Monday, November 30, 2015

Anxiety Adventures: Social Anxiety is a THING

Many people don't understand social anxiety. Non-affected folks seem to think we uber-introverted, socially phobic people ought to just "get over it" or "not let it bother" us, or worst of all they say "it's not that big of a deal". We know. It's irrational. That's what makes it anxiety/phobia.

Here's the situation we're discussing this week. Our Home Teacher (for non-Mormons, this is a fellow church member who has an assignment to check in with our family each month and share a gospel message and check to see if we are in need of anything) sent my husband an email the other day. Instead of the normal "can we come visit you on such-and-such day", it said, "We've decided that December 3 will be the day for home teaching next month. We're going to meet at Jim's (restaurant) with two other couples at 6:00 for dinner, I'll pick you and your wife up." (I'm paraphrasing). 

My husband, Kriss, doesn't get off work until 7:00 p.m., at the earliest. This time of year, his quitting time varies greatly. So he told the HT this. The HT, not the least bit discouraged, said, "We'll meet at 7:00, then. Tell your wife that so-and-so will pick her up and you can just meet us there when you get off work." I'm trying not to freak out.

This is how my husband views the situation: 

  • mildly uncomfortable
  • can't get out of it
  • it won't kill us

This is how I view it:
  • I haven't been given a choice
  • I won't have a car-- no escape route
  • Kriss might not even make it until 8 or later, if the store is extra busy that night
  • I'm not even friends with these couples-- I like them, we're friendly, but not hang-out-together friends. 
  • Just over a year ago... or was it 2 years? My nephew got married, and at the dinner, a few different conditions conspired to severely trigger my anxiety: I was very high-strung about being on time, but the time got changed and Kriss made me go shopping because he thought we had all this time, but we didn't; when we arrived, dinner had already begun (we were the last to arrive-- the opposite of my normal life); my siblings were all sitting together laughing and hadn't saved my husband and me seats; I had to sit with strangers. I sat down and had the strangest panic attack- my heart was pounding, and my eyes started crying, and I couldn't stop them. Then I was embarrassed to be sitting at this table full of strangers, holding my breath, trying not to cry. I couldn't taste the food. Kriss asked what was wrong, and I thought I would melt into a puddle and die. I told him just to ignore me, please, I'll be okay, and he socialized and ate and picked up the slack for me. My point in sharing this is that the memory of this occurrence makes me think that something similar is likely to happen at the home teaching dinner thing and Kriss won't be there to save me and I'll have to just die alone.
  • I don't think there's enough Xanax in the world to make me enjoy such a dinner.
So what do we do? We don't know. We haven't figured it out yet. I think I'll just tell them not to come get me, that I'll just come with Kriss when he gets off work. 

Kriss thinks I'm being ridiculous. (He's nice, so he doesn't say this, but he does say other things that indicate it!) So this is how I explained social anxiety to him:
  1. Imagine you have to sing a solo in front of a group of professional musicians (this only works if you aren't a professional musician).
  2. The song you have to sing is difficult, and though you've worked hard on it, you still squeak on the high notes and miss the low notes. 
  3. You can't catch your breath.
  4. Stage fright beyond your ability to control grips your whole body-- squeezing your heart and pressing on your lungs.
  5. Did I mention you're naked in this scenario?
That's about how it feels. 

So, extroverted, outgoing, friendly and (frankly) pushy people-- have patience with those of us who aren't like you. It's not that I don't like people-- I do! It's not that I don't like to socialize-- I do, in situations I feel safe in. And it's not that I can't "control" my anxiety. I've spent most of my life pushing it down and suffering through situations that made me uncomfortable. However, as I've gotten older, my anxiety has gotten a lot worse. I never had a panic attack before the last 5 years. That being the case, I think a little leeway would be nice, here. 

So. Tell me what you think? How should I handle this situation?


Faithineverystitch said...

Text your neighbor who understands a little to come and get you at 6:30. Regardless of what time it is suppose to happen. I understand a little and would be willing to come and rescue you. No questions asked.

Or I'm sure you have homework that needs to be done since it is getting close to finals.

Steph said...

You are sweet to offer. And you're right- I have a ton of schoolwork each week, so I really can't spare the time for something I don't really want to do.... I'll figure something out. Thank you!

Carolyn said...

Can you take one of the kids? this might help.

Carolyn said...

I need to also say. I love you and I am so sorry it is so difficult. I hope you can get to the point that you realize they are lucky to have the opportunity of sitting by you and getting you know you better. :)

Steph said...

Aw, thanks Carolyn. And no, I don't think I can take the kids. I think it's just for couples. I already thought of that... ;)