3rd SA meetup

I went along to another SA meetup on Saturday but it didn’t go well. It was the worst so far. There were supposed to be six of us going – 3 men and 3 women – but only 3 of us turned up – me and 2 men. Awkward is an understatement. I was visibly shaking in front of them when we first met up because I was so anxious. We met up in the city centre again, and it was absolutely mobbed because of the (rare) beautiful, warm weather. This made me anxious enough to begin with, but knowing that it was just me and the 2 men made it even worse. I found myself desperately wishing that one of the other women would show up so that it wouldn’t be as awkward. As I’ve mentioned before, my SA is even more intense around men. I’m never really sure why this is, but I think it does relate mostly to bullying (the majority of the people who bullied me at school were males). Fifth year Computing at high school was particularly difficult. I was the only girl in a class of about 24, and every lesson was just a constant fusillade of sexist jokes and comments directed at me, insults regarding how weird I was, having objects ranging from pencils and rulers to folders and textbooks thrown at me, having attention drawn to me in a negative way, and just generally having everyone take the piss out of me. It was one of the worst classes that I experienced in high school, in terms of my anxiety levels. I think it’s experiences such as these that have made me even more anxious around men than I am around other women.

When we finally realised that no one else was going to show up, we just went for a walk together. The two men just talked amongst themselves for most of the meet. I felt like there was no point in me being there as I was just getting on their nerves and hanging around like a lost puppy. I felt that I shouldn’t have even bothered going at all. The guy who had organised that particular meet did try to ask questions of me and bring me into the conversation, but I failed miserably at it. I didn’t have a clue what to say and I couldn’t really say more than a few words in response to his questions. I was so anxious that I got everything I was trying to say mixed up. It was as if my brain had decided to jumble most of my sentences into a random word order so that I stumbled over most of what I was trying to say. I could think perfectly clearly until I was asked a question – at which point it was as if my brain had just decided: “Oh, I see you’re trying to have a conversation. Just taking 40 winks – brb as soon as you’re done talking”. So that didn’t go well…

We also went into a book shop for a short while because the organiser wanted to buy a couple of books to read over the summer. It was horrible. For some reason, I find book shops almost as bad as clothes shops because I feel that I will be judged based on whatever I look at/ buy. I know it’s illogical but I still can’t help feeling that way. I just stood there very awkwardly until we could leave. I couldn’t even say goodbye to them properly when the three of us went our own separate ways. Actually, I didn’t manage to speak to the other guy (not the organiser) at all. I’m worried that I came across as extremely rude and weird because of this and because of how extremely awkward I was the whole time. I tell myself that – what with it being a social anxiety support group – they will understand why I was so awkward and couldn’t say much. But I also have the sinking feeling that I’ve once again made a very bad impression on people and they’ll think I’m a complete freak and won’t like me. I’d hoped that I could get to know the people in the group and have friendly conversations with them – maybe even make friends with them – but it’s days like that which drive home the reality of how poor my social skills are, and how little chance it seems I have of that ever happening. When things aren’t going well, it’s almost impossible for me not to completely catastrophise everything, and I’ll end up in the same old negative, downward spiral. To me, situations like that just confirm many of my long-standing beliefs such as “I’ll never have friends”, “I’ll never have a boyfriend”, “I will always be alone”, “I’m never going to belong anywhere”, “I will always be a freak to other people”, and so on. This can often prevent me from joining in with/ paying attention to the conversation because I’m too busy focusing on my own negative thoughts. I know that I have to work on changing this if I want to get better. I have gotten better at not ruminating over this sort of thing as much as I used to. For example, as soon as I got back from that meet up, I went out cycling in an attempt to take my mind off it and boost my mood. I also managed to remind myself how difficult it is for me to even show up to the group meet ups, and congratulate myself for doing so (even if I did critisise myself quite a bit while I was actually there). I think it will take a long time to learn to stop criticising myself completely and to stop myself from falling into the downward spiral.

The next SA meet is on Sunday. Hopefully it’ll be better than the last one.

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4 Responses to 3rd SA meetup

  1. That sounds like an awful experience. You did, however, seem to have quite a lot of insight and appreciation for your own mental workings afterward and how your past experience and present thoughts contributed to your discomfort. Even though it was a horrible experience, it sounds like it was valuable. Maybe in the future, if you know you’re in a situation in which you’re fundamentally uncomfortable (like talking with two men you don’t know), let yourself off the hook and extract yourself. It doesn’t make it a failed experience. It just means you need to do things at a certain pace.

    You can get ideas for things to work on from experiences like this too, I think. For example, if you know you have trouble in book stores, perhaps you can make this an exposure therapy goal — but rather than piling it on with other social pressures, just set up some exercises where you go to a book store by yourself and try to accomplish things — asking for help finding a book, purchasing something, or just trying to spend some time alone there observing your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.

    What do you think?

    I find it inspiring that you’re going to go back to the SA meetup again in a week. That takes real courage.

    • Gemma says:

      Thank you.

      I think that adding book shops to my exposure therapy agenda for the summer would help a lot. I’d like to get back into (non-university) reading while I’m holiday and we’ll have to go shopping for holidays clothes quite soon, so I’ll probably have a lot of opportunities to try out exposure exercises in both clothes shops and book shops in the near future. Hopefully I’ll continue to make gradual progress with ‘situational’ exposure. I also promised myself that I’d get back into doing ‘thought records’ – which help me pick apart my irrational thoughts and challenge them – this summer, after not doing them in quite a long time.

      I also think that what you said about doing things at a certain pace is spot on. Many of my past attempts at exposure therapy failed because I threw myself in at the deep end too soon. I used to think that the answer was to expose myself to as much anxiety as I could in a given situation and to push myself as much as I could. My psychologist helped me to see that doing this could have actually caused more harm than good, by making me even more fearful of the situation. Instead of pushing myself so much that I’d have regular panic attacks, he recommends that I should face situations in which I experience moderate anxiety, and slowly try to reduce this.

  2. jaynefranks says:

    I want to say i agree with anxiety trip’s comment above. You are doing so well. It takes a strong will to get up and meet your own fears. You are a much stronger character than you give yourself credit for. Be kind on yourself. X

    • Gemma says:

      Thanks for your kind comment. 🙂 Learning to be kind to myself and feel good about myself is one of my main long-term goals in overcoming my anxiety and low mood, and preventing depression from returning.

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