I felt awful—selfish, mean, and a little nuts. I was beginning to suspect there was something wrong with me. A few nights later, I knew there was. I'd stopped in the middle of town to watch a procession, which in my Mexican town is about as common as cornflakes for breakfast is in the States. An attractive man on the other side of the street smiled at me. I smiled back, then immediately cast my eyes to the ground and turned my back. I sensed him cross the street to stand next to me. I thought to myself, "Say something. Talk to him." I could not think of a single word, nor could I look at him. Eventually, he moved away and I went home.
That night I couldn't sleep for recalling all the times shyness had tripped me up. I'd gone to Guatemala to study Spanish for three weeks and never once struck up a conversation with anyone the entire time—in Spanish or in English. I'd noticed the starving street dogs and how they slunk around anticipating a kick, and on a particularly low day I decided I was like them. Afraid of people, anticipating a kick in the pants metaphorically. Shyness, I realized, was a defense mechanism, meant to place a distance between me and people, between me and hurt. But like most defenses, after a time it had turned on me and become the source of hurt.
I'd spent too many years and thousands of dollars to want to jump back on the therapeutic couch. And I didn't think even a Herculean act of will could make me flirtatious and friendly, open and at ease, but I did believe hypnotism could. A year earlier, my friend Amy, who had been complaining that she'd lost her soul ever since she became the president of her own company, had been hypnotized to "feel her feelings." The hypnotist put her under and spoke to her unconscious. "I know in the past there were very good reasons for Amy not to feel her feelings," he said. "But she'd like to feel them now. So can we let her feel her feelings for three months? If it doesn't work out, she can go back to not feeling them." Amy told me she immediately started feeling her feelings and she still did, although sometimes she wished she didn't. A few weeks after Amy told me about being hypnotized, I sat next to a Lacanian analyst at a dinner party who said, "Psychoanalysis doesn't work; hypnotism does."
Two positive mentions in two weeks were enough to make me want to give hypnotism a go. Amy recommended a hypnotherapist in Toronto. When I called Debbie Papadakis and said that I wanted to be hypnotized for shyness, she said, "Good for you. You're going to change in ways you can't even imagine. This will affect your entire life."
Even as I realized that Debbie had just planted a suggestion, the possibility of being comfortable in my own skin sent a tingly sensation right through me.
Debbie said, "If you want to take a long time and have somebody hold your hand, I'm not for you. I like results."
We met for six hours. I told her that one of my beliefs is that I am difficult and boring, and that people, most often men, don't like me.
Debbie explained that she would put me into a deep relaxed state. Then she would ask me questions derived from the exhaustive questionnaire she'd sent me. She told me that we probably wouldn't deal directly with shyness, since shyness encompassed so many issues. "Think of a circle," she said, and drew one on a piece of paper. "And all these little circles around the circumference are your issues. They're all connected, see?" she said, drawing lines crisscrossing from all the little circles to the other little circles. "What do you think happens if one of these little circles unravels? All the connections start unraveling. So you see, we don't have to unravel all your issues, only some."