On Learning To Live With Social Anxiety

woman sitting on gray stairs
Benedict Tahjar / Unsplash

It begins with Monday. A dreaded day for most but not so much for me. I take comfort in knowing that I have an entire five days where it will be socially acceptable to hibernate. It won’t seem odd that I am in my room, curled up under a blanket and watching the same episodes of the same TV shows and laughing to myself. Staying in to finish knitting a scarf or destroying some denim jeans only appears to be a hobby I indulge in on quiet, weeknights. Even if someone were to ask me to hang out or meet them for a quick drink, I have these solid excuses that I need to get up early for work or I had a long, hard day.

It seems perfectly normal to stay in with my thoughts and my dog until Friday hits. I had received texts here and there throughout the week with questions of whether I had plans or if I wanted to join in on someone else’s. I only half confirmed I’d participate. And I only half lied that I’d be busy.

The truth is when Friday hits, and I am preparing to choose an outfit, attempt the dreaded 45-minute process that is my hair, my thoughts are racing and I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of fear and nervousness to the point where 50% of the time, I decide to stay in. My makeup isn’t coming out right, if I even make it to putting on makeup. My bed just looks so warm and cozy…safe. I have a bottle of wine and a face mask with my name on them and if I put them off any longer, I’ll never get to them. I decide to come up with an excuse as to why I need to stay in the house. I think about the last time I went out and realize it wouldn’t be worth it tonight. It wasn’t worth it last time. I can feel exhaustion taking over and tomorrow will be a new day. I’ll go out tomorrow when I’m rested. Rested as I may become, the cycle repeats on Saturday. I break the news and feel immediate guilt. Did I make the right decision? Are they mad at me? Will I regret this tomorrow? Every. Time.

There is still the other 50% of times. The times where the right friend says all the right things in order to drag me out of my oversized t-shirt and sea of pillows to push me to take part in what is supposed to be a good time. Despite there being a full box of popsicles in the freezer and an “I Survived” marathon on ID, I somehow force my feet out of my slippers and into a pair of actual shoes. I bombard her with questions of who will be there, where will we be going, how late will we be out, what will we do in the morning, how will we get there, how much will this cost, what are you wearing, what should I wear… I hate what I’m wearing most of the time …and my brain comes up with five different reasons to turn the car around every minute I drive. I try to change the music and, although I put in the greatest of efforts to enjoy a playlist creatively titled “Trap Party,” I connect to the Bluetooth and listen to Bob Dylan or the Avett Brothers as I anxiously speed to my destination. I listen and I am calm and I eventually make it.

When I do, I find the nearest form of alcohol or food. I need something to do with my hands, with my mouth, with my mind. I can’t bite my nails because gel manicures have taken that luxury away, thankfully. So a straw will do. I sip and sip, one drink after another, nervous that I may be caught looking awkward or quiet. I distract myself from the constant fidgeting and restless legs. My friend nudges me once or twice to remind me of how fast my knee is bouncing under the table. I continue, regardless of her embarrassment and obvious annoyance.

The feelings of unease settle as I slowly get comfortable in my surroundings. But, the feeling returns as soon as I am left alone, again with my thoughts and irrational fear of not knowing what to say or who to smile at. I sit with my insecurities. I should have stayed home.

No. I choose to fight through these feelings of anxiety and isolation. I am not alone and I have nothing to be afraid of. My thoughts are not facts, they are fears. I can no longer let them keep me from experiencing conversation and the excitement of meeting new people and learning things about them that I would never have known if I sat, foot tapping, sipping and staring… and hiding. I could no longer use my plastic cup as a mask and I could no longer pretend to text someone, eyes fixed on my phone screen so that I don’t appear lonely or lost. I stand up, approach someone new, and I am polite. I am social. I am outgoing. I laugh and nod and I am myself. For as long as I need to be in order to let my mind know that it is okay. That all that panic was unnecessary.

Monday comes again, and again, and with each week I approach Friday night with goals to make a plan and stick to it. I won’t ask questions, I won’t second guess my decision to commit. My social anxiety takes a back seat to my excitement and enthusiasm. I look forward to the possibilities that come with a Friday night, somewhere, someone, something new … and I feel ready, not anxious, but confident. TC mark

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