Sorry I can't make it | Social Anxiety



Today I thought we could do a little story time. With the recent disorganization and mass decent of my family into my little home I thought this story was pretty appropriate.

It's a little story of anxiety, so if that's t going to be a trigger for you please feel free to click away here, but if not carry on.

First a little background...

...Since as long as I can remember I've had Anxiety, but it wasn't until I was into Adulthood that I knew what it was.

A large part of my anxiety involves social situations. Based on that you might assume I'm not good in crowds, or maybe it's meeting new people, speaking in front of a group (you can read my introvert on the internet post here)? Well you might then be surprised to know that actually it's not really any of those things. Sure I get nervous, just like a lot of other people, I get cold sweats, increased heart rate, shivers, a croak in my voice, but actually I don't mind crowds (I love gigs), and I don't mind meeting new people. In fact on the whole I find it really fun to talk with fresh faces, and I certainly don't get stage fright! I've spent most of my childhood on stage, and I'm now a teacher to classes of around 100 students so, yes I get nervous but no those situations don't usually bring on my anxiety in the clinical sense.

What does bring it on, is friendship. Sounds strange I know - you might then see why it took so long for me to go and talk to someone about it, and why it didn't exactly make sense until much later in life. Meeting up with friends, nights out, talking with my colleagues, even with my siblings, can cause me so much anxiety I now choose to spend most of my time alone. If I get too anxious I have panic attacks. Again not something I realised I was having until about three years ago. I had this false impression that a panic attack was dramatic. In my head I thought panic attacks were obvious, attention drawing, women screaming "get me out, I need to get out" (of course an obviously very ignorant thought, no offense at all intended). I was holding a very illogical, inaccurate stereotype for panic attacks, as far as I could see I thought "well I don't do that".

So when this happened I didn't understand what I was experiencing was a panic attack...

First my heart starts to race, which quickly leads to palpitations, unfortunately these can last for hours. I start to struggle to breathe and can't take deep breathes no matter how much I try. This starts to make me panic. I feel light headed, get overwhelming head rush and start worrying that people can tell I'm acting strange. I get this incredible sense of paranoia and really I'm just thinking "please nobody look at me, please don't notice". I become embarrassed that somebody in the room must know what's happening and I want to do anything possible to stop it, control it, to act normally which of course makes it worse. Describing this it all seems like pretty obvious signals but its taken me a very long time, and some invaluable help to recognise.

Maintaining friendships has always been a bit of a challenge when even the thought of having a text from someone I knew could bring this on. Unsurprisingly I've lost friends, dear friends. It wasn't through actions or arguments, simply the more I thought about them my anxiety would go up, I'd become too overwhelmed and as time went on my communication dwindled. It got to the point I could no longer talk on the phone, e-mail, text, message online...any form of contact would bring on an attack. So I stopped, and I can say on the plus side my anxiety levels are much lower now, but my friendship circle is too.

OK cue story time...

So when an old friend contacted me not so long ago, I had a classic moment of panic (a long moment) but I also took the brave step to make a change. It's taken me years to get to this point. So I cancelled on him the first time, but I made plans to see him the week after.

OK, I've set a date. I got to choose the day, the time, the place. I decided it wasn't going to be for long, maybe just an hour, I planned it for a work day so if I was overwhelmed I had a plausible escape route.

We met, and I was afraid but I decided to actually talk about it. For the first time in my life, I explained these feelings I get, it had never occurred to me to do so and I think I've always thought I'm come off weird. So I did - Why I find it hard to socialise, to see people I care about so deeply, and to my complete surprise, he was so understanding. I couldn't have asked for a better response, or a better friend.

For the first time in my life the pressure was off, someone knew how hard it was, and didn't just label me as a 'flake'.
I'd never thought someone would be so patient and so kind, about something that I thought sounded so weird!

It was a small step, but it's made a huge difference. I don't know how long it will take me to re-connect with lost friends but I'm hoping that with each person I tell a little bit of the burden and the guilt of appearing like a rubbish friend will ease.

Since then we've kept in regular but pressure off contact. He checks in every now and then but doesn't bombard me with messages. He's wonderful, and it's finally got to the point I can even reach out myself without feeling sick. The anxiety is still there but I'm finding better ways of coping, and learning not to beat myself up so much.

If you experience anxiety I hope my experience brings you some hope. Though it might seem terrifying to tell people how you feel, real friends will always support you. Don't rush it, but when your ready, just try it on someone, explain how it feels and you'll truly be surprised at how accepting and loving people can be.

And if you have a friend who seems like a bit of a flake, maybe they don't text back for a few weeks, maybe they don't go on nights out, or meet up every week, maybe cut them some slack. Maybe they're going through something just like me, and maybe you could even be the one who breaks the ice.

But I think one of the biggest take homes is also not to judge people on who they know. Someone might not have a big friendship group or have any interest in being the life of the party, but it doesn't mean anything about how nice, genuine or kind they can be. They may not have a lot of close friends but they might have a few great friends, or even simply not have met those great friends yet.

I'm hoping that through reading my story you might find some strength, reassurance or understanding that Anxiety is complex, it's not the same for everyone. Maybe you or someone you know has it and neither of you even realise, but with the right support system and tools it can be managed.

Let me know in the comments if your experiences of anxiety, of if you've got any questions feel free to ask!

Thanks for stopping by!

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