TL;DR: Participating in life makes me feel like a fraud, but I need to participate in life in order to be happy.
A year-and-a-half ago I wrote Part 1 of my foray into understanding myself, at the time coming up with several explanations for my attitudes. Unfortunately, knowledge is only half the battle; understanding that my attitude doesn't match reality doesn't make it easy to change, to reinvent myself. It's easy to follow advice and take a step in the right direction, to "go out and do something today!", but the momentum doesn't last. It's like pouring water on sand -- no matter how much water you pour on, no matter how much the water pools and aggregates, it will always drain through.
Even while out my old attitudes persist. I'm there looking for a chance to excel, to prove how superior I am, to feed off the love and admiration of others. It's like a drug. If I can't find that opportunity, or if I fail, I tune out. I'm no longer participating, just biding my time until I can leave. I don't project a bubbly, happy personality, and so no one talks to me; I in turn talk to no one as I'm so afraid of that awkward moment when I have nothing to say except the thousand things I can't, so afraid of being identified as boring and empty. I'm a puzzle piece trying to fit into the wrong puzzle.
Listening to others conversations, I realize I would have nothing to say even if I was part of them; I can't relate to the social experiences of others because I am not social. I didn't go to that event last week, I didn't see that TV show, I didn't hear that song, I didn't have that relationship, I didn't feel those things at all. How can I cheerfully interact with others' happiness when I'm in a constant state of denial over my own? When I spend my Friday nights trying to understand myself, trying to alter the attitude that keeps me unhappy. How can I relate to anyone without these flaws, except on a peripheral basis?
These outings leave me broken, an overwhelming mix of feelings I can't understand, parse, or organize. The high from having overcome anxiety and actually gone, the rush from brief positive interactions and the hope they will turn into my cure, the deep funk of failure as reality sets in. Each of these is an experience, but not a lasting one. My perspectives and attitudes remain unaltered, I make no friends and start no relationships; I'm not participating in life.
This is not to say I do nothing; I really enjoy my work and I do several sports to at least maintain my mind and body. I can also overcome anxiety in certain circumstances; I interact with people when I need to. While others have found success by making a plan and sticking to it, I need to understand what's holding me back before I can move forward. I need to understand the difference between the cases where I can engage with society and when I can't, to develop an attitude that allows me to connect personally with social interactions instead of remaining aloof, to get to a state where I don't look upon yesterday with regret.
But how? Such introspection is hard, and sometimes painful. It's easy to get distracted, to run and hide. Perhaps the "go and do it" approach would work for me too, but I can't shake the feeling that it's all fake; I'd be a fraud, trying to be someone I'm not. In my dreams I find someone who is also broken; together we work through the pain and come out victorious. But so far that seems to just be more wishful thinking. Movies and books portray growth shaped by friends and acquaintances which certainly sounds good, but I'd have to engage socially -- and openly -- for that approach to work for me.