Last week I was in a grocery store outside my neighbourhood. I was feeling physically lousy that day, and had greasy hair and was wearing the previous day’s clothes that I’d slept in.
In the produce section, I spotted a former coworker. This was someone I used to really like working with, and a very kind person. My first reaction, though, was to hide, so I took a detour on my way to grab celery for the guinea pigs. Then I spotted him again in the bakery section, this time about to walk right by me. I did a quick 180 to keep my face hidden, and I think chances are he was preoccupied or else he would’ve noticed the weirdo doing the evasive manoeuvre.
It’s not as though this was someone who I had any negative associations with, so what was going on? I looked like crap, but that wasn’t the issue either – or at least, it wasn’t a major factor.
I think the biggest factor was embarrassment. My level of functioning career-wise has tanked over the last few years. There’s a very good reason for that (my illness) and I’ve made the most of what I’ve been dealt, so most of the time it’s not an issue. But when I’m faced with the possibility of talking to former colleagues, I start to feel inadequate.
This colleague I avoided in the grocery store wouldn’t have judged (or if he did, he would have kept it very much to himself). He was always really supportive when it came to my illness. So if the judgment wasn’t going to come from him, that meant that it was firmly rooted in my head.
I think part of the issue is that when seeing former colleagues, naturally the first topic of conversation that’s going to come up is work. That’s just the way it is, and there’s no way around it. And if it doesn’t happen to be the first thing that comes up, it’s guaranteed to be the second. And I don’t want to talk about work, but really in that context there’s no way to avoid it.
I suppose it’s sort of an identity thing too. I used to be a nurse, then that shifted to nurse with a side of patient, then straddling nurse-patient, and now patient with a side of nurse. And that is what it is, but it does change who I am in relation to my old colleagues. My identity has evolved over time, but for colleagues who I haven’t seen for several years, they know me from a few different identities ago and to them this would look like a large shift.
I don’t know if my weird explanation makes any sense, but I suspect I’m not alone in wanting to avoid or hide from certain people. Is that something you’ve experienced?