Every time I convince myself to push my own boundaries and “just do it“ as people like to say, there’s no escape from the build-up of anxiety and crazy thoughts in the hours and days before I even have to show up for an event or gathering. So many times I persuade myself to go. Then every step of the way, from getting dressed, hopping on the subway, and watching the minutes tick by as I wait to get off on my stop, I face what feels like an intense ping pong match in my own mind between encouraging myself to keep going and/or insisting I can’t go through with it after all. This type of constant push and pull still happens to me on a weekly basis. What tends to happen usually one of the three listed here:
1) I try to go to the event but back out at the last minute. Sometimes I will try to steel my mind and urge to go and see what happens. I tell myself that if I have a horrible time then at least I had the experience of being in the situation. Several nights ago, I took the trouble of showing up at Whole Foods for a crafting and beer meetup, like for knitting, crocheting, embroidery stuff. The meeting location was at the Whole Foods bar area.
*I am the last person on earth to care about beer (sorry to anyone reading who likes beer) so I went with the mindset of having fun stitching one of my smaller cross stitch projects. I arrived there early and that thought alone started to play tricks on me. I’m too early. Where do I go? What do I do? I had eaten a big lunch beforehand at home so I was stuffed even though it was close to 6 PM. I pondered grabbing a drink at the barista counter but couldn’t bring myself to focus on that completely since I was still stuck thinking about the fact I was early.
*At this point I was frequently checking the Meetup app page to see if anyone else had arrived. There was one other person who said she was there. I wrote a measly reply saying I had also arrived but was too timid to ask where she was sitting so I could find her. The visual I had in my head was that asking that question would be like wanting to open yet also not wanting to open a box full of unknown things. If I asked the question, I would have to make the decision to go to her, to meet her, and to start a conversation. All of that was terrifying to think about. Then it occurred to me that I actually did not know where the bar was inside Whole Foods. I am the worst when it comes to approaching people. I do not like it because I feel awkward interrupting whatever the person is doing. Even if the person in question doesn’t look busy, I perceive he/she probably doesn’t want a stranger bothering him/her since I have been in that same situation before of being out and just wanting to be left alone with no one coming to me. Yeah. So I did not ask anyone.
*My meandering around turned into an hour of trying to find a snack. I settled for a box of pre-cut fruits since the self-service salad bar didn’t look good enough for me. I also got jasmine tea. I have been to this particular Whole Foods several times before but never have I sat in their dining area before. A sign said that their utensils were there. Admittedly, I have never attempted to sit there for a very stupid reason. I was afraid, of course. I certainly have gone past the general area before and some people inside would give me a passing glance as I walked by. This alone would be enough to spark fear in me of being looked at if I walked all the way in. I don’t know why I went in that night. Maybe because I failed in my challenge to attend the meetup so I reconfigured another challenge for myself. I find this helps to keep me from feeling a total failure if I couldn’t do something but that I managed to accomplish something else. I did go in after all. I made myself do it knowing that I couldn’t very well eat my fruit with my hands and that it was a perfectly normal reason to go in there to find a fork. If I sound a little crazy here, it’s because I’m very insecure. And anxious. Someone who might not have anxiety in the same way as I do might be reading this thinking, What is wrong with this girl?? How can she be this afraid of doing something as simple as walking into a dining area to grab a fork and sitting down to eat? I can’t help the way my anxiety runs. Yep, I did get looked at as I went in. I was most worried about not knowing my way around in there and having to stand there searching for where the utensils were, but instead they were in my direct line of sight so I went for it. What surprised me is the place always looked full to capacity from the outside but there was plenty of empty seats both at the tables and countertop sitting areas. I was relieved at the number of people eating alone. I know it’s not as stigmatized today to dine alone or even to explore places alone, though it is still a small fear in me that I’ll be ostracized as a social weirdo for being by myself.
2) I will attend the event but afterwards nitpick to death about the supposed embarrassing things I did or didn’t do. A prime example is on Saturday when I went to a stitching meetup in the social anxiety group. It was extremely rainy and cold that afternoon so one of the things I told myself is that maybe not that many people would show up if the weather was that bad. We met in the eatery Le Pain Quotidien. I actually left the house early, having forgotten to bring my cross stitch project, so I doubled back to get it. And because it was still so early, I decided to stay home for an hour more. This is where my plans typically fall at the sideways. I become indecisive about going or not going and use every excuse about social anxiety. Eventually I made myself leave the house for the subway station as I knew if I stayed a few minutes longer, I probably would have not made it out that day at all.
*Only the host, myself, another person plus a guest came to the meetup. The guest in question was the girl’s nanny and she had come to the meetup in support of her social anxiety. Everyone was crocheting except me because I don’t know how to. I know I shouldn’t have felt like the odd person out since I was doing cross stitch but I did. I was especially quiet and didn’t know what to say most of the time if they were talking about crochet stitches or different types of yarn. Even when someone started a conversation with an open-ended question like, “So, have you guys read any books lately?”, I still felt too nervous to say anything. I think I did try in the beginning when I got there early and then the host came in. I recognized her immediately and said hi. We chatted for a little bit before another girl from a nearby table came to ask if we were with the social anxiety group. I think I got very quiet and self-conscious because I’m more comfortable when it’s just me and another person so I only have to concentrate on focusing on one person. I guess I also felt somewhat intimidated since the girl’s nanny was so talkative. She was also really nice by sharing her food with everyone there.
*Something unexpected happened halfway through the meetup, in which one of the main event hosts within the meetup showed up. It was the situation, rather than his presence, that made me uncomfortable because I don’t know him well and have only spoken to him sparingly in person as well as exchanged some messages with him before. The thing is, I have spoken to him (through messages) about some personal things like my job search. That isn’t a weird thing at all to talk about through texting and some of the advice he gave me was helpful but then seeing him in person, I felt it was weird because often I feel like I have more freedom to say certain things through written words instead of trying to do it verbally when stuff can come out very clumsy due to both awkwardness and being scared. Basically I didn’t know how to act when he was there in front of me. He did ask me a few questions during the time he stayed. I didn’t mind although I felt stiff the whole time. I was so quiet that he even joked that he must be bothering me with all the questions. Even now I keep thinking about how I behaved and want to throttle myself for being so embarrassing. If I could have said one thing to him that I didn’t say in the end, it’s that I think he is a good person and it may not always be apparent to him but I could never dislike him.
*Only the host and I were left after the other two women departed. She walked with me to the subway station. I’d say the conversation didn’t go badly. She was talking about the previous times she hosted and how happy she was that this time she had gotten at least 3 other people showing up.
3) I attend something only to avoid the situation when it comes up again in the future. This did happen to me recently, only I don’t really feel like going into detail about it. The thing that triggered me into not wanting to go again after I went once is because the event took place in an office setting. I had a bad social experience last year in a medical office when I attempted to work there for a few weeks and ended up almost having a nervous breakdown so I left for good. I know, I know. Just because it’s an office setting doesn’t mean the situation is going to repeat itself. It’s not the same people or even the same organization. Yet the fear is too real and I’ve already been a no-show to the office for one day already, which makes me look bad on a professional level and I definitely do not want to attempt to explain to my supervisor why I purposely didn’t show up without even sending her a message.
*Another situation in this category might be the yoga class I attended on Friday, which I don’t know if I will go to again. I took a chance on going since the class is donation based so I didn’t have to pay anything. It didn’t go badly. The only “real” bad thing I can say that I got from it was I was a bit sore in the days after the class since I haven’t been doing yoga regularly. As for the perceived bad stuff that happened, first was how lame I felt being there and not knowing a single person. Some people did come with another person and/or they came in and seemed to already know people there. Others just stuck to themselves and their phones as they sat on their mats to wait for class to begin. I often feel both relieved but also dissatisfied when I go to one event and never see the same people there again. I’m nervous about going next time knowing the same teacher might be there. On my way out, I honestly didn’t know what to say to her. She was standing by the door next to the donation box and was greeting every person who walked past her on their way out. Instead I just settled for saying, “Thanks for the class”, and went out. It’s hard for me not to feel some kind of pressure to establish more than just a one sentence rapport with the teacher if I end up attending the class regularly but the problem is I suck at this kind of stuff. What do I say? Even when I think up stuff, I can’t find my courage to say it.