Friday, December 16, 2016

Socialization and Anxiety

To those who know me well, I don't think it will come as much surprise that I'm an introvert. I can quite happily curl up on the couch with Netflix or a book and be content for hours. When I worked as a barista, my job alone was enough to fulfill most of my social needs. (The fact that my coworkers at the time were awesome didn't hurt though.) Now that I'm a nanny, I have to find social interaction. Even introverts need some. Most weeks for me that means lunch at my in-laws on Sundays, Monday night dinners (affectionately known as Dragonland), story time at the library on Wednesdays where I talk the librarians' ears off, and the absolute highlight of my week is my mommy group Thursday mornings.

But lately, our Monday night host has been travelling out of town, I've had to drive my husband to work which interferes with story time, and the location for mommy group closed down. So I haven't been getting my social life fix. Finally, yesterday, with the return of our second vehicle to working order and a rescheduled mommy group hosted at someone's house, I was able to get some socialization. And I needed it. To be able to hang out with my friends, let the kids play, and, as a bonus, my daughter and I were able to eat everything but the cheese cubes without worry. (She has food allergies which impact my diet too.)

While I love my time with my friends, and I desperately need the adult interaction, the minute I leave, my anxiety roars its ugly head and makes me question, makes me doubt. I walk out the door and I begin to analyze every thing I did or said. Did they know I meant this? Did I come across like that? Did I talk too much? Am I too self-centered? Am I too needy? Did I ask enough questions about the other person? If I had my phone out, did I spend too much time on it?

My first anxiety attack, that I can recall, I was 8 years old. That means I've been dealing with this monster for 18 years. If my mental illness was a person, he could vote and sign a contract and get a tattoo. I have what's considered high functioning anxiety. It doesn't stop me from doing many things (except for the semester in college where it sabotaged my efforts to meet my chapel requirement). But every interaction I have gets replayed in my head over and over several times. It gets questioned and disected and analyzed until even I am sick of it.

If it was as simple as not thinking that, trust me, I'd stop in an instant. But that's just not the reality. My brain goes into overdrive and I cannot turn it off. I can't stop these thoughts like I can stop the faucet on my kitchen sink. And at the end of the day, they can get overwhelming. They can get to the point where I just want to scream or rip my hair out or revert back to how I coped in high school and hurt myself. Because if I'm in pain, I'm not focusing on the interactions I had all day. I'm focusing on causing the pain, dealing with the pain, and then after I'd be focused on the guilt of making that choice. (The guilt would then consume my brain, I wouldn't be able to turn those thoughts off, and it would end up an awful cycle. This is why I haven't done that in about ten years.)

I wish I could just change on a dime. I wish it was that simple. But I've done this my entire life. Until recently, I thought everyone did. I didn't know this was a symptom of my anxiety. I thought it was just exaggerated for me. Which makes me wonder how much of my standard behaviors, thoughts, things I say are part of my mental illnesses. They impact every aspect of my life. Even when they're under control. I'll never be able to get twenty years of my life back from this monster. I'll never be able to go back to Germany and attend those drink nights that I skipped because I wasn't sure exactly where it was or those times I bowed out from events in college because I didn't know who would be there. I'll never have that back. Maybe someday I'll have an afternoon with friends where I don't leave and second guess every single thing I said and every single thing I did. In the mean time, I won't let it stop me from going to my mommy group, from messaging my friends about German or haircuts or babywearing. I won't let this illness hold me back the times I'm able to overcome it. And when I'm not able to overcome it, I will seek help. Because as my husband said, that's an awful way to live.