Public Restrooms

If I had to trace my fear of public restrooms back to a certain event, it would probably be when I was 8-years-old and  walked into the Men’s Restroom at Epcot. Confused by the abundant number of sinks, my little brain didn’t realize the my blunder until seeing a man walk out of one of the stalls. I ran out with my beet red face hung low–too mortified to even go to the correct restroom to pee. After regaining my composure enough to rejoin my family, I made an agreement with myself, “We tell no one.”

Twenty plus years removed from the incident, it feels great to get that one off my chest. And most public restrooms don’t actually bother me at all unless we’re talking about using the restroom at a restaurant.

My bladder has to be there-is-no-way-you’re-making-it-home-without-peeing-first-painfully-uncomfortable full before I’ll use the bathroom at a restaurant. Even then, I may just cross my legs and hold it.

I try not to let it get that far. But I’ll be enjoying conversation with friends and have an attentive server who always fills up my Coke Zero. Next thing I know, I have to pee.

Ok, Sarah, just be cool. Don’t panic. Nonchalantly look around and try to locate the restroom. This restaurant is huge and they seated us in some side room. I’m on the inside of the booth. Everyone is going to have to get up to let me out. What if I walk into the kitchen by accident? Why aren’t there signs that clearly mark where the bathroom is? I’m going to have to ask the server. Where is the server? She was so attentive before and now she’s hiding. She just walked by but didn’t stop. Now I’m going to have to get her attention and then let her in on my dark secret–I too, like all humans, have to use the bathroom when I drink too much soda. 

“Excuse me.” Don’t raise your hand like an idiot. She’s not your teacher. “Excuse me. Yes. Hi. Where is the bathroom?”

Out into the main dining area, to the left, behind the bar. Ok. But I can’t get up and go now because everyone is eating and they’d all have to move. I’ll wait. I can wait. I wander if it’s a single restroom or if it’s one with multiple stalls. What if it’s a single, and I walk in on someone because I didn’t hear them say it was occupied? What do I say then? Nothing. You say nothing, close the door and run. What if I’m using the bathroom and someone walks in on me? What do I say when they knock? This seat’s taken? Occupied? Just a second? I bet I can just hold it. Well not if everyone keeps talking and laughing and having a great old time.

We’re all finished eating. Now would be a great time to go. Oh no. Now she’s bringing us our checks. I don’t want to be missing for that. Then everyone will have to wait on me. But I’ll still hold everyone up if I wait until we’re done paying. Stop making excuses, Sarah. You’re a grown woman. Get up and go to the bathroom.

“I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”

Why were you so worried? Nobody looked mad about having to move. Now I just have to walk through a sea of strangers and not fall on my face. To the left, past the bar… Oh look, there’s the restrooms sign. Almost there. Survey the doors. This looks like your standard multi-stall restaurant bathroom. Praise. This one says Ladies…and we’re in. That wasn’t so bad. Now just make sure you don’t have toilet paper stuck to your shoe before you leave, and you’re golden.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m the only person who puts this much thought into going to the restroom at a restaurant. But I’d be willing to bet there are other anxieties in your life that take up valuable time in your thoughts.

None of my anxious thoughts about using restaurant restrooms have actually come to fruition, and if they did, it wouldn’t kill me. They have distracted me from friends and fun and meaningful conversation though.

That’s the thing about fear–it rarely keeps us from real danger, but it will keep us from living if we let it.* So how about we stop letting fear trick us? I wish it were that simple. I wish we could just flip a switch in our brains and stop being afraid.

But then I think about all the times I haven’t let fear stop me. Without fear, I wouldn’t know brave I can be.

No, we can’t get rid of it. We will have to dance with fear our whole lives, so we need to learn to take the lead.

So I dare you to practice being brave and taking the lead, even if it’s doing something as small as getting up and walking confidently to the restroom when you’ve had too much Coke Zero at Chili’s.

*Some fears are completely valid and shouldn’t be ignored–like when I was wandering alone in a parking garage the other day because I had lost my car, and a guy pulled up and asked me if I wanted him to drive me around to help me look. He was probably a nice guy and had the best intentions. But that wasn’t an opportunity to be brave; it was an opportunity to be stupid. Be brave and smart.


Please Don’t Call Me Shy

My high school classmates voted me Most Shy.

When I found out I was nominated, I did what any shy person would do: I campaigned. I told every one I saw, “Vote for me–Most Shy!”

The irony was lost on my classmates, but I did win. (Of course I didn’t vote for myself; I voted for a girl I had never heard of before. She should’ve won, but I stole the title from her.)

Unfortunately, the yearbook has no record of my winning because the boy that won Most Shy refused to have his photo taken. I’m not bitter, but if anybody on the yearbook staff had a sense of humor they would have at least included on the Senior Superlative page, “Not Pictured–Most Shy: Sarah Stinson and that one guy.”

I was just happy that I won something, but I’m slightly annoyed that people always equate shyness with being an introvert. I don’t believe they’re the same thing.

When I was in seventh grade, I remember telling a senior student* I couldn’t do something because I was shy.

She replied, “No you’re not. You may be quiet, but you shouldn’t be shy. Being shy means you close yourself off from the world because you’re scared to experience it; being quiet just means you experience the world differently.”

Since then I’ve refused to label myself as shy. And though sometimes fear wins small battles, I refuse to let fear ultimately keep me from chasing my dreams and living my life.

I love people and being around them! I just can’t be around people 24/7 or I get drained and cranky.

Sometimes talking to new people (especially if those new people are attractive guys) does make me nervous, but it doesn’t often stop me.

In a large group of people, I may not always add much to the conversation, but not because I’m shy. It’s because I love to listen and observe–and probably also because I’m a little proud and don’t like to add to the conversation unless I can be witty and make people laugh.

So this is just a friendly little PSA from an introvert who sometimes secretly loves being the center of attention: You can call me awkward, charming, witty or even quiet, but please don’t call me shy.

*I don’t exactly remember how old the student was, but I went to a small Christian school in seventh grade meaning the Junior and Senior high students used the same buildings. Memories are fuzzy, so I’m going to assume the girl that gave me advice that ended up shaping part of my worldview was at least 17-years-old.

Love the Skin You’re In

I’ve never been able to tan. The sun doesn’t kiss my skin; it slaps it and laughs.

In the past four years of my life in Florida, I haven’t gotten a sunburn. I thought maybe the whole not tanning thing was something I had grown out of as a side affect of being a resident of the Sunshine State.

I decided to test my theory last week by standing out in the sun for a couple of hours without applying sunscreen. Turns out not being able to tan isn’t something you grow out of.

I cut my losses, bought stock in Aloe Vera, and accepted that God gave me pasty white skin to keep me humble. With a golden tan, I’d have the confidence of Gaston with sweet demeanor of Cinderella–I’d be unstoppable.

Loving my pale complexion is hard though because it’s not society’s standard of beauty.

When was the last time you heard a guy say his type was a girl with dark hair, blue eyes, and skin so pale she blends right into the sand on those white sandy beaches? Or a girl say she was looking for a man who was tall, Elmer’s Glue pasty white, and handsome? I mean I’m not innocent in all of this–I would personally love to marry a guy with a tan, so our kids would at least have a chance.

But I’m an introvert, so talking to that tall, dark, and handsome man would take an act of great courage on my part.

Like golden tans I believe being extroverted with an outgoing and bubbly personality is another standard of beauty in our society.

While I may still try to change my pasty white skin, I have fully embraced being an introvert. But I used to be so jealous of my outgoing friends and wished I could make friends as easily. (Ok, sometimes I’m still jealous.)

But then I realized being an introvert wasn’t an excuse to be shy; it was an opportunity to be brave.

And being brave for an introvert doesn’t mean morphing into an extrovert. It could mean talking to that guy at the gym you’ve thought was cute for the past few months but have taken pains to avoid. Or it could just mean leaving a voicemail. Or it could mean starting a blog to say all the things you’re afraid to say in real life because when the jokes don’t land in cyberspace, it’s not as humiliating.

I just want to celebrate the beautifully awkward life of the introvert surviving in a world made for the extrovert. I think it would be fun if you joined me!

But only half of me wants this blog to go wildly viral. The other half of me doesn’t because then I’ll have excellent material for my forthcoming standup show–A Comedy Night for Introverts: Where the jokes don’t matter because nobody shows up.

If you’re an introvert, I hope to make you laugh and realize that you’re not alone. If you’re an extrovert, I’m actually surprised you’re still reading, but I hope you laugh too.