My Experience With Social Phobias

Social gatherings, especially large ones, terrify me. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely care about having a social life and the people in my life, but when it comes to making small talk, circulating, and networking you can bet your ass I’m white-knuckleing my way through it and I’ll end up snorking back tears in the ladies room more than once during the event. I do much better one on one. Social diva I am not.

I cannot begin to count the number of parties, bbqs, dinners, mixers, conferences, and gatherings I’ve begged off of over the years out of sheer terror. Not sheer terror of the host or any of the attendees as individuals but sheer terror of the group as a whole.

The anxiety begins with the invite. My throat constricts with guilt just imagining accepting or declining the invite. I want nothing more than to accept and attend, easy and breezy and as comfortable as my corner of the couch. 

Instead, what happens is a litany of worst case scenarios parade front and centre through my mind. What if my chronic pain flares up and I need to leave early? What if I say something stupid and embarrass myself? What if I offend someone or hurt someone’s feelings? What if nobody talks to me? What if someone tries to talk to me and I’m my usual awkward self?

“What if, what If, what if?! Holy fuck! I cannot fucking go. I’m liable to lose my fucking mind in front of everyone and they’ll all find out just how fucking crazy I am!”

Should I decide to decline I imagine being ostracized from all group activities to come. I imagine myself being mocked or criticised by the group for my absence, for my mental illness, for my chicken-shit behaviour, although I know this would never be the case. 

If I do attend there are a couple things that help. For starters I feel most comfortable if I can arrive with someone such as my husband or a close friend and I am likely to cling to my companion as though I would drown in a sea of social suicide without their company until I get comfortable.

It also helps if I can help. When I ask the host if there’s anything I can do to help I genuinely want to help for more than one reason. Not only do I feel good about being of assistance but if I have something to do like refilling chip bowls, doing a few dishes, or passing out appitizers I can focus on these few tasks while I get acclimated to the gathering. I also like having a task to tend to rather than standing around petrified trying to make small talk.

Being offered a drink, either alcoholic or non, right away is helpful as it gives me something to do with my hands and fends off the dry mouth that tends to plague me when I’m nervous. 

I also appreciate being introduced to a few people even if they’re already acquaintances. This breaks the ice and if the host can give us a topic of conversation by mentioning something we have in common all the better.

Another thing that helps me is keeping in mind that many others are  . at social gatherings. Sometimes I look around for someone looking as uncomfortable as me and I make a bee-line towards them with hopes of easing their discomfort. For me, feeling as though I might be of help to someone else takes my mind off my own plight. I also find it easier to introduce myself to one person rather than trying to break into a group.

I don’t think I will ever love attending large gatherings but I figure it’s tolerance that’s key as social gatherings are unlikely to go away. Also, when I imagine life as a complete social hermit I realize I don’t want to stop socializing entirely. To some degree, small though it may be, I do enjoy human interactions. If I can tolerate events long enough to get a little bit comfortable and have a few good laughs things have gone well and I’ve survived to see the next gathering.

K

Anxiety, Pain, and Social Gatherings

My journey into life with chronic pain and mental illness is long and, perhaps, a bit of a snooze-fest so I will get right down to brass tacks.

I have difficulties with my left leg and ankle due to a severe break and subsequent nerve damage after 3 surgeries. I also have disc problems in my low back, si joints problems, as well as mental health struggles.

Also important to note is that I have been unable to work and on disability benefits on and off for the past 10 years. Currently I am unable to work and desperately miss my position of Head Curling Pro, my ultimate dream job. I gritted my teeth and held on for about three and a half years but almost four years ago the injuries kept getting worse and I had to go on disability leave again.

Here’s a social situation I deal with frequently and it’s a double whammy because it involves both chronic illness and social anxiety. I know, riveting stuff right…

So, here’s the setup – I am invited to an event of some sort…and there will be people I know and people I don’t know at said event. Horrors! No seriously, Horrors.

Here’s why; in my experience, the most common conversation starters are, “so, what do you do for a living?” and “where do you work?” or “how’s your back doing? Are you back at work yet?”

I know, I often asked these Pandora’s box style questions before I came to understand the uncomfortable dread it inspires in me now.

When these questions are lobed in my direction I literally begin to tremble, my throat constricts, and tears prick my eyes. I usually stutter something about being injured and off work.

The next questions are invariably, “where did you work? What is your injury?”

So I mention I was Head Curling Pro at a sports club, my dream job, perhaps a job I’ll never be able to return to and my heart breaks at the mere thought of this.

Once they know the basics they want to fix me. And I know they mean well but being interrogated about all the zillions of treatments I’ve tried, and Dr’s offices I’ve sat in, and all the tests I’ve had sucks.  I feel like sinking into the floor in a puddle of tears and flowing quietly from the room.

I try to hold it together until they’ve suggested some treatment which worked miracles for Great Auntie Nelly and simply involves sacrificing a goat and three chickens simultaneously during a blood moon while naked in a circle of crystal skulls imported from Morocco.

I take the advice as graciously as I can as I know the intentions are good. Then, I reiterate all the things I’m already working on and promise to look into the goat thing.

Getting into situations as described are terrifying for me. I have even cancelled, with great guilt and regret, attending events because I fear this so much.

One of the many psychologists I’ve seen had a great suggestion for an alternative conversation starter and it’s so simple and perfect.

“How do you like to spend your time?”

I beg you to change to this as opening dialogue. Please understand there are many invisible and visible reasons why the former questions make many people uncomfortable.

I hope this glimpse into my perspective is of some help and value.

K