Social Anxiety- A Self-Portrait in Texts

Me: Holy cow! I’m freakin’ vibrating from caffine overload! Lol!

Me: I am so sorry. I think I talked too much this morning and didn’t pay enough attention to you, your baby or (other friend). I was behaving selfishly and I’m really sorry.

Friend: Stop that! We enjoyed your visit. I didn’t respond to your message sooner because we are at ikea.

Me: No I wasn’t talking about u not responding, it didn’t take long anyway. I just keep playing the visit over in my head and realized how annoying I was being. Ahhh I hate anxiety. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have mentioned this. I’ve been really nervous lately and it’s fucking with my head. I’m sorry for being a freak and sorry for being sorry. Ok I need to chill out. Not sure why I’m not hitting delete rather than send.

It was really nice being there with you three. Just when I think I’m past ruminating and beating myself up it comes back and reminds me I still have a mental illness. Frustrating. I suppose I should appreciate that it happens with less frequency now. Thank you for understanding my crazy weirdnessđź’ś

Friend: Lol, all good my lovely. We were saying how nice it was to have you there this morning and how much we enjoyed your visit. So don’t worry at all. Never stop being you.

This is a text conversation I had after visiting with a friend, her baby and another friend from out of town. I think it’s a pretty good example of how social anxiety affects my life.

Fortunately the friend I was texting with has known me for more than 20 years and is familiar with my anxieties and pretty adept at helping me to dismiss unnecessary, repeating thoughts.

Here’s a little bit more about how this situation came to be:

I’m heading home after a nice visit with a huge smile on my face. There had been laughter and many old, inside jokes and stories, lots of catching up on each other’s lives, witty banter, genuine affection amongst ourselves, and a sense of ease together that only comes with long-standing, well-nourished, mutually appreciated relationships. It was an especially nice visit I’m thinking as I pull into my driveway.

I begin playing parts of the conversation from the morning back and I realize I forgot to ask about ongoing issue one of my friends was having at work. At first I’m starting to rationalize this oversight as we hadn’t seen each other in a while and there was a lot to catch up on. I’m able to tell myself I’ll be sure to ask about it next time we visit.

Next I realize how long I spent prattling on about some story about my husband. My friends were probably bored to tears. At this point my ability to rationalize away my subpar social skills begins to fizzle and I feel the familiar, but never comfortable, sensation of panic flip-flopping like a slippery fish in my belly.

Soon I am obsessively going over the entire visit with a fine toothed comb and analysing stupid jokes I made, things I now think I shouldn’t have said, other things I should have asked about and on and on and on.

I even begin to assess my mannerisms and actions; did I hug too hard or too long? did I gesticulate too wildly? was I warm enough or too familiar? did I stay too long or not long enough? Was I over-dressed or under-dressed? and on and on and on.

I consider possible consequences; they won’t invite me to visit again, I’ll lose two good friends, they’ll talk about what a crazy, selfish bitch I am, they must be mad at me, and on and on and on.

These thoughts and questions swirl round my mind and I’m rapping my knuckles against my temple to make it fucking stop. It doesn’t stop. I try distracting myself by painting but the thoughts keep interrupting.

I try reframing the situation and using my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) skills. I classify my thoughts; Mind-Reading-As in, I cannot predict if the others noticed my missteps or if they would even categorize them as such. Fortune Telling-As in, I’m predicting outcomes when I cannot know the future. Catastrophizing-As in, I’m making something small into a much bigger problem than it is.

Unfortunately I’ve never been able to make CBT work for me no matter how many times I write down my feelings, categorize and rate them. I know this type of therapy works for many but I’ve been trying to make it work for the past 10+ years and it’s yet to actually help.

Finally I decide to text my friend. Impractical as it is, this is what usually helps. I confront the situation and apologize for what I think I did wrong. As I mentioned before, my friend is familiar with my anxiety, sees it for what it is and easily calms my mind.

The frustrating part is, in other situations I can’t always go back and apologize, I generally haven’t done anything wrong anyway and I already apologize far too much as it is (I have anxiety about over-apologizing too. Lol!). Sometimes I just think things to death until it either goes away on it’s own for a while or until I’m having a full-blown panic attack and have to take medication.

If this is familiar behaviour to anyone out there I am truly sorry as nonsense like this is a waste of time and energy. Even if I actually had done something I needed to apologize for there’s no need to punish myself in this manner. Making the apology and meaning it is enough.

This is just one facet of how my social anxiety manifests but I thought it was a good example. If you’d like to share a comment, similar story or if you’ve got a coping technique that works for you I’d love to hear about it.

K

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Nothing to Fear but Phobias

 Looking back, I realize when my anxiety flared to it’s worst I began to develop more and more phobias. Sure, in the past I’d  had a mild aversion to worms and slimy looking things but that mild aversion didn’t cripple me to the point of inaction. 

Disturbingly the phobias that began to plague me seemed to develop out of nowhere. I decided to seek therapy after a particularly frightening incident. 

Roughly 9 years ago I had closed down the restaurant where I worked. I checked and rechecked to see I’d locked the gate properly and finally managed to accept it was locked and got into my car. I then fought the urge to start all over by checking and rechecking I’d not forgotten anything inside the restaurant.

I managed to drive roughly half a block before turning around to go back and check the restaurant hadn’t caught fire. I turned back one more time before finally convincing myself to go home.

Later,in bed, my eyes snapped open at 3am and I was compelled to go back and check on the restaurant. I breathed a sigh of relief after driving half way across the city to find the building safe and sound.

I turned back twice more before finally heading home where I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t understand why my conscientious streak had turned into paralyzing paranoia.

In the coming years I battled with a gripping fear of driving. I was terrified of handling any bend in the road above a speed of approximately 50kmh. This made navigating any stretch of highway frightening for myself but also damn dangerous for anyone sharing the road with me.

My friends and family could not understand my new aversion to driving. I felt horrible for not being able to explain and not understanding it myself. I hated the highway, handling curves and corners, passing, being passed, and, the ever-dreaded (by me only it seems),vanishing horizon. 

Seeing the crest of a hill and not being able to see beyond set my pulse pounding and my breathing shallow and ragged. I felt there would be no road to catch me should I cross that invisible horizon line. And, like a puppy chasing sun rays, as soon as I safely crested one horizon I’d begin to fear safe passage o’er the next.

I also developed a fear of flying even though I’d happily travelled on planes quite frequently since infancy. I feared forgetting to shut off the stove top, the oven, the coffee maker, or the curling iron thus burning my house to the ground. 

I feared losing my keys, locking myself out, running out of medication, losing my job, being robbed, the death of a loved one, and my own death. I feared all these things and more to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time until one day the fears became just a little quieter. Currently my fears are tamped down to little more than a whisper. 

I’m not sure what it is that finally exercised the demon of fear. Perhaps the medication did it, or therapy, or reading the right book, or doing enough fucking cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) work sheets,  just the passing of time, or a combination thereof.

I still have spells where fear creeps in and possesses my body and mind but, for now at least, I am able to quell the beast with relative ease.

K