I've been wanting to write this post for awhile, but it's been a hard one to make myself actually start. Whenever I thought about what I wanted to say or how I wanted to approach this topic, I got overwhelmed and honestly, I got anxious. Thinking about writing this post on anxiety gave me anxiety. Ha! The subject is so huge, so complicated, so hard to explain, and so deep that I feared that this post would end up being LOOOOOONG. Too long. So I've just decided to keep it as short and simple and to the point as possible.
When I mentioned recently on Instagram that I have social anxiety, I got a lot of messages and comments from people who suffer from the same thing and who wanted to hear more about my experience. I love the idea of giving some insight into anxiety and hopefully helping at least one other person who may feel the same way. But on a more selfish level, I more want to write this post for the people in my life to read and to maybe have a better understanding of me, why I am the way that I am, why I act the way that I act, etc...
I have no real plan for how to lay this out, so I think I'll just dive in. I apologize in advance if this seems disjointed or unorganized or confusing! And I want to just say THIS right up front:
I'm a happy person! I am totally ok and I love my life and this is not some huge sad thing that negatively impacts my every single day. It's just something I deal with that impacts *certain aspects* of my life, but not to the extent that I am unable to deal. I'm ok! I just want to share my experience in case it is helpful to other people in even the slightest bit! :)
You might think I'm shy. Well, maybe I am a bit. But, really, I just have awful social anxiety. My whole life I've grown up being told that I'm quiet, shy, an introvert. I've believed it. I've felt it. But I also knew that there was so much more to it. Rather than just feeling apprehensive or a bit "shy" around new people, I feel an almost debilitating surge of anxiety.
And not just around new people. Around people I've known for years and years.
Family members, friends, coworkers...you name it. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of people that I DON'T experience this with: my parents, Ben, and James. Really. That's it. Every single other social interaction sends me into a nervous, anxious attack of panic - some obviously much worse than others. Some aren't so bad, sure. But sometimes I have BAD attacks.
Here's Some Of What I feel/Experience:
-inability to catch my breath
-surging chatter and noise in my head so I can't focus on the conversation at hand
-choking on my own spit (no really, haha)
-completely consumed by analyzing what my face is doing and how the other person is seeing me and what they are thinking while we are talking
-obsessing over which eye to focus on when talking with someone...like, do I stare in between their eyes? Do I focus on one eye? Do I switch between eyes?!?! haha
-complete blanking of anything to say...like...I go brain dead.
You get the idea.
I used to dread going to school. Yes yes...I know, EVERY kid dreads going to school. But I mean, I used to DREAD it. Like...panic, fear, hyperventilating each and every morning. Over thinking every single step I would have to take to get to my first class, every single person I may have to pass in the hall... I missed A LOT of school because some days I just honestly mentally COULDN'T walk into the school.
Now you may ask, if I am on medication for this. The answer is no. Because, while I have it bad, others have it so much worse. Because I am still able to function. Because I am, in most cases, able to put on at least some sort of a front - a mask - and appear at least relatively calm and normal... relatively. ;) Other people can't. That's when you need medication. I don't want to be on medicine for this and I am able to cope and live and function without it. But, I guess the point of this is that it's hard. Sometimes, it's really hard. The mere idea of a lunch date with a friend, or meeting a group of my husband's co workers, or going to a family dinner sends me into a panic-y attack of stress and anxiety and dread. It sucks. Being social is genuinely HARD for me. haha
Now, here is something I'd like you to know:
The worst...WORST...let me repeat this: THE WORST thing that people do or say when I try to explain how I feel is to say "oh but everyone feels that way!" "I feel that way too in certain situations!" "oh, those are normal feelings!" "everyone feels like that deep down!" and other similar things to that affect...
Because let me tell you this: not everybody DOES feel this way. Anxiety is real. It's a thing. It's a mental thing. It's a medical thing. And unless you have it, you DON'T know what it feels like.
Yes, you may get nervous meeting new people. Yes, you may dread socializing, small talk, chatting, etc... Yes, you may prefer to stay in and watch a movie rather than going out with others... Yes... THAT stuff is normal. But to have trouble BREATHING, SWALLOWING, THINKING, STANDING, FUNCTIONING, FORMING WORDS...to have actual physical symptoms...that's not normal. That's anxiety.
So, the BEST thing to do when someone tries telling you that they are experiencing something like this is to acknowledge how they feel. Accept it. Hear what they are saying. Even if you don't understand it...understand this: something much bigger, deeper, and darker is going on than you could ever fully comprehend. The person telling you these things is suffering and is letting you in on a little of their secret. So...just hear it. Tell them you're sorry, tell them that may be tough. Acknowledge that you don't understand what that feels like.
But please don't dismiss what they are feeling as less than what it is.
Here are a few things that help me with my social anxiety:
-focusing on my breath
-focusing on happy thoughts
-trying to tune out my own internal commentary when I'm talking to someone or listening to someone
-positive self talk
-being able to laugh at myself and see the humor in it ;)
A few last thoughts:
-This post makes this sound like social anxiety is such a dramatic part of my life...it's not! I promise! Trust me, after almost thirty years of living with this, it really only impacts me to the extent of the situation. So, for example, when I'm living my life, I'm fine, I'm so happy. When I run into someone I know at the grocery store and choke on my own spit and start sweating and babbling and my eyes start darting back and forth between their eyes...it sucks. haha! That's when it impacts me. But then I walk away and I am able to laugh at myself and roll my eyes, and then I'll tell Ben about what happened and we'll laugh and it becomes no big deal. Ben and I are able to joke about it...that's one of the many reasons I love him so much. He makes me feel normal. He makes me feel safe. He makes me feel fine. :)
-I've only recently really started understanding what it is I suffer from, and with that has brought about an immense amount of relief. Now that I know that what I feel has a name and is a legitimate thing and that other people suffer from it to, I don't feel so out of control and weird and dysfunctional. I feel like...I just have social anxiety. So now I can deal with it!
-After giving birth to James and going through a traumatic pregnancy and birth experience, my anxiety skyrocketed. For several months, I suffered from postpartum anxiety and it was very hard and dark to have to deal with that when trying to adjust to being a new mom. But now things have leveled back out and I feel better than ever. Am I nervous that it will get bad again after giving birth to my second child? A little. But I know I can get through it if it does.
So, the point of all of this is not for pity, or to make you think I'm suffering on a daily basis, or that I'm unhappy, or that I'm crazy... haha It's just to give you a little glimpse into my experience. I hope that if you have any similar experiences that you'll share them with me! It's always so nice to know that we're not alone, despite all the crazy weirdness that we each may deal with.
Thanks for reading, friends!