I had to laugh aloud when I read a Facebook post this morning that said;
“‘I just love holiday party season!’ said no introvert with anxiety disorder ever.”
I found this extremely funny because it pretty much sums up my life when it comes to parties and large gatherings. Although, being an introvert with an anxiety disorder is no laughing matter.
Perhaps, you’d never guess I’m an introvert with anxiety issues, especially when I need to be around a ton of people. But trust me, you don’t want to be around me on a day that I have a party to attend. Ever.
I go back and forth in my head, and out loud, vacillating between;
-‘Do I have to go to this?’
-‘I’m going to go and have fun!”
-“Nah, I can’t go. I’m too tired and stressed’
-“Get off your ass and go to the party!’
-‘I’m not going to have fun. I’d rather stay in bed and watch Netflix,’
-“Fine, I’ll go, but for only an hour. I can do an hour. Can’t I?’
Sigh. Aren’t parties supposed to be fun? Well, not for those who suffer from social anxiety. The above conversation can go on for hours and hours, starting at 9 am and running all the way through to a party that starts at 8 pm. That’s 11 hours of my life wasted because I can’t decide if I can make it to a party without having a panic attack, or wondering how important it is that I show up.
Before almost every big holiday party, I need to call friends for a pep-talk. “Please, can you make this decision for me? Should I go or should I just forget about the party altogether, because no one will miss me?”
Social anxiety can paralyze you, to the point where even making the decision to go or not go to a party, seems like a life or death situation.
All of my good friends know that I’m a last-minute bailer when it comes to parties, which is an awful trait, but they understand how my anxiety level skyrockets before a big, planned, evening out. Often, they convince me to go. But not always.
And once I’ve decided to go to a party, you don’t want to be around when I’m trying to decide what to wear. My bedroom will look like a bomb has gone off, as I try on 12 different outfits, and 15 pairs of shoes, to the point where my bedroom looks like a teenage girl lives in it.
I literally get so worked up over what to wear, if I’m going to drink, how I’m getting to the party, not to mention who will be at the party, that by the time I’m ready to leave my house, I need to reapply my deodorant and mascara because all the social pressure I put on myself has led me to tears. This is what social anxiety can do to you.
The definition of Social Anxiety Disorder (also called social phobia) is “an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.”
I’m not alone in my anxiety level before going to holiday parties. 15 million Americans suffer from this, and no doubt plenty more Canadians too. Some of the most outgoing people I know also suffer from it. One-on-one, you’d never guess that these outgoing and chirpy people also feel nervous and self-conscious…until they tell you.
I have friends who work in broadcasting who can host a live television or radio show, yet when it comes to parties, they have to remember to tuck their prescription Ativan in their purse before dashing out the door. I have no problem talking one-on-one, going on a double date or even being at a small dinner party…most of the time. But, I, too, have a prescription for Ativan, on an as-needed basis. There have been several times at parties, where suddenly, out of nowhere, I’ll start coughing, which is the first sign that a panic attack is coming on. I will excuse myself and run to the washroom until the coughing fit stops, try to control my breathing and get my heartbeat back to a normal level.
My social anxiety often leads me to the bar, or to grab a drink off a tray, as soon as I walk into a party. I find if I have even a half glass of wine, I’m calmer. The way I handle my social anxiety at parties, aside from heading straight to the bar, is akin to being an actor. I force myself to act like I haven’t had a total meltdown for hours leading up to the party. I force myself to talk to people and be, well, jolly.
The irony is that I really like talking to people. I love meeting new people. And, while I often bail on parties, last minute, because I can’t get my shit together, or the very thought of the party makes me break out into a sweat, I always end up having a good time, even if I have a mini panic attack sometime throughout the night.
As I get older, my social anxiety around people and parties gets worse and worse, even though at my age, I really shouldn’t give a crap what I wear, who will be at the party, or how I’m going to get there. This holiday season, I’m going to try and attend all the parties I’ve RSVP’d to.
But if I don’t, just remember what I tell my children; ‘You can’t always judge a book by its cover.’ And those who suffer from social anxiety shouldn’t be judged either.