Party Anxiety Strikes Again

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It’s dark and I feel something small and light jump up onto the bed, a mew or two and then paws walking up the length of me, a sniff in my face, and a gentle push against my shoulder. I roll over and pull the covers over my face. He mews again, walks up onto my side and nests between my arm and side.

Just as I’m about to fall back asleep, he gets up, walks over my head and mews again. That’s Abe’s way of telling me it’s time to get up. 4:15 a.m. Sometimes he lets me sleep until 4:30. I’m not sure why I need to be up with him at this hour, but he’s relentless.

As I pull the covers off and swing my legs over the side of the bed, he leaps off the bed and strolls into the bathroom. I follow.

Today is the big day. The holiday my family has been looking forward to for months. I cleaned up the house extra all week, went shopping for party supplies, pre-cooked the meatballs, potatoes, and cake yesterday. Everything is ready. But I’m not, at least not mentally ready.

I started dreading the day earlier in the week but tried to set the feeling aside. I always feel this way before people come over. It’s just anxiety, I tell myself. It will pass as soon as people start to show up. But the feeling builds all week and I have yet to learn to let it wash over me and fade away.

I remind myself that I love having people over. I love cleaning the house, getting food ready, inviting everyone over, and seeing everyone arrive. I love going from one end of the house to the other, talking with friends at the pool table, jumping into the kitchen and bringing out more food, watching my friends’ kids pull out all the games and toys from the shelf behind the couch. I even love cleaning up after the party the next day!

So why do I get more and more nervous as the date approaches? Why is that I wake up the day of the event, dreading the next twelve hours? I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what might make me feel this way, but I’ve come up with nothing other than I might be a bit on the crazy side, slightly unstable shall we say.

I follow my cat as he leads me through the kitchen to his food bowl, meowing and looking back to be sure I’m there, as if it needs to be filled but jumps up and eats happily once we’re there…together. I grumble and get a drink of water and a hot cup of coffee, grab my book off the counter and head to the couch. My husband, who’s been up for an hour already (I swear the man barely sleeps), greets me as I come in, “Ready for the big day?”

“Maybe. Or maybe no one will show up and we can just eat meatballs in peace.”

“Maybe! But I doubt it. At least three people have confirmed they will be here.”

“Three. Seriously.”

My anxiety peaks here. It’s where I start to wonder, why do I even bother trying to keep friends? It seems that everyone is always too busy to visit. Everyone is wrapped up in something so important that they can’t make time to play. Or is it just me? I think I’ve had two or three invites to parties in the last ten years. It’s strange to me. Hosting parties is the fun part of life to me and it seems no one else wants to do it, and they rarely want to make the time to go to any either. Or, again, maybe it’s me.

Ugg. This sucks. I if I would only stop inviting people over, I wouldn’t have to deal with this. I tell myself I only need to get through the next twelve hours and then I’ll somehow never fall for this “Let’s have a party!” thing again. Why do I do this to myself?

Because I love it. Because once people start to arrive, I’m having the time of my life. I’ve learned over the years that my feelings aren’t trustworthy; anxiety lies to me on a daily basis. It tells me that no one likes me, that they don’t really want to be around me, that they have far more important things to do than come over and play with me. I know this isn’t true. In reality, I’ve experienced the opposite too many times to count.

I sink down into my spot on the couch and sip my coffee as Abe jumps up, rubs against my arm, curls into a ball beside me, and goes to sleep. Why couldn’t we do that in my bed?! Stupid cat.

I’ve got everything prepped and ready to go and my “day of the party” to-do list is very short, so I have plenty of time to relax this morning. I open my book and settle in to read for a few hours before the sun comes up.

The party doesn’t start until 2pm but I’m ready at noon, so my husband and I shoot some pool and have a couple of beers on our own. I love hanging out with that guy. If he were the only friend I had, I’d still be happy. We don’t always have a lot in common, but we do have this; we both love each other very much and want the other to be happy. Even if no one came to the party, between us and our teenagers, we’re enough. I decide right then to stop the downward spiral. Fuck this, poor me attitude!

After a couple games, I look at my watch 1pm. I can’t believe it’s only been an hour. My son arrives with the strawberries he promised from the Farmer’s Market, so I head back to the kitchen to clean them up and arrange them on the cake. My other son shows up with his girlfriend a few minutes later. He’s brought Red Vines and Rice Krispie Treats, party staples since he was a kid. When your kids start recreating things from their childhood, you know you’ve done well.

Before I knew it people began to show up and I relax into the “hostess with the mostess.” It wasn’t the biggest turn out we’ve had, but it was certainly fun. It was just what I needed, a small gathering of friends, eating, drinking, and playing games. Once everyone was gone, I sat on the couch and sighed.

“See?” my husband said. “You always pull it off as if you were born for it.”

Every year I say I’ll invite people over more often and every year I start to do just that. Then I get discouraged or overwhelmed and let it slide. Then winter comes and we get busy with other things. Here we are in Spring again. The weather is getting nicer and we aren’t as busy with the kids as we used to be. Will I start to open up the house again? We’ll see. I need to recover from this one first!

Feeling “Unhealthy”

I’m starting to feel slightly unhealthy about Facebook. I find myself constantly tapping the screen to see if anyone has responded to a recent post or if anything new has come up. I’ll open it for any reason. In the middle of doing the dishes, back from a ten-minute walk, just came out of the shower; check my phone. Once it is open, I feel compelled to reply or scroll just a little. Over the course of the day I lose hours of my time. For what really? If someone wanted to say something that couldn’t wait a day or two, wouldn’t they call or message?

Last month, I decided to take a break. For one week I absolutely refused to check my feed. And it felt good. I felt free and a little lonely. I wrote a note to myself, “Check FB on Fridays between 12pm and 5pm. Leave it alone for the rest of the week.” I did it for two weeks. I did share articles I had read or written, but I didn’t open the app on my phone or my computer until Friday afternoon.

And then my son and I went to Knott’s and he encouraged me to post pictures as we went through our day. I only posted though, waiting until the next day to look at the responses. And then throughout the week I found myself checking it on my phone more and more often; in line at the post office, before I ran into the grocery store, while my made tea, or between writing sessions. Again, I’m right back where I started.

Is there anyone that does not have a love/hate relationship with social media? There are people that aren’t participating at all. They are out there. I’ve met some. I also know quite a few that do participate but regularly post that they hate themselves for it. Then there are people that are constantly there, posting and commenting to their heart’s content. And then there’s me, in and out of it, hoping it’ll get better and wondering what in world I’m even trying to do.

Backtrack a bit here. I was never very good at socializing before social media. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have friends; it just means that I didn’t socialize much. I didn’t go to parties or host them, sit with a bunch of people at lunch and breaks, or go out with a bunch of people after work. Every once in a while an extremely outgoing person would convince me to tag along, but generally, I was a loner. But I did have close friends and good relationships. I never felt lonely.

Then came Facebook. It was so much easier than meeting people in person. I could think about what I was going to say before I said it. People only saw what I wanted them to see. I could walk away for a while when I felt uncomfortable or tired of being there. It gave me enough space to feel comfortable socializing.

I loved Facebook from the moment I found it. A friend of mine suggested I get online and sign up when she learned I would be moving from the area. It would be an easy way to keep in touch with a lot of my homeschooling acquaintances. Once I got home and checked it out, I was hooked. Where once I had a one or two old friends that kept in touch through email and the occasional lunch date, I now had them popping out of the woodwork, so to speak, from as far back as elementary school. It was exciting. I felt popular for the first time in my life.

I started to think that seeing what people posted on Facebook was the same thing as seeing people in person or having a relationship with people. I’m starting to realize that it isn’t. Like drinking a lot of water will make your stomach feel full for a while but won’t sustain you or give you the energy to keep living, I used Facebook to feel like I was getting my needs met socially but finding myself still hungry for connection at the end of the day. After ten years, I’m starting to starve.

Facebook is great for socializing with distant friends and acquaintances, much like the occasional office party or family reunion. And it’s great for seeing your cousin’s newborn baby or your son’s trip to Germany, but it does not replace a relationship with other human beings. Relationships need to be in-person to thrive and grow. Like writing letters or sending the annual Christmas card, Facebook helps us stay connected. But we can’t live on that alone. We need to make time for each other where we can touch each other, share a meal, talk about our lives, and share our feelings.

I recently read an article on Medium by Scott Galloway called “Humans Cannot Survive Alone.” He made a great point about social media. Social media is “Co-opting terms that reflect some better things about our species: like, share, friend, engagement.” I remember reading somewhere about changing the meaning of words and changing society, probably a “1984” reference.

Are we becoming a more passive society because we use these words in the context of social media instead of real life?

We like what a friend shares on social media without really engaging. People don’t read it or discuss it. They agree or argue. They don’t try to learn from each other.

Humans are social animals. We NEED to interact in person not just through the written word. We need to use all our senses in a real relationship, not just our eyes. We get our cues from hearing, seeing, touching, and even smelling and tasting. And different social situations teach us different ways to get along: work, school, family, bar, grocery store, church.

I need to be out among people in different social situations to really thrive emotionally. I need to be able to reach across a table and hold someone’s hand, to hug them hello or goodbye, to laugh and cry and hear their laughter and tears in return. But seeing people on Facebook from the comfort of my own home is so much easier, just like watching videos about working out and reading commentary is a lot easier than going to the gym or going on a long hike. It just isn’t healthy.

Our physical interaction with each other teaches us, feeds us. We each have different levels of need, sure, but we can’t survive without it completely. I think we crave it and that may be part of what is creating a lot of anger and depression in us all. We lash out on social media like frustrated toddlers.

Another thing I’m wondering is if staying in contact with everyone we have ever met is creating stagnation in us. Before social media, we lost friends and acquaintances over time. If we left a school or changed jobs, we’d keep a couple of our closest friends, but our acquaintances would fade into the background. Maybe that was good for us, like sloughing old skin. Have we become dull?

I’m not leaving Facebook. It’s a wonderful and amazing tool. It’s great for businesses and communities. I have met new people there, found old friends and started up new relationships, and found places to go and adventures to go on. I post there to share with my family and friends the things I find interesting and enlightening. I like using it as a public scrapbook. But I need to start being in the world again, joining a club, meeting for lunch dates, inviting people over for parties.

The trouble for me is that I’m still not good at socializing and building relationships and now it’s just too easy to opt out and view the world from the safety of my phone screen. I can drink a big glass of water or two and feel full for a while, but I’m still starving.

Chaos Wins

Remember “The Butterfly Effect” movie? Chaos theory has always been fascinating to me. You just never know what kind of an effect anything you say or do will have on anyone else around you. I try to keep that in mind and do my best to keep a positive attitude and to use kindness to everyone around me, even in the smallest interactions. It doesn’t always happen, but I think I do better when I stay aware of my thinking.

One of those moments, one that changes your thinking in some small way, happened to me last week. I didn’t know it was happening at the time, but once I took a moment to meditate on the meeting, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was out for coffee with a new friend and we were talking about people, the town we live in, politics, the kinds of things you talk about over coffee. Coffee meetings need to happen more often folks, seriously. We could be doing wonders in this world!

He was talking about hiring new employees and had come across a young adult woman recently that said “No, don’t call me. I have social anxiety. I’d rather just text.” This is something I have said myself and was thinking, “That’s a girl who knows herself.” That’s when I was sent in another direction.

He said, “Can you believe that? That’s what we’re calling immaturity now, social anxiety. Grow up. People have to talk on the phone and in person to get work done. Yes, you may not like it and it may make you uncomfortable, but you have to grow as a person not just sit in your first instincts like an animal.”

I smiled and nodded, politely mentioning that I’ve struggled with similar issues myself, but we moved on to a new topic quickly, so I didn’t get into it much. To be honest, I was a little put off by his attitude.

We finished our coffee and conversation over the next hour or so. It was a glorious morning. Talking with new people, especially ones I feel I can be open and honest with and that want to hash out life’s intricacies really lights my fire.

On the way home, I kept thinking about what he had said about social anxiety. I’ve struggled with it all my life and about ten years ago realized that it was common and that there were millions of people that felt the same way. We want to interact with people. We aren’t introverts, happy to be alone, but for some reason we’re fearful of people. I’m not sure whether my feelings were caused by some traumatic event or if it’s just my natural inclination, but I’ve pretty much always felt it. Talking on the phone, specifically, has always been a problem for me.

My mother tried her best to help me over my natural “shyness” to no avail. I’ve had friends that have coached me on how they deal with the anxiety, the fear really, of dealing with new people over the phone and in person. But once I found out that there was a diagnosis for it, that other people “suffer” from it, I pretty much stopped trying to learn new ways to cope and get stronger and started using it as an excuse not to do things I didn’t like doing. Besides, the invention of texting and email made it very easy to avoid.

What kind of a life is that? It’s not like I’m happier alone. I crave contact with other humans. I love having lots of friends to talk to on the phone, through text, or in person, but for the last ten years or so I got it in my head that I was not capable of overcoming my shyness. I took refuge in raising my sons and being near my husband and left it at that. I had social anxiety. I had an excuse. What could I do?

There are lots of things shy people work to get over; speaking in front of groups, going to parties, not looking like a stammering idiot at interviews. It’s good for us to try and push our boundaries and do things we aren’t naturally comfortable doing. So why would I give up on something as simple as being brave enough to make a phone call?

So, this past week, I’ve worked on that. I’ve called people I don’t usually call. I’ve answered the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail. Once, when a local friend texted me, I offered to meet at McDonald’s and talk over a big iced tea. We had a great time and we’ll probably do it again soon!

Now, what I want to know is, how do I keep a hold of this “empowered” feeling? If I can overcome one fear, I bet there are others I can face up to as well!

Survival

“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good. And in most cases you should be helped by the saying of Epicurus, that pain is never unbearable or unending, so you can remember these limits and not add to them in your imagination. Remember too that many common annoyances are pain in disguise, such as sleepiness, fever and loss of appetite. When they start to get you down, tell yourself you are giving in to pain.” — Marcus Aurelius

I never understood this idea until this past weekend when I had a chance to practice it. Funny how that works, I read and study constantly and sometimes I wonder why. Most of the time I don’t even have an agenda for my reading. My books, articles, and podcasts seem to come at random. But then, there I am moving through life, and I recognize a situation and think, “This is what they were talking about!”

I was in a situation this past weekend. What that was isn’t important, but let’s just say it was a typical family get-together. Anyway, there I was, sitting amongst some of my relatives in a restaurant when I began to grow uncomfortable. Too many people I didn’t know, too much being nice, uncomfortable clothes, I really didn’t know what it was. I needed a break, so I excused myself and went outside for air. I texted my husband and we went back and forth a few times. In the past I wouldn’t have gone in the first place or, if I did go, I’d have had an exit strategy, but this time I didn’t have my usual escape plans. I took a deep breath and went back inside.

My escape was blocked, and, in the past, my next behavior would have been to get angry or “piss on” whatever was going on, but I realized something as I sat there, I could choose to just “be there” like the Stoics said. This isn’t unbearable, and I could just let it happen and do nothing, not react. So, I tried something new, something I’d learned from the Marcus Aurelius. I just played along and watched. I let it all wash over me and away. I came home and described everything that happened to my husband, complaining as I went, and then went to bed.

The next morning, I realized that I’d learned something. I hadn’t left and made people feel awkward. I hadn’t lashed out and made people feel angry. I had listened and learned instead. I realized it was only me that felt any pain. It was only in my head that a tragedy was occurring. There was no need to make everyone else feel it. They are not bad people doing bad things, they are just different. We only have different tastes, that’s all.

I’ve been rather estranged from my family the past ten or so years. It’s been difficult, but I think things are changing. I think I’m finally growing up. Maybe the next one will be more fun. I’m hoping so. Family is too important to lose over anxiety and differences of opinion.