Here I am, awake at 5am, reflecting on my struggles with social anxiety. They weren’t what woke my up (curse the results of trying to hydrate more!) but they are certainly on my mind.
I went to easily one of my most enjoyable weddings ever yesterday. Our table was filled with people we know well and hangout with regularly. And the wedding reception was long, but incredibly entertaining, probably from the determination of the bride and groom to just have fun and enjoy themselves. They were on the dance floor inspiring everyone to just be goofy! I wanted so much to be a part of that world.
I will qualify this, in counseling we rate people’s level of mental health struggles by measuring how much the struggle affects their life. I’m lucky, because I’m truly high functioning. There are people with such high levels of social anxiety that they never leave their houses let alone make new friends.
My anxiety begins within me as an increased sensitivity towards social dynamics/emotions. This can be a gift in reading people for counseling, but often flares up inaccurately when trying to ascertain how people see me. Its why I’ve been confused as to where I am on the introvert/extrovert scale. I’ve come to accept the description of a friend that I am an “insecure extrovert” because I am filled up by interactions with others….just when I have security that this person literally likes me. In a funny contrast in my life, my husband is easily described as “disgustingly extroverted.” (Oh gosh, if I could fearlessly love people the way that he does!) I’ve come to appreciate this so much in our married life, going into big social events I can count on him to lead, and I coast off of him. This works so long as he isn’t randomly shut down, or isn’t flitting around like a hummingbird with too many people to love. (I mean he is allowed to have off times as well). This wedding was the latter.
I “should” feel grateful watching him easily dance around when others would never do this, but my anxiety heightens when I’m left alone (or perceive this). I’m sure most people with social anxiety feel heightened physiological symptoms during the entire encounter, like sweaty palms, increased heart rate, etc. For me its like I have this UV light that reveals social rules/steps/boundaries/guidelines. My level of anxiety is related to perceived self preservation that keeps me entombed.
I jumped on the dance floor because I love letting loose and dancing. We all kind of group danced for the most part. I would do well until my husband would get distracted by someone else to love. Then for me my anxiety escalates a situation that is small “oh hey husband can you finish the song with me? ” to “oh my gosh, I’m alone, I’m out of the circle, they think I’m the weird stalker girl, they want me to go away, everyone watching can see that I’m obviously not wanted into this group, I should sit down and stop embarrassing myself”
And I would try to fake it for a little while, laughing, smiling, dancing, till pushing myself drained me too much. Then, I would sit down, in my glass globe, watching the snow of my false insecure thoughts swirl between me and these people I wanted to be with. Its worse, sitting at the table right next to the dance floor, but it feeling a world away.
I’m not sure if it’s better being a therapist or not. It’s better because I have the skills to help myself, but it’s harder because I fail to use them so often. I tried to change my thoughts with minimal results, especially after hubby accidentally left me alone on the slow dance.
I hated sitting on at the table, having been so broken this summer at my sometimes shallow relationships. I want to connect with people with every fiber of my being. I want to love and be loved. I want to love others selflessly, not asking to be loved in return because Christ first loved me. I want to give the big giant hug, not worrying how it is received.
I saw everyone dancing, so close, so far away, knowing and seeing every possibility to turn it around, knowing that joining is how you start and build relationships. I didn’t know the bride well, and I hated knowing I could join her, but I was too afraid….then I guilted myself, catastrophizing, cursing myself to always being in this glass prison. I’m so afraid it will always be this way, that my newer relationships will always stay shallow.
I think it’s more tiring, knowing how much I’ve worked to overcome it. But one thing that did click last night is that this isn’t just going to be a one time hurdle. Like people who struggle with depression, with the fog ever looming around them, so my glass cylinder will need to be broken in most if not every group social event. Its just something I’m going to have to fight, replacing my negative anxious thoughts, with healthy thoughts that push me forward.
I write this to acknowledge that awkward space between us. I write to say I’m sorry that I don’t love you better. I write to say that I regret being so focused on my inner turmoil that I don’t see your hurt to give you the hug to help you make it in this broken world. I cry out from the stifling safety of my transparent cell; I don’t want to be here any more.