Fellow Toastmasters:

[I close my eyes and take two deep breaths……slowly….opening an eye at one point to grin at the audience.]

That was me…..getting oxygen to my brain. I recently read an article about anxiety, how your heart rate increases when you’re anxious, of course; but the amount of oxygen to your brain decreases…….thereby intensifying the anxiety. And that’s what I want to talk about today. I remember always having an extreme fear of.. not just public speaking as in this scenario….but really anytime all eyes were on me. I can’t recall any incidents that caused or started that condition, but it was certainly a reality in my life.

I started public school at 7, second grade, and all through my school years I remember the terror that would sweep over me when I thought the teacher was going to call on me to answer a question or to participate in some way. And to make matters worse, I had this blush. Not this rosy normal blush, but this amazing, bright red blush that would start at my neck and move to the top of my head. And just THINKING of this blush would actually bring on the blush. I looked it up in the dictionary and sure enough found the word, erythophobia. “Erythos” is the Greek work for red. “Phobia” the Greek word for fear. Defined as “an extreme fear of blushing.” Needless to say, this did not go unnoticed by the other kids. I remember one boy called me “Freckled-Face Strawberry”……..which I can laugh about now, but the fear, the blush, the fear of the blush…..this was a reality for me throughout school.

On the home front, I remember my grandmother telling someone that I was backward. And I remember refusing to play the piano on several occasions…..when my mother would have friends over and they would say, “Oh, Donna Sue, could you play us something on the piano?” No. And when a lady from the church asked me to play for a certain event, again I said NO. And even though I took piano lessons for 10 years and enjoyed it, I remember knowing that under no circumstance would I consider participating in the piano recital.

College years….same thing. After marriage….same thing. My husband’s family was very comfortable having discussions, sharing opinions…..and I am sure they wanted to include me in those discussions, but I had that fear of being asked anything, and as always, that incredible blush.

Interestingly enough, this fear and this blush did not really equate to being an introvert. I have always genuinely liked people, have been drawn to helping and encouraging people. People have liked me. I was voted most popular girl in the senior class. I am not sure how it all fits together.

Some the last memories I have were actually in my 40’s, in some one-on-one situations where, again, I would be in conversation. Then I’d have that thought of not knowing enough, then I’d think of the blush, then the blush would come…. There were many times that I’d have to excuse myself from the conversation.

But to wind this up, about six years ago I moved from VA to OK, and as I think back, I don’t recall one time in the last six years of having that experience…..of the extreme fear or the extreme blush. In preparation for this Ice Breaker, I called my mother to chat about what she could remember from my childhood, and when I mentioned the last 6 years, she said, “Oh, I know exactly what made the difference!” She said, “When you lived in VA you were surrounded by people who loved you and supported you, but when you moved to OK it was the opposite. And you knew that that was wrong. And the part of you that wanted to right that wrong… fight….was stronger than that part of you that was self-conscious.”

In the last two years, as an empty-nester, I have done a lot of networking….entrepreneur groups, real estate groups, book discussions, childbirth groups. I have really enjoyed getting to know new people and learning about new things. But I know that there is still this wall of inhibition. I want to grow. I want to get more comfortable sharing ideas or things I’ve learning. That’s why I have joined Toastmasters.

Thank you.