I know exactly why I have social anxiety. Knowing the why doesn’t make it any easier to live with, and it certainly doesn’t mean I am any more gentle with myself.
Years ago, wait, lifetimes ago, I was the most fun person. I was a dictionary cut-out of the word “extrovert”. Being involved with theatre was a perfect fit for me. My peers were equally stimulating and dramatic and fun seeking. Even after I took several steps out of the theatre world I still happily remained an extrovert. Dinner parties! Cocktail parties! I was a workaholic who barely had a social life, but when I did, chances are everyone was invited.
Then I became a caregiver.
I went through a revolving door to my new, quiet life. And in the process I lost a part of myself and gained anxiety about how other’s might see me. My identity was wrapped up in the health and happiness of another person. I became boring very fast. Cutting off my social butterfly wings meant I no longer knew how to BE social.
I became a blurter when I spoke with others. I wasn’t sure where the line was with sharing about my life. Blogging helped and it hurt. By creating social (online) friendships I started to feel like I was being actually social. When it came to being around people I often would panic.
It’s been years since I have been Millie’s caregiver and yet the social anxiety I started to develop has only grown stronger and more troublesome. I have to PUSH myself to be social.
Last week I was invited to go to an event and my thought process went like this:
Wow. I can’t believe she would think to invite me.
I should go! I could meet people who could help me find work!
But everyone there will be so smart.
But I am in school. I am getting there. I am smart in progress.
I won’t know anyone. Who will I talk to????
I’ll know the person who invited me.
And she will be very busy.
So I will find someone new to talk to.
And then they will find out I shouldn’t be there.
On the day of the event I was physically ill. It didn’t help that I also had been asked to read to W’s 1st grade class the same day. So I was a ball of anxiety and worry. First about 6 year olds and not embarrassing my kid. And then about women in tech – who would surely discover immediately that I was an idiot.
I didn’t want to go to the event. But I NEEDED to. I knew I needed to overcome the chatterbox of my mind who was being an obnoxious loud-talker.
Mom and W dropped me off at the event and I made arrangements to meet up with them. So I had an exit strategy.
When I walked into the party I could feel my body start to perspire. There were so many people. And they were all so sharply dressed and they all looked like they had a million degrees and could do all of the things. I felt old, and fat, and ugly, and dumb and I wanted to run. People smiled at me, I tried to smile back without looking like someone was hurting me.
I wanted to be wrapped inside a protective bubble. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I found a place to sit down and pretended I was ok. I pulled out my phone to see how much time I had left. I had only been there for three minutes.
Just then I realized I was having issues with location settings on my phone so I got this weird tunnel vision, looked up and asked the 1st person who made eye contact, “Do you know how to enable location settings? I can’t find the feature since the update.”
The woman reached into her pocket and pulled out an iPhone and said, “I don’t. But let’s see if we can figure it out together.”
She said down across from me and we each clicked around in our phones until she had found the solution. And then we started talking. She was so smart and so nice and we barely had anything in common, but it was ok. I told her I was anxious and didn’t know anyone and how much I appreciated that she sat down. She didn’t really know anyone either.
As the hour progressed two other women sat down next to us and we made a quirky table of chatting. Everyone had such interesting backgrounds. We were all passionate about learning.
I survived the event. I probably over-shared (something I do when I can’t be silent because silence is SCARY) and I was probably on the avenue of obviously insecure in the way I held myself. But the bottom line is this: I survived. And in some moments I was having fun.
When it was time to meet my family I pulled out of the conversation bubble and was startled to see how packed the event was. It was smart for me to make an exit then.
It really sucks to have social anxiety. But I am tremendously proud of myself for climbing over the mountain of whatever to have a moment of living. The alternative would have been me at home on a friday night doing homework or watching iZombie on Demand. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But I want to feel like I made the choice, not my anxiety.