When I was a child, I wasn't just quiet, I was almost silent. Conversations were held in the safe harbor of my head, rarely out loud. My heart would pound, my face redden, and I would almost faint when I was asked to speak to other people. School was a nightmare when you are “The Quiet Girl”
It wasn't just growing up with senior citizens as my adopted parents, my “Gram” was my great-grandmother who took me in when I was born, it was the lack of failure and learning how to mistakes with children my own age that led to a great deal of my vocal isolation. They didn't mean to, they just didn't have anyone I could socialize with. In their group of friends, none of them were raising great-grandchildren. Playgroups were done with families of similar ages, so they just didn't have anyone for me to play with.
My only friends were 4 legged or stuffed. I honestly believed I could speak Dog. * Another story for another day.
Also I went back and forth between my Gram's safe shelter to my birth Mother's chaotic and often fearful lifestyle. There were boyfriends, step-fathers, fighting that included guns and police, fight fights in the streets with other family members, everything in that environment was loud, scary, and forced me deeper into myself. I moved every single year, sometimes twice a year. Torn from home to home, school to school, never really feeling settled and comfortable.
As a young adult woman, I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to attend college and make a new life for myself. But I had almost no social skills and I would find myself standing at the outside of every circle, every group, listening and aching to be included. Yet I had no clue of how to be a part of their conversations and when I would speak… my own voice sounded foreign.
After several failed relationships, usually stemming from my lack of communication and even my own failure to stand up for myself, I found myself alone and looking at a life without any friends and without someone to be close to.
1998 – I bought my first computer, got dial-up, and took my first steps towards becoming someone new.
I loved the early world of the Internet. Or.. the World Wide Web as I often called it back then. I created a “fake name” and went into chat rooms of all different styles, themes, and began talking. I talked about gardening in Home and Garden chatrooms, I talked about politics in political chatrooms. I even created identities that challenged my understanding of other topics, like a lesbian woman in a Gays Only chatroom. I made friends, I participated in debates, I found a voice.
I had great conversations. I invented personas for many different topics. I tested out conservative to radical, I made mistakes, I was learning how to have conversations with people I didn't know. I was brave, I was bold, I was learning how to speak at 23.
The more that I experimented with having actual conversations online, the more I realized how much I had to contribute. Soon I took the lead, sharing stories of growing up with a mentally ill parent, sharing moments of my childhood and finding that for the first time I didn't feel like a freak. Others talked about their stories, many of them just like mine.
25 years later, I am still sharing my stories but I've found my voice. Through those early steps of digital storytelling I made lifelong friends, I broke out of my isolation and took charge of my life.
Today I talk to people about my struggles with Lyme Disease, how I've learned to change my diet in order to combat my illness, and how you can overcome anything once you put your mind to it. I travel the world, I start up conversations with strangers. But deep inside I am still “The Quiet Girl” who has learned how to navigate my fears.
Yes, sometimes I still feel my cheeks flush and I struggle to make my opening statement at a new group. That's life. That's part of being an introvert. That's me. But now I know I can walk up to an empty seat and say ” Hi, I'm Crysta. I'd love to take a seat and get to know you. I'm sure you have a great story to tell, I know I do. ”