Ten years ago I think if you would have asked me, I would have told you that I believed that I was an outgoing, people-oriented person. Never-mind the fact that it only took three or four various types of Benzo’s
carefully carelessly mixed with any amount of cheap alcohol to render my central nervous system inactive just enough, that I felt like I could interact with other humans without bolting or vomiting…but viola.
After the chemicals dissolved into my bloodstream, I was gently catapulted right out of my metaphorical, safe-place. I would be temporarily transformed into a person who I thought I liked, who was also likable. Deep beneath my scar tissue I was obviously a fucking blast. This way, I was friendly and interpersonal, yet zombie-like and unable to decipher real connection from shallow interaction.
For years living this way satisfied my deep longing for connection. I thought I was filling my empty spaces. Isolation became this sad, empty, arena that I mistakenly thought was my happy place.
Sober, not only have I learned to embrace who God made me to be even if that person pushes the barriers of what it means to be imperfect, my empty spaces are filled and I understand true connection.
Among other characteristics, qualities, and quirks, I am a confident, introverted, personality type who is also supremely awkward, and inept in particular social situations. Overall, I am a person who prefers to escape, and in short, I struggle with some co-occurring anxiety stuff. If I can even smell conflict, confrontation, or any situation that makes me feel like it could be considered ‘high-stress’ I just prefer to disappear.
My life is calm and I am happy to say, drama free. My boundaries with my family ensure that I am not in any immediate danger, I don’t get screamed at or threatened anymore. No fist fights, no yelling matches, nothing. My relationships are safe and typically dysfunctional.
And it’s beautiful.
Over the years (special thanks to counseling and my healthy boundaries), I have learned about why I experience anxiety and what (mostly who) triggers it. My anxieties have lessened and aren’t as widespread, but there are a few areas where it will still try to rule over and suffocate me.
For instance, I have no problem getting up and sharing my story with large groups. Churches, treatment centers, small groups, meetings. Totally fine. I am confident and even excited to have opportunities like that. I can have a one-on-one conversation with a friend, and can manage having the passing, pleasantry type of interactions just fine.
But when I am thrown into any situation involving an unknown, (e.g., ice-breaker ‘activity’ “Let’s go around the room, state your name, or why you’re here or your favorite _______!”) one by one, in front of a large group of people, or am invited to be a part of a discussion panel or a podcast, I instantly freeze up.
The same feeling washes over me if I am introduced to a stranger and then abruptly left alone, standing there expected to carry on the conversation. (e.g., “Oh, hey Jill, this is my friend Brittany. I just think you two have so much in common!”)
No. No and more no.
Please, just stop.
“Maybe, if I sit still enough or quiet enough, they will skip right over me.”
“Which path can I take from here to make a break for the bathroom in the most unsuspecting, casual, way?” (as if anyone really gives a shit if I get up to use the restroom).
“How can I get out of this?”
If I fail to actually morph into an inanimate object, which most of the time I doesn’t happen, I will stay and participate or try to carry on the conversation for exactly the least amount of time that is socially acceptable.
And somehow I don’t actually die.
I will sweat and my mind and heart will race so rapidly that I have to fix my eyes on something to avoid vomiting, but I try to breathe deep and remind myself that although my feelings and the tingling sensations are very real, my anxieties aren’t logical. It isn’t real, and it will be okay. I am not in actual danger and all of my red flags need to chill. But I still feel terrified,out of control, and have to fight through every natural instinct that still lives within me not to run away.
Sometimes when it is my turn to respond out-loud and unplanned in a group setting my answers take what feels like three whole minutes to come out of my mouth before I start talking. I might mix up my words or stumble around trying to come up with an answer, and if there’s food involved you can bet that I will always shake just enough to drop pieces of lettuce on my shirt as I try to look as calm and casual as whoever I am sitting next to.
If I had to try to explain it to someone I would say it’s different for everyone, and anxiety by definition is a normal phenomenon. It is when you have a disorder that it becomes difficult to manage and to navigate, and even harder to help make sense to those who have never experienced it.
For me it is like a tiny, raging, internal battle for control of my attention. On the outside I might just look like a shy or uninterested person with drops of salad dressing on her shirt who can’t carry on in intelligible conversation.
On the inside I am overwhelmed and distracted by all of the red flags that are unnecessarily popping up warning me of ‘unknown’ things happening; warning me of impending danger that is too close. My body is gearing up for take-off as I silently work to turn off the engines against its wishes.
So. I still find myself battling old demons from time to time, but at least my life isn’t actually in imminent danger so that is something to be grateful for.
And I probably look stupid, or maybe that is my anxiety talking.
And I know at times I am misunderstood.
And sometimes I want to wear a sign or hand out cards so that people would stop asking me why I am “so quiet.” (Nope, just talking myself into staying, thanks.)
But most importantly I push myself. I want to quit. I want to run and hide, but I don’t.
I go to ladies events, holiday parties, birthday parties etc. I play board games with our family that force me to stand up in front of all of them and look really, really, ridiculous and vulnerable (Quelf).
And sometimes I hate it.
I have to talk myself out of staying home, or not participating, or making excuses to avoid going EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Not because I enjoy self-torture, but because I know what my track-record looks like when I choose isolation over interaction.
It’s a dangerous game.
I also know that I cannot make any progress if I don’t make some attempt to try.
I might succeed, and by succeed I mean make it through from start to finish without leaving.
And sometimes I skip one event or invite but try to make it to the next thing.
But I go at my own pace. I go.
I deep into God’s truth and I hold onto the reassurance that His strength is sufficient. I use that strength to resist giving my internal fears one nano-second more of me, my life, or my opportunities to build and engage in my relationships, than I have already missed. I have buckled, and I have given in, and I have cowered in fear, I have hidden, and stayed down, too many times throughout my life for far too long, and have missed so much already.
So no thank you, anxiety.
I might not be able to get rid of you completely in every area of my life, but I will continue to fight through you every single time.
So I encourage you, not to do what I do or to think how i think, or to believe how I believe, but only to challenge yourself a little bit.
Challenge your old ways of thinking or and your comfortably uncomfortable ways of reacting.
Whatever a tweak or a change or a step in a progressive, healthy, direction looks like for you, safely within the confines of your life, do that.
Take tiny little baby steps, but push yourself out there a little bit further than you ever have. If you’re anything like me you will get discouraged, you will take one step forward and ten steps backward, you might get salad on your shirt, or trip over the carpet on your way to run to any other room than the one you are in that has people, but even so, decide those things will not be the reasons that you decide to quit trying altogether.
Because inconsistency is not synonymous with failure.
Be nice to yourself as you are transforming. Life and change and growth is hard enough.
(Note: As a former substance abuser of all kinds, and a person who spent years addicted and dependent on prescription medication, I choose not to medicate myself for my anxiety disorder(s). My mental health is important, but I do what is best for my life as a whole. It is a personal choice that is best for me. However, I am not advocating for the ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ technique and barreling through without medication, especially if medication can benefit you and improve your quality of life. I am, however, always an advocate for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.)