that person full time? Well, no, because I wouldn't be me then. Do I wish I could have a few more periods of inhibition? Yes! If only for the sake of my sanity.
You may also be interested in the post I wrote last year on Recluses.