The (My) Truth About Social Anxiety
I've thought about writing this post many times, but for some reason, I've never quite managed to commit to the page. I am not sure why? Maybe because I am scared, scared that people will think less of me, know my secret, or treat me like a social leper. No, not maybe, absolutely definitely. I know I am not alone but this isn't something that is often spoken about so you do tend to think you are the only one out there that is the opposite of a social butterfly? What is that a caterpillar recluse?
So, social anxiety.
Umm well, what is it?
Well, firstly it's hard to define, as I am sure my experience is different to the next person, I also hate labels because we are a blend of many shades and experiences, I also tend to find people do love a box and if you jump between boxes it can cause confusion, upsets people even. However as the blog post requires a title and a subject, I thought this was the easiest description to give. So social anxiety it is.
I find social situations challenging, not all the time but some of the time; they drain me of energy, they trigger negative thought patterns and they make me feel really uncomfortable. Like really uncomfortable. Now, don't get me wrong I love my friends and love being with my friends and being social with my friends but not all at once and certainly not with more than I can handle. I have spent years feeling guilty about this, about the number of times that I have wanted to escape and the number times that I have escaped. When I start to have anxiety attacks in social situations my mode of protection is to retreat and retreat so quickly and so abruptly that no one notices. In fact being invisible is sometimes my most preferred way of being.
Social anxiety can happen to anyone, on the surface I probably don't behave like the "stereotypical" social anxiety girl....I am not a poster child for the introvert movement (don't even get me started on the labelling of introvert/extrovert - HATE HATE HATE). I am what some would say "outgoing" "confident" blah blah blah. I do like to remind people that I went to drama school; the breeding ground for tortured souls trying to wrestle with their outgoing natures that afflicted them throughout their childhood. It also means that I do a damn fine job of pretending everything is fine.
So what does it actually feel like? For me, I feel like I am outside of myself. I am not connected to the room or those in it. I feel removed and as a result never fully engage. Like a panic attack, my heart starts to beat faster, I don't feel safe, and it is as though everyone in the room are coming at me....I mean it's not a look. This results in me thinking that I am not behaving like myself and then feeling guilty for not being myself, for letting myself down and letting my friends down. There, my friends' the vicious circles starts. Yes, then I am firmly in the loop of no return. Let me introduce you to Nadra the voice of doom...there she goes and once she starts she just goes for it, I mean you have to admire her commitment, to be honest. All of the negative affirmations come out to play. I am boring, I've got nothing to say, they don't want me here. Oh hello, judgement day. You'd think that there would be a safety in being with those who know me best, it isn't as straight-forward as that. Sometimes that makes me feel more exposed because I've let them in, I've let them get close, so the art of pretence isn't something that you can hide behind. I think this is why I don't have a massive army of friends. I mean, imagine being exposed to the many? No, I am quite happy with the few (in this scenario) thank you very much.
Recently I have been thinking how I can manage this. The thing is, I often feel isolated. Yes, that is a contradiction in terms, feel lonely then run a mile when I am with people. I know, I can't keep up with myself! When your natural inclination is to retreat from social situations it means that you find a comfort in being on your own but the flip side of that is you can then feel lonely or isolated. I love people (keep up) I love connecting people. The whole ethos of my business is finding positive connections in the community through shared values and for me, nourishing your soul with healthy food that supports you to feel happier. So how can I find a place where I feel comfortable in social situations thus feeding the side of me that thrives off connecting with human beings but not overwhelming myself with situations that zap me of all my reserves? I suppose like many things it starts with self-awareness and then it is about being brave and honest with both friends and then myself. It is also finding a place where I can perhaps stop feeling quite so guilty. This is part of who I am. Note, part.
Finding the parameters of our comfort doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing it can be empowering. Currently, there seems to be a lot of focus on being out there, getting out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself. But what about knowing your boundaries? Does it make you weaker to say to say no to the group situation that is going to overwhelm you but say yes to the one on one dinner that you will thrive in? That is a rhetorical question because of course the answer is NO. Knowing your limits shouldn't be limiting it should be liberating. I think this would also help me to help my friends because having not been on the other side of it I am not entirely sure what it feels like, but it must be hard when your otherwise outgoing, chatty, funny friend suddenly needs to leave, retreat or withdraw. It is never personal that much I do know, it is never a case of being bored or that you can't be arsed. For me, I physically and mentally need to regroup and reenergise, I am left exhausted. It is hard work battling against an internal monologue of Shah doom. As I said, she is bloody relentless.
Like everything, there are ways that you can be more socially comfortable and it IS about thriving within your limits and who knows those limits may stretch or bend when you feel like you are in control but more importantly when you feel present. I know that I'd much prefer to be engaged for a shorter time than feeling totally uncomfortable for a long drawn period just because you feel like it is the right thing to do.
SO my message is....I actually am not sure I had a "message" it was more an active decision to share my experience in the hope that someone out there might relate and know they are not alone.
Just because I may have (a reclucant nod to a label) social anxiety it doesn't mean that I am an introvert or an introverted extrovert. Someone burn the Myers Briggs test PLEASE. It just means that I am a girl that finds it hard to be in group situations, to network in a room full of strangers and sometimes needs to retreat without a fuss quickly to save her sanity. But more often than not I'll be the one laughing loudly and be in her element being a room full of wonderful people that I care about.