A Day With Social Anxiety

Today is Saturday. My wife and I decided to run some errands. We set our schedule the evening before – we wanted to accomplish several things

  • Go to the shoe store for her to get some new sneakers
  • Drop my ballot at the County Executive Office
  • PIck up a curbside order from Target
  • Stop by a yardsale our friend was having in Swissvale

We decided to add a stop for breakfast at The Square Cafe in East Liberty to fuel us. It is one of the restaurants with the best COVID-19 protocols.

Sounds nice, right? Well, yes. But it is also A LOT of socializing for me, crowds, strangers, and other potential triggers to my anxiety.

Breakfast was fine although I missed my Saturday morning MSNBC show. I made coffee at home and got some caffeine into my system. When we arrived, Laura dropped me off to get on the wait list while she parked. It wasn’t terribly crowded so we only waited about 10 minutes. Laura had to park several blocks away. The food was delicious and I overdid it because I miss eating good food. But it is work to engage the staff and other customers.

We walked back to the car and headed to Swissval to our friend’s yardsale. We copped a squat on her porch, enjoying the shade in the heat of the day. She had another friend there whom we had met before. Her roommate stopped back in from her work. And customers came and went so it did require some socialization. I could feel myself getting a little tired.

Off we drove to Squirrel Hill to Little’s Shoes. First, we stopped at Starbucks because we were both very thirsty and there was an empty parking space. Laura went inside so I could sit in the car and get ready for my least favorite thing – shopping on weekends.

After we parked near the store, we walked down the street and into Little’s. I made a beeline for the chairs in the back of the store near the shoes Laura would be considering. The man who waited on her was very nice so I eventually felt comfortable enough to walk around and look for shoes for myself. I need a new pair of daily summer sandals and I mad need a pair of dress shoes. Maybe. I still struggle with spending so much money on things for me. So it was definitely just a looking loop. The staff person did not pressure me, thankfully.

We left with Laura’s shoes in hand and as we neared the street crosswalk, I could see two older women hesitant to walk into traffic – the sign was missing. So I walked out at the right moment and the cars stopped. They hustled after me and I walked very slowly to give them time not to feel rushed. It is a small thing, but helpful to feel like using my body to create a safe space for someone.

I was exhausted. I wanted a nap. But we weren’t done.

We drove downtown for me to take my ballot into the County Elections Office. That went smoothly. But still more people engaging. Everyone wanted to chat and I wanted to go home.

Then we went home. Laura decided she would go to Target on her own and pick up some dinner. We got to the house and found a donation of 10 bags of cat food on the porch and learned of a mass shooting in Buffalo. I tried to lay down for a bit, but could not relax. I had the ceiling fan and the desk top fan on full blast to cool the room, but my whole body was tight – the energy required to do all this interaction had settled into my bones. I was torn between resting and wanting to watch the news with her. I finally gave up and got up.

This wasn’t a particularly horrible day, but it came on top of my experience with social anxiety and the Hannah Gadsby show followed by getting a cold that actually kept me in bed for a day or so. I’ve tried everything to unwind – hot showers, stretching, music, reading, tv, sitting with the cats, doing small tasks, etc. I can’t turn it down. So I may have to let it run its course. Or something.

I know the anxiety is spilling over from previous days, seeping into my soul and whispering dark thoughts about never letting me go, tapping into the cPTSD (chronic trauma) that has shaped most of my life. I am exhausted from this simple day of simple activities. I will likely have nightmares tonight.

But I resist. I resist by taking the time to reflect on what I accomplished, comfortable or not. I resist by making a plan, sticking to the plan, and minimizing worse disruptions. I resist by remembering that no one is truly going “back to normal” and that includes me. This isn’t about normal. This is about how I am surviving in the (hopefully) waning days of a pandemic as I figure out what this severing of the old reality means for me individually. I resist by identifying specific tasks to work on with my therapist.

I resist by saying all of this out loud. There is no shame in this struggle. I deserve to be able to relax and unwind. It is sad that going out to breakfast and sitting on a friend’s porch for a few hours takes a toll on me, but I still did both. Social anxiety is a terrible companion.

We watched the news, so much of it sad and violent, but also defiant. I fed my cat colony and sat there for a minute enjoying their antics. I’m now trying to think of something very funny to watch on our streaming channels so I can perhaps unwind with a good laugh.

Tomorrow will have to take care of itself.

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