The Professional Guest: Overcoming Social Anxiety

by Sheryl Thornberg


“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink, for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

—Jerome Klapka Jerome


I haven’t written for several weeks, mainly because my graphic design work has kept me very busy (which I’m thankful for) and there has been little time for anything else. For entertainment, I go to the pool or the beach and count how many people are whiter than me. Absolutely no shopping. Tax time is around the corner and I’m saving every penny.

There were a couple weeks in March when I was hit with extreme lonesomeness. I was lonesome for my family, my friends, my town home in Eden Prairie, MN, and my neighbors. It’s been difficult to make new friends here. I suppose it would help if I got out more. There are probably community ed and art classes I could attend, but over the years, I’ve developed a bit of social anxiety and it’s all I can do to walk into a room full of people these days. I start to sweat, my lips turn blue from hyperventilation and my eyes occasionally roll back into my head. Passing out is usually one hyper-vent away.

People frequently suggest church as a good place to start making acquaintances. I’ve visited four churches since I moved to Naples last August. My social anxiety really compounds in a church setting and I find myself sitting in the pews farthest to the back, escaping out the door before the last stanza of the final hymn is sung or I pass out, whichever comes first. One good thing: if I pass out in church, it might look like I was slain in the spirit and people would gather around and pray for me instead of calling the EMTs.

k2-_9084db8d-3fc9-4475-874c-5354f960dcd3.v1Rather than feel sorry for myself, however, I’ve decided to look into some class opportunities offered in the Kol Narishkeit (“Voice of Nonsense”) newsletter offered by the Jewish Beth Jacob congregation. There are some exciting possibilities there! I can attend a competitive chanting course every 4th Thursday, or join Cheese Ball night at the local watering hole. I’d get people to sponsor me and then I’d eat cheese balls. The more I eat, the more money I raise. Funds raised would then be used to purchase more cheese balls. It’s hard to have anxiety in a room full of people with orange mouths—equally as hard to hyperventilate due to a choking hazard.

What have I learned in all these months of living in Naples? I’ve learned to put a towel on the driver’s side car seat or risk a scorched backside. I’ve learned not to go for a walk through the mangroves at Clam Pass Park in the evening. This lesson was learned at my cousin’s expense. The Noseeums got her good and it took days on Zyrtec, Benadryl and Cortisone 10 to recover. Then there was that You Tube video of a panther racing down the planked walkway at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary which is built exactly like Clam Pass Park walkway. Noseeums are bad, but panthers are worse.

I’ve learned it is futile to shop for Christmas gifts in Naples at any time in December. I’ve learned to park my car in the farthest spot away from the entrance to any mall, Publix grocery store, Target or Walmart…and then to make sure I only park next to a brand new Mercedes, Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche, or Bentley. It’s the only way to ensure my car won’t get dinged when someone opens their door.

I’ve learned to look both ways after the light turns green before proceeding into the intersection. More than once, a distracted driver has come to a screeching halt after failing to see their signal had turned red. If I wasn’t already sweating from the Florida heat and humidity, I was after that.’ve learned how to stop and take several deep breaths when I realize I haven’t breathed properly for an hour and a half and my eyes are starting to see dizzying circles in my peripheral vision, or when I start hearing Kaa singing “Trust in Me” like he did to Mowgli in Disney’s, “The Jungle Book.”

I’ve learned to look forward to, with GREAT anticipation, visits from my Minnesota friends and family. These are “my people” and I never feel better, lighter, more content or more relaxed when “my people” are in town. I still feel like a foreigner. My house mate, Carla, has been here for 30 years so she knows everything. She fits in. I don’t yet. Naples is a rich town and I am not accustomed to hobnobbing with the rich and famous. I don’t have the right clothes, shoes, bags or jewelry… nor do I want any of these things. I don’t care if I have a Rolex, but buy me a good Dyson vacuum cleaner and you are forever my hero. All I care about is that I am within two miles of the beach, any beach. I go there and decompress, watching the shore birds and dolphins. My soul is at rest.

830893Years ago, my sister sent me a little coffee table book titled, “Simplify Your Life,” by Elaine St. James. It features 100 practical suggestions for creating a simple and satisfying way of life…how to declutter, smooth out a hectic lifestyle, ways to slow down and enjoy things that really matter. One of the chapters was titled, “Sell the Damn Boat.” I’ve never owned a boat, but I know what the author meant. A boat is a second (or third, or fourth) home to take care of and maintain. I don’t want that anymore, not unless I have housekeepers, maids, groundskeepers, maintenance crews, and various and sundry on-call personnel to maintain it all. I just want to use my Dyson on my four rugs and two carpeted bedrooms.

Ms. St. James writes, “A giant step on the road to simplicity is to eliminate the odds and ends that clutter up your home, your car, your office, and your life…. Getting rid of it can mean any number of things: give it to a friend, give it to Goodwill, take it to a consignment shop, sell it at a garage sale, recycle it if you can, or put in in the dumpster if you can’t. Start with your clothes closet and branch out from there. Clean out every closet, every drawer, every shelf, in every room of your house, including the kitchen. Do you really need a full-sized Cuisinart and a mini-Cuisinart and a handheld chopper and a mixer?”

Or just dump the whole kit n’ caboodle like I did. I sold everything on Craigslist or gave it away, jumped in my Jetta with my Dyson, Norwex mop system, some clothes, batteries, flashlights, a few special pretties, a tool kit, some framed photos of my son, and sheets, blankets and towels. I shipped my computer and printer down separately and the adventure began. Almost everyone has told me I am brave. I’m not sure if it was brave or foolhardy—all I know is that I had to do it. I am brave enough.

It’s almost like camping. Except that I hate camping. What I did was “unload” and then proceeded to live in air-conditioned homes with pools, jacuzzis, full working kitchens, and the ocean nearby. I am still, at heart, a Professional Guest, not a professional camper. There are rows upon rows of great mansions on Gordon Drive and Gulf Shore Boulevard here, where you see absolutely no signs of life for most of the year. These are fourth and fifth homes for the people who can afford it. They only come here in the calm winter months, if at all. I could live there and watch over the place until they come back, just ask me!

So the adventure continues… life and lessons learned 1700 miles away from the place I called home for so many years. If Florida doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll move back to Hawaii. I lived there for two years and loved it. I’m a beach girl, a sunset-loving girl… I want light fare, light travel, one or two friends worth the name, enough to eat and enough to wear.

NEELEYS_White-Chicken-Chili_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscapeThat reminds me, I better go check on the White Chicken Chili I was making today. Fresh Poblano and Jalapeño peppers with plenty of onions and garlic. Yum.


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