Sometimes making progress with overcoming social anxiety feels like nothing can ever change for me because very often I get impatient and want myself to feel better and not anxious anymore overnight. Like, I wish I could just snap my fingers and make the anxiety disappear forever.
I crave days long past in which I did not have social anxiety. I remember what it felt like not to have anxiety every time I stepped into a social situation.
I was not a special child, with any outstanding skills, but I was happy and carefree. The smallest things made me happy, such as being with my friends during lunch recess or going home and seeing my parents. I found it easy to just say what was on my mind to people I considered friends, although I was shy and quiet in front of those I was unfamiliar with.
On Friday, Annelise wanted to meet again in Bryant Park to play games. Both she and Andrew had already confirmed the prior day, before we parted ways, that they would be coming. I was hesitant to agree, but for reasons that had less to do with social anxiety. I very rarely travel into Manhattan all week, much less two days consecutively. On both days, I had left the house early and gotten home after 6 pm. I felt overloaded by all the social interactions and wanted a day off, basically. I promised Annelise that I would tell her on Friday if I was coming or not.
So, when she texted me, I was reluctant to say the reason why I wasn’t going. I felt especially bad after I declined because she said she is only closer to myself and Andrew, and so she didn’t have anyone else to ask to play with her. I wondered if I was being selfish because, although I mostly declined out of a desire to have a rest day.
And as I write this now, I realize I’ve just lied to myself about my reason for declining. I said it had less to do with social anxiety, but this is not true. Yes, I didn’t want to travel into Manhattan three days in a row, but I definitely also said no to coming to the park because I still felt a little nervous about being around Annelise and Andrew. I know that sounds ridiculous considering how good it felt to hang out with them yesterday, and my feeling that I actually got to know them better. Eventually I did tell her why I declined (except I didn’t mention my nervousness about seeing her had I agreed to come). She seemed to understand and had no hard feelings about it.
Some hours later, she texted me about having found at least four other people to join her for board games, and that I was still welcome to come too. I admit, I felt jealous because now it wasn’t just myself and Andrew who was part of the unofficial games group. Now I kind of regret that I didn’t come Friday. I learned from Annelise that Brian was one of the people who would be there on the next games meetup on Monday.
Brian is a great person, and he’s the reason why I even agreed to seek therapy because he persuaded me to at least try it for the sake of my own happiness. However, my main qualm about not really wanting to come to the games meetup now is because he will be there, and I fear my awkwardness/nervousness around him will make him uncomfortable. Specifically, why do I think I will feel awkward and nervous around him? I guess because he has seen me at my most vulnerable at a time when we still hardly knew each other. And maybe, it’s because it scares me that I see part of me reflected in him. He’s different from Andrew, who is very talkative and is very open and funny. Brian is open too, but he can be quiet when he doesn’t know what to say.
The most difficult thing about social anxiety is having many, many days where I just want to be a hermit and not see anyone because I don’t feel like it, or I fear the anxiety that will come along with the social situation. It’s also hard during times I do want to be around friends, but simultaneously, I am both looking forward to and dreading the social interaction aspect. It’s like being pulled in two different directions all the time with every decision I make that involves having to interact or talk to people.
Even when I am determined to go out to see friends, I still have the lingering voice in my head asking if I’m absolutely sure I want to go out and risk embarrassing myself socially, whether it’s the smallest infraction like blanking out during a conversation or being too scared to respond to a person’s inquiry about a subject I am sensitive/uncomfortable speaking about. On days I choose to opt out of a friends hangout or a social anxiety meetup event, I also go back and forth in my head about if I’m certain I don’t want to try and just go and let whatever happen.
I’m basically fucked if I do go, and fucked if I don’t go. Or at least this is the very unoptimistic view of things.
If I go, I probably will spend the hours before the social event not getting much sleep, and lack of sleep can indeed cause heightened anxiety. I call this “battle mode” because I’m so on edge that even when I feel exhaustion and desperately want sleep to come, my acute awareness of my pounding heart and the dread I feel about the event keep me stressed and awake. Then I end up staying up for at least an hour or more, usually writing in my personal journal (not my WordPress blog, but an actual diary I write in by hand) in an attempt to clear my head, until I feel some sense of relief and I am so weathered that my body finally gives out and I fall asleep. Any sleep I get at this point is not restful, and I wake up on high alert again. My anxiety about the event resumes, and every step along the way as I prepare to actually go to the event, I can feel my body screaming in protest. This lasts until I get to said event, where I feel an even higher spike in my anxiety that is terrifying for some minutes until I can feel it going down a little. The anxiety then takes a different turn, where I worry about saying or asking the wrong thing, or wanting to say or ask something but being scared to actually say anything to anyone.
If I don’t go, how I deal with this outcome is punishing myself for not trying. I wallow about it, basically. I think about how great my life would be if I didn’t have social anxiety. The one con of this is I understand it’s wishful thinking on my part, and that even in an alternate reality where I don’t have social anxiety, I’m almost certain I would still have other issues or problems in my life that I have to face.
I have an appointment at 11:15 AM tomorrow to meet with a volunteer coordinator at a yoga studio because I’m interested in volunteering. The studio has a work study program that allows volunteers to have free yoga classes in exchange for volunteering their time. Since I have no interest in any sports, I thought I could try yoga, as it’s something I enjoyed doing when I was in high school. I’m mildly anxious about this meeting because I don’t know the coordinator, and first time meetings can be extremely cordial for both parties. I hope I’m not too awkward.
Afterwards, when I am done at the yoga studio, I am meeting with a friend, Michael, to see a movie. I had asked him if he would be free to hang out on Monday afternoon. We will be seeing either Star Trek or Lights Out. He also has social anxiety, and he’s someone I met on a social anxiety forum last summer.
For a brief time, both of us were part of a small social anxiety meetup that was born on the forum, which consisted of four other fellow NYC residents. The group fell apart after two meetups, but Michael and I stayed in contact and have met up twice since then.
Each time I met up with him one-on-one, I was nervous. I probably will be nervous this time too. It’s still a trying task for me to work up the nerve to ask questions during a conversation. The anxiety is terrible. Every fiber of my body is telling me not to ask questions. I talked about this issue in a previous blog post, but I still have doubts if simply pushing myself to ask questions is going to help my anxiety about it wane over time. I fear negative consequences if I do ask questions in a conversation, and I fear having (unwanted) attention on me because I would be the one talking at this point in a conversation.