There’s a grey area between social butterfly and hiding under the covers in your pajamas avoidance.
When I bring up my social anxiety with casual friends, I get some interesting – if gentle – pushback. I certainly *do* a lot of things, especially with Ledcat. But I avoid many, many more things because they are scary/overwhelming/anxiety-inducing/insert-your-own-adjective. And it is not an illusion – it is a very intentional plan on my part to celebrate the things I do accomplish.
So when I have a success, I typically post it on Facebook. To remind myself that I have successes. Because sometimes when I sit on the sofa preparing to go somewhere – like the pool or the grocery store – it feels impossible. Like I’m going to die if I force myself out of the door, but I don’t know why. It isn’t specific or tied to some concrete factor – like a fear of chlorine poisoning which is something I do not fear. I am also not generally fearful of grocery stores.
So I understand why people perceive that I do all of these things.
Success for me sometimes is going out on the deck for the evening with Ledcat and my dogs. A seemingly benign activity can result in a lot anxiety about mosquitos, placement of the dogs’ water bowl, flaming citronella, the neighbors, and intrusive thoughts about how the deck *should* look.
The truth is that once I’m out there, it is fine. I play with the dogs, I pluck weedy vines off the furniture, I check out the composter and I eventually relax. Last night, I opened Pandora on my phone and danced with Ledcat under the stars. I read the latest William Monk mystery on Kindle. The citronella sticks did not set the neighborhood ablaze. It is pleasant, even fun. So I commemorate with a little social media post to Instagram. Because getting out there – no matter how many successes I have – is hard.
Success for me sometimes is going to a restaurant or a coffeehouse and striking up a conversation with a stranger. Two consecutive sentences with a server counts, unrelated to my order of course. Ideally, the person sitting next to me with be semi-approachable and we’ll exchange some sort of casual chit chat. They might comment on my bag or my beverage. I might ask them to plug in my laptop under their seat. Something like that. Just a little moment of “hey we are both human beings” followed by silence as we return to our preoccupations. The important thing is that this eliminates the tight smiles and uncomfortable nods of people who have not spoken when circumstances force us to engage.
So I Instagram my coffee beverage. And check in to the venue on Facebook as a little “thank you for being nice to me, guys” sort of thing.
Sounds a bit overwrought, right? Welcome to the world of social anxiety. It takes planning! Vigilance! Flexibility! Those are things I can control. Sometimes.
Anxiety is an ugly demon. One minute you are fixing your hair to go out for dinner to your all-time favorite Italian restaurant where you are sure to be fussed over by the staff and BAM you find yourself prone on your bed in your underclothes, brush still tightly clenched in hand, hoping for a natural disaster bad enough for a reprieve, but not harming actual humans. Or dogs.
Living with anxiety is using your tools to somehow drag yourself out of that bed, putting your clothing back on your body in some semblance of respectable order, walking down the steps and out the door and driving to the restaurant without allowing yourself to stop and think about all of the bad things.
Successfully living with anxiety is getting to the point where you can acknowledge, but skip the middle step. Sometimes. Because I can’t imagine not feeling anxious most of the time.
Actually, successfully living with anxiety is simply that you keep trying. Because the world is a better place if you are engaged with us. It matters that we see you and hear your voice.
Sometimes simply taking another step is the most powerful act of resistance.