The Push Me-Pull You of Social Anxiety

My anxiety often makes me feel isolated and at odds with the rest of the world. It doesn’t fall neatly into one of those categories you see listed in books and on various websites. For me, the anxiety seems to be a Venn diagram which encompasses various anxieties and phobias. General? Tick. Agoraphobia? Tick. Social? Tick. Strange anxiety which doesn’t seem to fall into any group I’ve seen before? Tick, tick, tick.

For me, the one which can and often does trigger a downward spiral of depression is Social Anxiety. It is a particularly cruel beast. The term ‘Social’ doesn’t even mean what a lot of people probably think it means i.e. that the anxiety cranks up in a normal social situation such as a party or meeting a group of friends for a meal. To me, it can mean being in the company of anyone – family, my dearest friend or someone I’ve never met before. My anxiety just doesn’t care and cranks up regardless.

The hardest and bitterest pill to swallow is when I meet up with old friends who live in other parts of the country or overseas and they make a special effort to come and see me when they are in my neck of the woods. These events bring different levels of anguish and I wonder if they resonate with anyone else. For any friends reading this – just try and understand, OK.

The Build-Up
During this phase, which can start many weeks before their arrival, I try and find things in my life to talk about when they ask “I haven’t seen you in years – what have you been up to?”. I know that they have been travelling all over the place, having nice holidays, fostering a busy social life, enjoying their kids growing up and all the milestones and events that brings. Me? I’ve been working, coping and trying to carry on. I can’t travel anywhere, I shun most social things and I have no children. As well as slowly cranking the anxiety up, this phase also stokes up the feelings of worthlessness. “My life isn’t as fun or interesting as theirs ergo my life is sad and pointless – QED!”

The Event
I try to recall anything interesting I thought about in the Build-Up through a haze of medication; medication I take just so that I can sit in the same room as them. I try to look happy but inside I am beating myself up for needing pills just to sit and talk with someone I’ve known for years without the sweating, choking and all the other lovely symptoms that anxiety has to offer.

The Push Me-Pull You
If the meeting is more of a visit that takes up several days then I enter yet another state. I may actually be having some fun (no really!!) and the company is bringing some much-needed colour to my life. I want them to stay – but my anxiety wants them to go and looks forward to waving them off so that I can retreat into solitude again. It’s like loving someone and hating them at the same time, scratching a healing wound because it just feels so damned good even though you know it will feel twice as sore again once you stop. 

Well, it all happens here! Self-loathing, hatred, depression and the endless asking of questions in my head. ‘Why am I like this? Why can’t I just be normal and enjoy having people around me? What’s the point?’ ad nauseam. The conflict between the wanting and the rejection weighs too much sometimes and I buckle beneath it.

Time passes, the strength of the emotions fade but time doesn’t heal; it just puts things in cupboards and covers them in dust until my anxious mind finds them again.