Originally written on June 4th, 2012. Edited and updated April 2nd, 2020
I’m not rude or stuck up or even particularly all that shy, but I do deal with social anxiety.
We were perhaps at that meeting the other day together — I’m the one who didn’t talk. You might have noticed the sheen of sweat that gathered on my forehead as time went on. I watched everyone carefully and if we met eyes, I smiled at you. And then probably turned my torso slightly away from you, a body signal designed to discourage small talk. I was scared of you — an irrational emotion – but there just the same. I sat and tried very hard to not be overwhelmed by the number of people in the room, the noise level that made it difficult to focus, and the rising fear descending over me.
Maybe I’m the one who made the play date and at the last minute chickened out. Or I did go, but was too nervous to make plans for a new one even though I enjoyed the company. I just might be the one that left the shopping cart by the curb instead of bringing it back to the store, because I overestimated myself and was crying for no reason by the time I got to the cashier. So, I needed to get into the safety of my car as soon as humanly possible.
Especially if you caught me during PMS. Because for that week or so, I am convinced that the entire world hates me.
But, I don’t hate you. I, sometimes (in my worst moments) have an irrational fear of you. Most of the time, I simply find people overwhelming. Maybe it is an energy thing, because I have noticed it can be more difficult with extroverts. Basically, I deal with social anxiety.
I really do, at times, think that you will hate me. Not for any specific reason. Logically, I know that I am a good and caring person. Most people would describe me as kind, thoughtful and even sometimes a little funny. I am loyal and trustworthy and extremely non-judgmental. And even if we have already been friends for years and you are used to my strange ways and I know that you love me — I could still think for a short while — that you hate me.
It can take a long time before I feel safe with you, especially if I am not up to talking or hanging out. I can withdraw and come up with reasons not to go anywhere. And if I do force myself to have a coffee date, I will stumble over my words and sweat bullets in your presence. (I use the word force, but please remember it has NOTHING at all to do with you. I have to make myself push past the irrational fear. It is not that I don’t appreciate your friendship, or that I don’t want to spend time with you.)
The phone can be difficult also. I have auditory processing issues, throwing in the high anxiety and ADHD, focusing on your words can prove to be an insurmountable task. Texting is better, but I hate it for being so impersonal. (I do know how contradictory that sounds.)
Email is good. Usually. I can answer at my leisure and take my time deciding what and how to say things. Unless there is a hint of pressure. Then I may not open my mailbox for an entire week in fear that there will be notes from you. (Added 4/1/2020: Make that months as currently my email box is filled with literally thousands of email, because I am just overwhelmed.)
Facebook is (used to be) fantastic. With hundreds of *friends* and almost 5,000 liked pages (there’s that ADHD thing showing), my news-feed is very crowded. I will often have to visit individual pages to find out what has been going on in your life. I cannot feel pressured on FB… it is (used to be) a safe zone for me. (*Added 4/1/2020: Not any longer – I pretty much stopped going on Facebook last year or maybe even before then. The weight of the politics became too much. Sometimes I hide on Instagram now.)
Despite my social anxiety, I almost always do social things for my children. I will take a Xanax to do that class party or like years past, teach those Meet the Master (art) sessions or take them to your child’s birthday party.
And if you are kind enough to try with me and I find the courage to hang out more than twice, you can hear the echoes of Sally Field in my head: They like me. They really like me.
What should you do if you come across a face similar to mine at the next PTA meeting or at the gym? You see the fear in her eyes, gauging the distance from where she sits to the nearest door to escape from and… you realize that she is like me. Just be yourself which will allow her to feel safer. Be okay with being the one to make the bulk of the plans in the beginning. Meet her at the park or for a quiet lunch, nothing too crowded. And if she chickens out with only a few hours notice, please don’t be so quick to give up. If she is really like me, then you can wind up making a lifelong friend that will always be there for you.
xoxo ~ Melissa