I'm Not Dumb, I'm Not A B*tch, And I Don't Hate You: I'm Just Shy

by Sheena Sharma

I’ve always loved to sing. In high school, I enrolled myself in the Masquers Guild, my high school’s drama club. But even though I was a bonafide drama nerd, high school was rough for me.

The drama club was filled with singing, dancing divas whose outspokenness echoed through the auditorium.

They cracked jokes, laughed, practiced their lines in silly voices -- even when they knew people were watching them -- and didn’t have a care in the world.

But the quiet kids were there, too. They were the shy members -- the wallflowers who would curl up in the corner, turn their iPods on full blast and recite their lines under their breath while they made shifty eyes to check that no one was watching.

I was one of these people.

We weren’t any less committed or excited. We just didn’t make a show (hehe) about it, and so people considered us outsiders.

The divas and wallflowers had an ongoing battle. I’d lock myself in the locker room's bathroom stall and overhear the divas' late-afternoon gossip:

“She thinks she’s better than us.”

“If she can sing, why the hell can’t she talk?”

The divas made a good case. I had the plight of the performer: I knew I could sing, and I knew I did a decent job doing it. But talking was hard for me.

I just couldn’t bring myself to keep up with off-stage conversation. When the curtain closed and all was said and done, I’d take off my figurative mask, breathe a little, turn myself “off” and crawl back into my shell.

I envied the drama divas; I wished I could be more like them. They were expressive, fearless and unstoppable.

They had the uncanny ability to externalize their happiness and their pain at the exact moment it hit them -- instead of holding it in and remaining impassive.

Life forces us to open up. It breaks down our walls. But shyness doesn't disappear with a snap of the fingers. Socializing helps -- momentarily.

No matter what I do, I can’t deny the facts: The "shy drama girl" will always be at my core. She doesn’t define me, but she still influences my identity. I suppose that’s why I hide behind words now.

People often say, “Watch out for the quiet ones.” We have to watch out for the quiet ones: They twiddle their thumbs, sit and ruminate. Lord knows what they may be plotting.

But maybe they aren’t plotting. Maybe they’re just… being. It’s human nature to jump to conclusions, and we do exactly that, deeming the quiet ones “dumb” or “bitchy” because they keep everything inside. We have to stop assuming the worst in people based on motivations we can't guess.

If something bad happens, I don't yell and scream about it and let other people know. I stay quiet. I internalize the incident and process it in my own head. 

I'm not a big talker; I’m just an avid listener.

We underestimate the value of a good listener. Listening, unlike hearing, is an acquired skill; the more we practice it, the better we get.

I’m not just hearing what you have to say; I’m listening intently and making informed conclusions.

Just because I’m not mouthy doesn’t mean I’m not contributing.

I’m not fearful; I’m just careful.

I don't second-guess my thoughts because I don’t believe in them; I second-guess them to decide which ones I want to contribute to the conversation. If my thoughts are going to serve as mere placeholders, I’ll keep them in my head -- which is where they should stay.

If you really want, I’ll lend you my stream of consciousness. But I’m telling you now that it won’t get us anywhere.

I’m not being mean; I’m just staying mum.

I’m not silently judging you; I’m just taking in everything around me. Many environments can overwhelm shy people. Keeping ourselves "on mute" is the only way we know how to settle in comfortably and adapt.

I’d rather nod and smile than throw in a meaningless “mhm.”

I’m not sharing; I’m just overthinking.

Despite what you may think, I do have thoughts; I’m just not vocalizing them. I’m like a sponge, and I'm not soaking in only sounds.

I ride on the rainbows of tangential thoughts, too. I could be thinking about the president, My Little Pony, Nicki Minaj and what I’m going to wear tomorrow -- all in 30 seconds’ time.

I’m not delirious; I’m just curious.

I’m not high. I repeat: I absolutely did not smoke a bowl before attending our meeting. I may look "out of it," but the opposite is true: I’m really into it.

Some people are more computer than human: They’ll process information and spit out feedback only when absolutely necessary.

I’m no longer ashamed of my shyness. I’ve accepted that it will always be part of what makes me me. The thing about shy girls is that once you really -- and I mean really -- get to know them, they aren’t so shy anymore.