I have social anxiety – but on a normal day, when I’m interacting with people I know or with total strangers in innocuous situations (like the checkout line at the grocery store), I totally forget that I do. So, when a situation that comes up that I’m at all emotionally invested in – such as a date, a performance, a party, or the like – I’m always surprised and dismayed when I’m faced with that nervousness, the feeling of impending doom, the almost overwhelming desire to cancel whatever it is I’m scheduled to do and to stay in the comfort of my own home instead.
I don’t want to have social anxiety – it’s a bitch.
I know myself well enough to realize that if I can just make myself go to the party, meet my date, or get up on stage – everything will be fine. Once I’m in the midst of the activity, the outgoing radio announcer part of me takes over and I’m a great conversationalist, animated performer, and a fairly decent listener. But the getting to that part? That’s also a bitch.
The nearest thing I can compare the feeling of my social anxiety to is when you have an appointment scheduled for a pap smear (if you’re a girl) or a prostate exam (if you’re a guy). You know that it’s important to your health that you go, but does anyone look forward, with excitement, to an exam where foreign bodies or a relative stranger’s digits are inserted into sensitive, intimate areas? I think the safe answer is – no….unless you have a little fetish and that kind of stuff appeals to your kinky side.
That feeling of uncomfortable expectancy and “I’d rather not”-ness is what I get when I know I’m due to attend a social event with people I don’t know.
I know it’s important that I go. I know logically that I’ll probably have a good time and it’s good to meet new people and try new things. The alternative is that I become more and more uncomfortable in social situations, eventually turning into a recluse with only my cats for company and a six-foot, barbed wire topped fence around my heavily fortified
bunker house. As attractive as that might be when the zombie apocalypse comes (because I hear cats make for great eating), I’d prefer not to go there just yet. My cats probably prefer that as well.
I know it’s important to leave my house and interact with strangers, but that doesn’t stop the anxiety. And while I know I’m very lucky, because my anxiety is not overwhelming or paralyzing, I still worry.
Take, for example, my social outing last weekend. I joined a Meetup group for hikers – because I like to hike and I
wanted to knew I should meet new people and possibly make a few friends. Last Sunday was the first hike I had been on with the group. These are the types of thoughts that ran through my head the entire week (or three) prior:
“The description says 3.3 miles – surely I can do 3.3 miles.”
“Wait a minute – it goes on to say that we’ll hike to the top of the mesa and then turn around and come back. Is it 3.3 miles total?? Or is it 6.6 miles?”
“Oh God, it is 6.6 miles! I haven’t hiked that far in over a year! I haven’t really even been exercising! Can I even make it that far?”
“And my feet have been hurting – I think I have plantar fasciitis. What happens if I get out there and my feet are killing me? How embarrassing that would be if I had to tell everyone to go on ahead while I limped my way back to the trailhead.”
“Eighteen people are going on this hike! I don’t know any of them! What if no one talks to me and I end up hiking all by myself?”
“It says here that the hike is going to take 4 hours and that we have to bring 100 ounces minimum of water. That’s a lot of time and a lot of water! How am I supposed to pee in the woods if I don’t have a lookout? I’ve been caught before with my lily white ass exposed to the elements – it was traumatizing enough as a kid – I certainly don’t want a repeat performance. Can I hold it for that long?”
“And look here! It says that I should wear my hiking boots or shoes. I don’t own hiking shoes! I’ve always hiked in my New Balance sneakers! Is there a particular reason I have to have hiking boots? Will they tell me I’m not allowed on the hike if I show up in sneakers?”
“Are they going to judge me? I don’t have a fancy hiking hat or backpack – just my baseball cap and my son’s old school backpack.”
“What the hell is a “snik-snack table” and why do they have one after the hike? And I’m supposed to bring something for it! What kinds of things do they like to eat for the snik-snack table?? What if they don’t like what I bring?”
“I probably shouldn’t go.”
“No, you need to go! Don’t be such a chicken shit!”
“I don’t wanna go! It’s scary!”
“For God’s sake, Jana – man up! You’re going – and that’s final!”
I wish I could say these types of internal conversations were rare – but I usually have them at least once a day – for any number of reasons. I’m a Gemini, so I’m really two people in one body – one crazy and neurotic and the other fairly sane and reasonable.
Reasonable Jana won the argument and I ended up going on the hiking trip. It went perfectly – I met some lovely people, my feet didn’t hurt, and I kept up (in fact I was fifth to the summit). I drank three quarts of water, but didn’t have to pee in the woods even once! Nobody judged me, my gear, or the snack I brought. The scenery was breath-taking, the sun was warm on my face, and the breeze kept me cool.
I’m going on another hike with the group next weekend – and you know what? I’m not nervous – not one little bit!
Do you have social anxiety? What are some of your coping mechanisms? Anyone want to go hiking with me? Because apparently I’m fabulous at it!