I think for some it is hard to understand when people say they have ‘social anxiety’. For me, it is that I have this intense fear of being around people and looking like an idiot, saying the wrong things, not being pretty enough, nice enough, etc and it manifests itself into this panic induced state when faced with the task of going to hang out in a social setting. I almost always get a headache, I get this pit in my stomach and I instantly want to run and hide. Sometimes I will avoid going out and sometimes the panic and anxiety literally makes me so sick to my stomach that I can’t go out. It’s hard for those around me that have known me for a long time to think that I suffer from any type of social anxiety because once I settle and the panic falls away I can usually loosen up a bit to be a little more relaxed.
Part of my issues when it comes to social situations is that I typically think alcohol is going to make me more attractive to people, funnier, more relaxed, more fun and even though I FEEL like it does that and even though in college a lot of people seemed to like me a lot more when I was drunk the reality is that self medicating with alcohol, for me, is dangerous and I do stupid things. When you are almost 30 alcohol is a typical part of going out and when in a downward spiral I don’t care how many I have, I don’t care if I drink and drive (which is beyond fucking stupid) and I don’t care if I die. I have to learn to regulate and set limits for myself but I can’t always seem to do that. When drinking I become more relaxed, I loosen up, I find people tend to talk to me more, laugh at my jokes and feel comfortable with it – it’s almost as if people like me more and so I keep doing it hopes that people will like me without actually knowing the REAL me.
My therapist wants me to expand and challenge myself (don’t they all? lol) and make friends outside the small circle of people I have really learned to lean on and trust since moving back home and beginning the daunting task of therapy. My co-workers have been the biggest source of inspiration and importance to me since starting on this journey but it is becoming more and more obvious that I rely on them too much and that because I feel comfortable with them and they know about my diagnosis and what I struggle with daily it makes me feel safe and protected from judgement. It’s hard to think about expanding my social horizons when I feel so content with the ones I have – but I also know that isn’t fair to those around me.
I mentioned before that I was in a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) group which just ended. I met some AMAZING people in this group – women of all different ages and phases in their lives but also understood a lot of the struggles that I faced on a daily basis. When group ended I found myself feeling a little bit lost – not seeing these women weekly, women whom I had gained so much insight from, women who had helped me while I struggled and it made me sad. My therapist, lets call her E, told me the other day during a huge downward spiral that I should go and visit one of the women from group at her job, I said I would think about it, with full intention of not going but just to please E but later that night I went out and decided ‘why not’.
I don’t know exactly what changed my mind, maybe the headache was finally going away, maybe I was catching my grasp more as I was falling down the rabbit hole but all I know is that when I was in my car I said “you can either sit inside and stew about where you are at or you can go and visit someone you know will understand” so I drove the few minutes down the road to my friends job. Seeing her was EXACTLY what I needed – she is the complete opposite of me and her laugh is so damn infectious. My friend, lets call her P, always finds the positive in ANY given situation and I needed to be around someone positive during the dark time that I found myself in. P and I decided that the next day she was going to come over to my apartment and we would watch a movie. INSERT PANIC HERE.
I have only had a few people over to my apartment since I moved, it was a TOTAL mess (I don’t clean when I am in a downward spiral and it had been weeks since I had been clear enough to take decent care of my apartment or myself) and now someone was going to be coming over to watch movies? I went home and started cleaning like a mad person, doing the dishes, picking up trash, changing the cat litter and all that wonderful stuff. E was thrilled when I told her that P and I were going to hang out and that seeing her at work had been such a great influence on me but she could tell that I was having that anxiety about her coming to my place.We talked it over and she told me that it was no different then being in group and that I was going to be okay. I needed to trust her.
One of the things I am learning about myself on this journey is that I need to TRUST myself. I need to look at whatever I am scared of and just take a deep breathe and jump. I did this when P came over and we hung out, ate pizza, watched a movie and then she went home. It feels silly to look back and think about how scared I was, how much anxiety I had about it when it was literally a GREAT time with a really interesting, fun, funny and caring person. I could have missed out on getting to know someone, someone I hope to call a friend for a long time because of this anxiety.
I am not saying that it was easy – I had stomach pains like you wouldn’t believe, I wanted to throw up before she got here but after 15 min of just hanging out the anxiety went away, I was able to be more relaxed and I had a good time (and so did P). I can’t guarantee that I will always face this fear but I faced it at a time when I needed to face it and I am okay with that, I can be proud of that. There are still the judgments about what I could have done better or differently but as E would say ‘why don’t you try and look at that with a non-judgmental stance’ and so I think I will sit back, watch some Nightmare Next Door on Netflix and ponder ways to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and look at it without the judgments and just sticking to the facts. See I guess I have picked up a LITTLE from my DBT group!