Social anxiety really blows. This past weekend, I had a full calendar of social engagements and things to do around people that always make me nervous. I was able to not just survive around the fringes, but had fun the entire weekend, although I’m socially exhausted today (well, if you count 3AM as today still).
On Friday, my in-laws, Connor and I went to a large casino and dinner for fun. I ended up having a great time, but it definitely took a lot of my coping skills and a lot of holding Connor’s hand to be calm enough to enjoy myself. There were a ton of people all over the place and I get really nervous around that many people. I’m afraid they’ll take my purse, I’ll get separated, I’ll get lost, someone will talk to me, people are all staring at me and judging me, on and on and on. It’s very difficult for me to be in THAT huge of a place. Hell, even a bar isn’t something I can handle anymore. At restaurants, I’m more comfortable in the back corner rather than a table in the center, and I never cared until about five years ago. It sucks.
Today, I knew I could do it. I was scared but knew I could get through being around my in-laws (whom I love but I’m still always nervous around) and not making a fool of myself and being around about a billion people. I had Connor with me. He’d protect me. He’d let me hold on to him. I had to do a lot of deep breathing though. I had to ignore 99% of what was going on around me as I held his hand. I kept him right next to me the whole time. I had a couple drinks to loosen me up, can’t lie about that. Not enough to really FEEL anything, just relax. The one time I was away from Connor, I went to the bathroom while he wandered around a specific area and looked for “his” good machine (he’s so dang lucky at slots). After my ablutions, I went back to where I left him, and he was gone. Immediate panic. I walked around the slots looking for him while my heart raced. I started to panic and get terrified. Then I went back to where I left him again and looked on the other side of the row. He was right there. He stayed exactly where I left him, just on the other side. Phew. Minor panic attack averted. I did then guzzle the rest of my decaf crème brȗlèe coffee though as a calming mechanism.
I have a worry stone (actually a few of them) that I carry around. One is in my car since that’s where I panic the most, one is beside my bed for something to do with my hands if I can’t focus on coloring, reading, or crocheting. The other is in my purse. Of course, I put one in my coat, but I checked my coat at the coat check, so I didn’t have it with me. I had nothing to grab and hold on to so that I could calm down around the multitude of crowds, so I just grabbed Connor’s fingers whenever I could. At least I had something. With my coping skills I’ve recently learned, I was able to calm down enough to thoroughly enjoy myself and actually be able to relax around my family and billions (okay, maybe an exaggeration) of people. It was great fun in the end and I finished the evening very glad that we’d gone.
On Saturday was a wedding of a very close neighbor of mine. I knew that I would not know anyone there, and that is enough to make me panic. I was so excited when I got to see another neighbor I know and adore, as well as meet one more. Since I live in the woods with nobody having less than 5 acres around them, it’s not exactly easy to meet neighbors. I am so lucky that every single one (excepting one) have been the most amazing people. I digress. I didn’t have a “win” at this event other than being able to do some small talk with the new neighbor (before I had too much wine). I hate small talk and I’m very terrible at it. I’m uncomfortable, I’m awkward, I don’t know what to say or how to get the topic onto them sometimes; it’s the worst. This is why I hate networking. Even if I didn’t have much a social anxiety “win” I did have fun and it was a beautiful wedding. I completely cried at the vows and of course Connor had to tease me. I’ve not been able to cry throughout his time knowing me, so now that I can recently cry, he loves to tease me.
Sunday was my most impressive win. I’m a vice president for the board of directors for an organization. I’m also an extraordinarily passive person who has almost no assertiveness (which I’m working hard on). I was able to speak up during my “section” of the meeting and ask a request of the board, because one of the members did something that I was not okay with. I spoke my piece, didn’t look at her or say her name, but made it clear what I was talking about. She tried to interrupt me and I was able to calmly look at her (in front of people!!) and say “’Can I finish speaking please?” and finish what I was trying to say. We went back and forth for another hour or so (okay, maybe a minute really) and I didn’t back down. I didn’t cave. I didn’t submit and get quiet. I was able to hold my ground calmly and assertively. I was so proud! Even Connor and Miranda noticed and said how impressed they were. Group therapy 9 hours a week for the win!
There are ways to get around being terribly anxious around people. I will never be the room enchanter that walks in and the whole place gets excited for great conversation. I’m okay with that, though I’m sure it would help to be able to do that. I’m still learning ways to cope with the terror, and I know I’ll learn more and be better able to do them as I practice using the skills. Maybe one day I will be that charming person, who knows?