A Bad Night

Friday night was my uncle’s surprise 50th birthday party, at which there were loads of long-lost relatives – some of whom I haven’t seen since I was four years old or younger. I don’t do well at parties and Friday night was no exception. The main idea of this post is to show what my mind/ thought process actually does whenever I’m in a particularly anxiety-provoking social situation. I’m hoping that it might give those who don’t suffer from social anxiety an idea of what living with it is actually like. At points in this post I’ll write about my social anxiety as if it’s actually a person fighting with me. While there’s obviously not an actual verbal argument going on in my head, social anxiety is often very much like an annoying person or ‘voice’ in your head that just won’t stop criticising you/ making you feel uncomfortable. I realise that writing about it in this way may seem very odd to a lot of people but it’s probably the best way for me to get across the internal battle that I have with myself in such situations. Again, sorry if it’s boring.

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7 pm:

I’m the car with my dad, sisters, and brother. Mum’ll get there about an hour later than us because work kept her back. We’ll be there soon. I feel the all too familiar nausea/ sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wonder how many people will be there. I worry about everything that I could possibly do ‘wrong’ socially. I worry that I won’t be able to cope.

What if people try to talk to me and I say the wrong thing or stumble over my words and make a complete idiot of myself? What if they think I’m weird/ rude/ antisocial? What if they think I’m weird or a ‘saddo’ for not getting up to dance and just sitting there the whole night? What if I show visible signs of anxiety? I can’t let my cousins or their friends – or anyone else who doesn’t know about my anxiety – see that I’m afraid in any way. They would think less of me if they found out. I don’t want to mess up socially but I’m sure that I will…

7:15pm:

We arrive at the party. There are lots of people already there. We’re greeted by our cousins and then go through to the hall where the tables are and the band is set up. Who ARE these people? I don’t even recognise most of them. We greet my aunt and my grandparents then my sisters go off with our cousins and their friends and dad goes off to talk to someone, leaving my brother and I standing awkwardly at the side of the room. I have no idea what to do…I hope none of the people that I don’t recognise come up to us and try to talk to me… We grab seats at one of the empty tables and just sit there until dad and my sisters join us.

7:45pm:

My uncle arrives. The band are playing ‘Happy Birthday’ and everyone in the hall (there are maybe around 60 of us) is turned to look at him. He does look quite surprised and like he’s not sure what’s going on. I’d be mortified if that happened to me. How can anyone not be intensely anxious if the attention of 60+ people is on them? I will never understand… He goes around saying hello to everyone, but when he eventually comes over to us, I stumble over my words and feel like a complete idiot: “Happy Birthday! Well…erm…it’s not your birthday just yet but yeah…Are you surprised?”

Social anxiety: Well that was nicely handled…idiot. You just made a complete fool of yourself – congrats. See? You’re completely socially incompetent. Can’t even say Happy Birthday to someone without tripping over your words…your uncle probably thinks you’re very weird now.

The band starts playing and holy crap this music is LOUD!! Why do they feel it necessary to deafen everyone? I hate loud music – unless I’m at a concert but even then I don’t like it to be anywhere near this loud – it makes me feel even more anxious/ like I want to get out of here. It’s so loud that we can’t hear each other unless we shout directly into each others’ ears. This is ridiculous…make it stop…turn the volume down, someone, please? How am I going to last another 4+ hours like this?

8pm: 

One of the bartenders takes our glasses away and I think he shouts: “Enjoying the party?” to my brother and I. He’s around my age or a bit older and quite attractive. What the hell do I say? Is it okay to just say ‘yeah’ and leave it at that or do I have to comment on something else like the band or whatever? I say (well, shout): “Yeah, thanks”. Him: “WHAAAAATTT??” Me: “WHAAAATTT?” Him: “ARE. YOU. ENJOYING. YOURSELVES?” I hopelessly and awkwardly mumble something and then he leaves. Well that was awkward….

Social Anxiety: You just made a complete and utter idiot of yourself. That guy probably thinks you’re the biggest social moron in the world right now. Why did you even bother trying to talk to him? You should have said nothing and left it up to your brother to talk to him.

Me: Yeah…at least I tried though?

SA: Tried and FAILED – and, might I add, miserably. You can’t do anything right can you? There’s no point in you even trying to do anything because you always mess it up.

Me: Not always. I’ve done well in trying to overcome you recently.

SA: Maybe a little bit but you’re doing terribly at this party. Here – have a film reel of memories from your innumerable social failures over the years.

Dad introduces me to someone. I’ve never met her but apparently my dad’s told her quite a lot about my siblings and I. She starts telling us something but – even though we’re all the way over near the bar – I still can’t hear anything that she’s saying. Crap! She’s going to think I’m really rude…what do I do? …Okay…just try and copy dad’s facial expressions…he seems to be able to actually hear her. My face probably looks really weird…I’m probably coming across really badly. I must look so weird and rude and incompetent to her. 

My anxiety continues to build. I can’t deal with this. I want to go home. Maybe I should have a drink. Or a few. Anything to take the edge off. Anything to take the anxiety away. But the thought of getting even slightly tipsy makes me anxious. I’d be too scared to feel out of control in the presence of other people. I worry that I’d make an even bigger fool of myself – if that’s even possible. No – drinking any more than a little bit of alcohol is a bad idea because I don’t know how I’d react. I have some cider. Nowhere near enough to have any kind of effect though. When will mum get here? You’re 19 years old, for goodness’ sake – you can’t just go running to you mother whenever you feel uncomfortable. Don’t be so pathetic. 

I tell dad that I’m feeling very, very anxious and he’s actually very supportive. He encourages me to just do what I feel comfortable doing and to take it easy. He says that he won’t introduce me to anyone else if I don’t want him to. I feel like I can’t deal with the people and the noise – like I need to step outside for a bit or something. But I sit back down at the table.

Loads of people are up dancing now. I don’t understand how people can do that – just get up and be the centre of attention like that. How can they not feel sick and overwhelmed by anxiety? How can they not sweat and blush and shake? How can they not be too self-concious to do anything? How can they actually enjoy that? At home, I’m completely different. If I was in a good mood and some party music came on, I’d probably start doing a stupid dance to it or something for a laugh. I’m a completely different person around my immediate family than I am with the rest of the world. I hate that social anxiety robs me of my personality/ makes me question if I even have a personality.

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My fear of dancing is probably one of the earliest signs of having SA. My dad’s work used to do Christmas parties for kids between the ages of 4 and 10. I remember the first time I went along – I didn’t want to dance because I was too self-concious and afraid. “Oh, is she just a bit shy?”, I remember one of the ‘helpers’ asking my dad. Then they took me by the hands and basically forced me to dance with them. I hated it. It made me feel sick and…strange in a way that I couldn’t really describe at that age. I didn’t like that all the adults were watching us dance from the canteen on the floor above. I couldn’t say why I didn’t like it but I knew that it made me feel very sick. I didn’t like that the music was so loud. I didn’t like that I was being forced to do something that I didn’t want to do. I wanted to just run away and hide. I didn’t want to be noticeable. In later years, when my sisters – and later, my brother – were old enough to go along, I remember just sitting quietly at a table in the corner the whole time. My sisters would constantly be begging me to go up and dance with them but I always said no. They – and all the other kids – seemed to be having so much fun. I wished that I could join them but I was far too afraid. I didn’t understand how they could be so unselfconscious. I felt left out. I worried that being the only one sitting at the side the whole time would draw attention to me or that everyone would think I was really weird. I found myself wishing that I could just be at home most of the time.

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SA: Oh, by the way, now that you’re done reliving those memories, here’s a massive bunch of other painful memories from of all the things that I’ve prevented you from doing over the course of your life. Now you can feel very upset and regretful, and realise that you’ve always been the outcast who could never be a part of anything. Now you can relive the pain of all those times you felt alone, rejected, hurt, and so on. Have fun!

8:30pm:

Mum is finally here. I still feel awful and want to leave. My grandad gets up to make a speech. How can anyone do that without feeling completely terrified? I know that he’s very extroverted but still…How can he talk in front of everyone without being completely incapacitated with anxiety and apprehension? His arm is even shaking a little bit – he must be very anxious, right? How could you not be in that situation? But strangely, he doesn’t seem particularly bothered that his arm was shaking. I’m so glad that I’m not the one who has to make a speech.

9pm:

The buffet is finally open and we go to line up for it. My grandad’s sister – who we haven’t seen in years – starts talking to me and asking me about university.

Yay! I actually managed to talk to her and tell her about my course and that I’m thinking of becoming a vet nurse at the end of it all. I did quite well and managed not to have any awkward moments or look weird.

SA: Yeah, but she probably still thinks you’re a socially incompetent freak though.

Me: Shut up.

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The time went on and on and although my brother and sister, and my great uncle (who was very drunk) cheered me up a bit, I was still feeling awful. The usual thoughts of suicide being an eventuality for me were there. It’s hard for me to explain to people why a single event makes me feel so terrible. I suppose the simple answer is that it’s not really ever the specific event that upsets me – it’s the lifetime of memories of social failure, loneliness, incompetence, rejection, ostracism and bullying that the event triggers that makes me feel so awful. Every time I have a negative social experience, this massive accumulation of EVERYTHING suddenly comes rushing back to me. Looking back at all these memories and realising that I’ve been this way for so long, I begin to wonder if it’s even possible to ever really overcome this thing.

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11:40pm:

Mum says that we’ll be leaving soon. My sister and her friend/ my cousin’s friend are now very drunk and dancing like they don’t have a care in the world. I’m quite jealous, in a way. It must be nice to just enjoy yourself and not care what anyone else thinks. When they were in Ibiza, they were out drinking and partying ’til 6am most mornings. They seem to have so much energy that they could probably dance for hours tonight as well. I, on the other hand, am sitting here yawning, upset, and completely bored. I’ve been wanting to go home since the moment I got here. Good thing I don’t have to wait much longer.

12:10am:

Can we LEAVE, please? I feel like an impatient child who just wants to get out of there as soon as possible, but my parents are taking forever to say goodbye to everyone. My youngest cousin, aunt, and grandmother all ask me why I wasn’t up dancing with everyone else. The band has left but my cousin has hooked her ipod up to the speakers and most of the younger people are still up dancing. Much like the memory I had, she grabs both of my hands and forces me to dance with her, swinging me around and stuff. Annoying.

I see my oldest cousin laughing and messing around with her boyfriend. The same old tinge of sadness and resigned pessimism regarding my love life are there. I wish…

SA: And who would ever love a pathetic, ugly piece of shit like you? Don’t make laugh. You’ll be alone forever. No one likes you.

Me: Yeah probably…But maybe-

SA: Nope. NO ONE. How dare you even think that you’d be worthy of someone else’s love and affection? Don’t make me sick. You can’t even talk to men, remember? HA! And you’ll never have friends either, by the way. You don’t deserve them either. Have fun being alone and miserable for the rest of your life.

12:30am:

Are we ever going to leave? I’m feeling exhausted, angry, and completely drained from anxiety. My brother and I have had enough but loads of relatives try to talk to us. I managed to introduce myself to my dad’s cousin – I don’t know if I’ve ever even met him before – when he asked us what our names were. He starts telling us some stories about things my dad did when he was younger, then my sister and her friend (who are still quite drunk) start talking to everyone about Ibiza and making a lot of noise. “It must be great to still be young”, my great aunt says to my mum. Isn’t it just? I feel like an old woman already. I can’t really do any of the things that ‘young’ people do anyway. I am watching  life pass me by and it seems that – though I try – there is nothing I can do. 

12:45am:

Finally! We’ve said our last goodbyes and are on our way home. I’m fed up, pissed off, and just want to go to bed. I feel like the whole night was just a big failure for me, really. My parents were quite encouraging and said that I did well, but I don’t believe any of it. I’m glad that they’re so supportive now but I still can’t convince myself that tonight was anything but a disaster for me. I reflect on everything that I did ‘wrong’ on the way home. What’s the use?

*sigh* Go to sleep…wake up…try again tomorrow…

 

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2 Responses to A Bad Night

  1. Blue says:

    This is the best, and most comprehensive post about social anxiety that I have ever read.

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