anxiety · life · social anxiety

Shake Out The Fear

I am part of a family group chat on Whatsapp, which includes myself, my brother and my parents. Sometimes the frequent notifications from this chat annoy me if I’m busy and don’t feel like checking my phone every time someone writes something, so I put it on mute for a few hours. This morning I looked at some messages from two days ago. One of them was my brother asking if our dad is working on Friday since our aunt (my dad’s youngest sister) and her daughter (Lily) are coming to spend the eve of the lunar new year with us.

I haven’t seen Lily in more than two years, and I haven’t spoken to her or texted her in more than a year. When I was growing up, she and her older sister Tara visited a lot. They were the only cousins I hung out with that frequently and was close to. Their family lives in New Jersey, and their mom often drove them for weekend, birthday and holiday visits. At times they stayed over so we could play. There were some summers I spent weeks at their house in Jersey. After they finished college, Tara moved to Philadelphia and Lily went on to live in Rhode Island. I visited Tara twice in Philly with my brother. Last I heard, Tara moved to another state.

I always thought that the four of us; myself, my brother, Tara, and Lily were on the same page whenever we were together. My brother and I are not particularly close, even more so in recent years because of my social anxiety, but I felt it was easier for me to have a certain rapport with him if Tara and Lily were there too. I was pretty outgoing in the presence of Tara and Lily. I told Tara (in writing) some years back about my social anxiety, and she told me that she didn’t notice that when she was around me. I don’t know if I can be outgoing when I see Lily after all this time with no contact with her. Now I think I’ve never been on the same page as my brother, Tara, and Lily.

I remember being the shyest out of all four of us. In fact, when I first met Tara and Lily as a child, I didn’t talk to them. My brother became fast friends with them, but I clung to my mother’s side anytime they were around. I vaguely remember being at Rockefeller’s ice skating rink. My brother, Tara, and Lily were playing on the rink. I watched them with interest but couldn’t bring myself to go over there, even if my parents suggested that I play with them. My social skills sucked from the earliest stages of my life. Maybe that’s why my social awkwardness, which was left unchecked for years, blossomed into social anxiety once I got old enough and couldn’t cope well with situations. I didn’t even know how to begin a conversation with my cousins and was always waiting for other people to interact with me. Eventually Lily started to reach out to me after her mother encouraged her to do so. I considered her my best friend. I was still standoffish with Tara, not out of dislike, but uncertainty about how to engage in conversation with her.  I eventually became close to Tara as much as I was close to Lily. Yeah, I became more comfortable and outgoing around them, but in terms of social experiences, I was behind. I could never relate when they talked about having a clique of friends or going to some party.

What can I say about why I stopped keeping in touch with Lily? I got caught up in my own stuff. I was quite depressed with my life and became a hermit. This was after I found out she moved to Rhode Island. I wrote one Gchat message to her, something like, “How is Rhode Island?” and “How are you doing?” She took weeks to respond, which I don’t blame her for since she explained being crazy busy with work and being exhausted as a result of it. I felt inadequate after that because she had so much going on in her life and I believed I had nothing. I used to write her giant emails and letters sharing my troubles with her, but at that point, I stopped because I thought I was too dependent on her as a shoulder to lean on. I would discuss things with her that I felt conflicted or sad over, however, it was like my problems never got resolved because I wouldn’t ever want to take any action in the situations. I would just want someone to listen to me and hear me.

So now I’m freaking out about seeing Lily on Friday. I’m more nervous because my mind is flashing me a big “WARNING: DO NOT APPROACH” sign when it comes to family gatherings or reunions. It used to be that I didn’t like family reunions with anyone besides Tara and Lily because they were the only cousins I actually cared about spending time with. The last time I can remember Tara showing up unexpectedly to my house, I was in the middle of getting ready to blow dry my hair after a shower. It was pathetic. I could feel myself getting nervous about seeing her and I stalled for as long as I could in the basement bathroom. In the end, I finally came out and we chatted for a little bit before she had to go home. I couldn’t make myself go upstairs with her because I was anxious about seeing her parents, so I gave a flimsy excuse about having some stuff to take care of in the basement.

Already, my mind is making up facts for me about what to expect on Friday. Anytime I have to be around family who I haven’t seen in a while, I’m very hypersensitive about the fact I am unemployed and assume everyone is thinking how I’m such a waste of a person I am for not having a job. Additionally, I spoke with Lily’s mother in November-ish when I was still at the medical billing job, and I recall lying quite boldly about how much I liked the job. It’s more or less probable that she knows I have since left the job since she and my dad keep in contact by telephone. I don’t know what to tell Lily if she asks me what happened.

I’m tempted to text Lily with a casual message like, “Hey, heard you will be in town on Friday :)”, but I’m hesitating. What if too much time has passed, and even the nostalgia of growing up together is not enough to rekindle the friendship and comfort level I once had with her? Texting her could give me a chance to talk to her about the things before Friday rolls around. But then what’ll happen when I see her face to face? Will I feel more awkward after sharing so much with her through messages that I won’t know what to say?

Even before I found out Lily would be coming on Friday, my mind was a foggy mess over the civil service job I applied for, which I have yet to receive an interview call about. I worked up the nerve to phone them last week and I was told they received a lot of resumes and need more time to pick interview candidates. In the days after this, I went into a mental slump of feeling miserable and unfocused because I couldn’t stop speculating that they haven’t called me for an interview because they passed up on my resume, even though that’s not what I was told when I called them. It’s the same with the Lily situation. I have no real evidence that seeing her on Friday will go badly, but I convince myself it will.

I realize for the first time that when I’m like this, I’m basically hurting myself and giving myself needless mental torture. At the end of the day, my demons are still there even when I try to shake it all out and I probably can’t make an immediate change to my current thinking style, but I do know that I deserve to be happy in life.

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