Since I spoke about my anxiety issues for the first time a few months ago, what I’ve learned is that a lot of people suffer from the constant need for approval accompanied with a cave to hide out in just in case the approval is vague, or worse, not given at all.
I’ve also learned that there are those who reference social anxieties in conversation like it’s the answer for anything slightly negative about me. You can rest assured that if I show up late somewhere and you crack a joke about thinking that I was having ‘issues’ and not going to come at all, I’ll leave early and I’ll take your tequila to deal with having to be friends with such an asshole. I’ll also tell your Mom about that time you got drunk and threw up on a baby at a Mexican restaurant. (It was a baby doll, but her mom doesn’t know that.) My anxiety has ruined plenty would be good times without needing any of your help thank you very much.
Some people don’t get it. They think that people with anxiety have control over our overwhelming need to flee any situation that isn’t our empty house, they don’t know that I have to hold my hands behind me so they don’t visibly shake when I’m talking to someone new. They think anxiety is getting worried before a test or a first date, and it is, but not really.
So this post if for you, you social rockstar, you, who can’t possibly understand why people like me have a hard time entering a room full of strangers or sitting at a table with people I have nothing in common with. What you need to understand is that you will never understand. Never. Not unless you somehow become a different person and you can count the number of people you’re comfortable being yourself around on your right hand.
Anxiety feels different for different people, but what it’s like for me is wanting to be social, wanting to go out and meet new people, to go places, to laugh, and joke and sound intelligent and funny, but be unable to do anything other than stand in the middle of the party I want to be at and wonder what I should be doing with my hands. Usually I leave and replay the party over in my head and think of a hundred responses to conversations I found myself in and kick myself for standing silent or blurting out something ridiculous and leaving a half an hour after I arrived. I’ll obsess about the different interactions I had for days, for years, and eventually I’ll want to crawl into a hole because I’m sure that none of the people I talked to will ever want to hang out with a spaz again.
Sometimes it’s having a great conversation with someone I’m not comfortable with, and knowing that I came across as normal for once, and fearing that the next time I have to talk to that person again I’ll lose the confidence I fell into during our last interaction.
It’s having to play out scenarios in my head before I go anywhere so I’ll be prepared for the worst case, which is of course my pants falling off as I trip down steps and break my legs so I can’t immediately get up and run away.
It’s fearing that the people who I’m good friends with, my sister, my mom, and even my husband are somehow all involved in a massive conspiracy to politely put up with me.
Sometimes it’s pushing people away when what I meant to do was pull them closer.
It’s knowing that most of what my brain tells me about myself are lies but being unable to behave any different. It’s getting the shakes, and being short of breath, it’s my body physically rejecting being social.
Living with anxiety makes me feel like I’m being held hostage in an invisible cage that so many think I can just step out of. It isn’t easy, it’s a fight that I have to force myself to suit up for everyday, and most days I do, and sometimes it’s easier than all of this. Sometimes I can remind myself of my worth and be surprised at how easy talking is. Usually though, going into a group of new people is hard and what I think most of us need from people like you, who can so flawlessly do what we can only daydream about, isn’t let us know that you know, or try to help fix what cannot be fixed, we just need a silent knowing that who we are is ok.
And sometimes a hug.
And usually an excuse to leave early.