I always try to arrive early, before there are too many people in the room. It doesn't always help, and it can only ever be a temporary fix. More people will arrive, and the usual problem will soon present itself again.
The problem is empathy. Without any conscious effort, I seem to pick up on what other people are feeling, and that feeling can affect me. If I'm talking one to one with a friend, it's okay. Actually, talking one to one with someone makes me feel a lot better. If I'm picking up on the individual feelings of a room full of people, it's a different matter. It can be overwhelming. If I'm not feeling particularly good, it can be impossible. At its worst, I feel like I need to get away and not be around other people for a while.
It seems to be a question of focus. When I'm sat alone, and everyone is talking to someone else, I can't help noticing the greater number of people in the room. If a friend comes to talk to me, I can switch my focus to just one person, and temporarily shut out the other people in the room to a certain extent. I know they're there, but I don't feel their presence, or what they're feeling, quite so much.
There's a positive side to it, and I'm thankful for that. If I'm approached with something that needs to be dealt with sensitively, I'm well placed to do that. I won't tell anyone to pull themselves together, or that things could be worse, because I can see how they feel about this thing that's troubling them. I can hear it in subtle changes in their tone and in non-verbal signs that all is not well. I listen to how their problems have affected them, and imagine what it must be like for them. Alternatively, someone might tell me they're feeling good, and that's great. If someone's not being genuine, however, it doesn't work for me: I can tell.
I'm aware of the impression I must give. Someone recently said they thought I didn't like other people, and I suppose it can seem that way. From the outside, I'm the quiet guy sat in the corner, trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone. Everything about me says I don't want to be there, that I don't want to talk to you, that you shouldn't approach me. Well, I'll gravitate towards a corner, or the outer edge, of a room. I'm the opposite of an attention seeker: I really don't want to be at the centre of things. I can't stress that point firmly enough: I don't want to be at the centre of things, and getting too much attention makes me feel uncomfortable.
Maybe I seem strange, and maybe it's hard to understand, no matter how I try to explain it. I guess I'm just different, and I have to accept that, but it would be great if I could feel that the people who are important to me accepted it too.
Do I want to be there? Should you approach and talk to me? Yes! I'm not being unsociable. It takes a great deal of courage for me to be there, knowing how it might make me feel, and if I didn't like being with people, I wouldn't put myself through it. I might just be feeling a little overwhelmed, but your company is always appreciated.