"I have some girlfriends for a wine and cheese evening, would you like to come along?"
It touched me to be included in this recently texted invitation from a client, a part of me wanted to go, especially she's a nice person and most of my social interaction right now is with my preschooler, but the thought of going into a group of people I did not know and doing small talk was overwhelming.
"Thank you for the invitation, but I have plans for that night, "I said, at the time I justified it for myself (she did not need to know that my plans were Netflix ̵
Many people get upset when they receive an invitation to an event; bad, not because of the people involved (as a rule), but because there are participants. Although I have learned to identify it as such only in recent years, I've suffered from social anxiety all my life.
As a teenager and a young adult, I forced myself into unpleasant social situations, even though I was overwhelmed because I assumed that my "shyness" was something I had to overcome. I told myself that the cold sweat, the shaking of hands, the throbbing heart, the constricted throat, the misty thinking, and the embarrassingly obvious blushing would surely fade as soon as the ice was broken. Sometimes, but mostly not and still not.
I feel comfortable with several close friends, but the moment a group grows beyond the confines of my circle of trust, I can feel the frightened monster come to life and all my deep-seated fears of being judged (and to come up short), flare up again). When this happens, my survival strategy retreats: watching, listening, embracing the periphery of a room, and making lasting bonds with pets.
People often confuse my relative silence in groups as restraint, but I'm calm because I weigh every word before I speak it, wondering how my contribution to the conversation will be taken and fear it will expose me as a fraud of which I have convinced myself.
Even though I feel comfortable during an interaction, I will spend days, even weeks, dissecting them and focusing on what I have considered social gaffes – basically tormenting myself. It is exhausting.
Like many people with anxiety, I'm highly functional and my discomfort is usually not obvious to others (my classmates always noticed how calm and calm I've appeared, though I was scared inside of my confused mess). I participate in events or go into situations where I feel unwell, either for work reasons, because I want to see friends or because I have the overwhelming desire not to disappoint or insult others. But I do it at the expense.
You see, social anxiety can cause more general anxiety and nourish for me.
I "made it" by forcing myself to ignore it as much as possible and just keep going. Not a good strategy.
In recent years, a lot of "life" has happened, with many unexpected challenges. Eventually, the fear consumed me to a point where I could not ignore it and I looked around in a dark abyss that froze me to my soul. I NEVER want to find myself again at this abyss. This experience has taught me that my sanity must have priority . I am not ready to pay these costs any longer.
I do not avoid all meetings and social interactions. When I feel good, I like to get in touch with others. I appreciate my friendships and appreciate the possibility of new ones. It's just that some types of interactions are more stressful for me and sometimes, depending on other factors in my life, I need to avoid them to keep me feeling good. Ninety-nine percent of cases have nothing to do with the person whose invitation I reject – a real case of honesty: "It's not you, it's me."
I do not feel guilty if I reject invitations when I am physically ill or injured. Why am I ashamed to admit that I feel mentally fragile? When I went to see my doctor last year and apologized for my uncontrollable panic and crying and the fact that I wanted to try medicines for anxiety, she asked if I would feel bad asking for help with an injured leg. Of course not!
It seems as if there is a tacit misunderstanding in our society that mental illness is something that can be used to beat soldiers. Many people successfully hide it when it may cause feelings or discomfort for others (as I have tried most of my life). But even if a disease is made invisible, it is still there. It must be treated in the same way as a bone fracture or a bone disease, or there are consequences.
Thanks to recent awareness-raising campaigns and more individuals sharing their personal stories, mental illness is becoming a less taboo subject in general conversation. and I let myself out in several publications as an anxious patient. Totally unknown people know my mental health and yet I'm not ready to tell anyone in real life, "Thank you for including me in the invitation, but social gatherings are a catalyst for my unrest and that's it a challenge lately, so I will pass. "
Let's be real here. If you are not touched by fear, a small part of you would not think: Wow, that seems extreme. It's just wine and cheese! Maybe you feel a little offended or wonder if you've done anything to insult me.
If a person declines an invitation because of a physical injury or illness, you probably would not worry about it. You certainly would not take it personally. I am sometimes busy and say that I am busy, because the last thing I want to do, by avoiding a cause of social anxiety, is to cause someone else and possibly damage a relationship.
Is this a permanent solution? No. I value honesty and it creates a lot of dissonance in me not to be completely honest with people, especially people I care about. But at least in my eyes, this is the best way to deal with it right now. Writing about it helps me to be more courageous and to link the general conversation about anxiety more and more closely with my personal relationships.
I hope that someday rejecting an invitation for psychological reasons will be as acceptable to others (and me) as the statement: "Sorry; can not do it – I have the flu.
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