Behind the curtain of the personality I most often present to the world, I have a fair amount of anxiety streaming through me a lot of the time. The core of my anxiety stems from the experience of being in a group of people or at a party and feeling that no one sees me or notices me. The feeling of being alone, unacknowledged, and disconnected is often too painful to endure. I’ve had these feelings for as long as I can remember.
These intense and overwhelming feelings can make it hard for me to relax and connect with others. Over the years I’ve created some solutions for myself to try to ease my fear that I might experience social anxiety. Sometimes the fear that this anxiety might occur is enough to prevent me from going to parties even though I often have a really good time once I’m there.
I know that if I tell someone beforehand about my anxiety it helps so much. Just verbalizing my feelings or worry and having someone else listen soothes the fear. I also like to plan for total autonomy. I like to know that I can leave at anytime if I decide that I need to without impacting other peoples plans or their desire to stay. I’ve also come up with the Party Buddy system. A Part Buddy is someone that I have made an agreement with that if either one of us feel awkward or anxious, we can come stand next to each other and we know to instantly acknowledge and include our Party Buddy in whatever conversation we are having or whatever we are doing.
Just knowing that this is an option and that there is another person that knows that I might be having anxiety is so helpful. I have told many people about my social anxiety and I have enlisted many party buddies over the years. Almost everyone that I’ve ever talked to understands exactly and has experienced something similar.
Recently I was hit by a big wave of social anxiety. I walked into a large gathering and felt instantly alone and invisible. I wasn’t able to find a home base or a place of comfort or feel an invitation to connect with anyone even though the space was full of people I know well and love. I was tired, hungry and hadn’t properly taken care of myself or my needs beforehand. I became flooded with emotion and had to leave. I didn’t have my own car though so I couldn’t leave without making others leave as well, and I was in fairly remote location.
So I went outside, found a place to sit down, and let myself feel my feelings while taking a lot of deep breaths. Tears came. I don’t mind the release of crying. I hadn’t had a good cry in awhile so it actually felt good to shed some tears even though I was in a space where I could be seen.
The lies of anxiety are that I don’t fit in anywhere and that it doesn’t matter if I am there or not, that I don’t bring any value or have anything to offer. I know these are lies, but that doesn’t stop the thoughts or feelings from happening and in my body I feel my thoughts and feelings very strongly despite all the advice to ignore and rise above or stop them or discredit them. I am a strongly feeling person and I have learned the the best thing for me to do is fully feel rather than fight having my feelings.
I sat by myself and calmed down quite a bit. A friend saw me and asked to sit with me. I was able to explain myself and be honest and she understood and helped normalize my experience. That was probably the most vulnerable I’d ever been with that friend and I was grateful for her ability to receive me and be with me. After a little while some other friends came outside and sat with me as well. They brought me coconut water and some food and we all admitted to having challenging moments in large groups and occasionally wanting to crawl out of our skin or leave rather than sit in the discomfort.
I think so many of us feel this way, but show up anyway and find ways to overcome and make it work. It’s understandable why so many people drink alcohol at parties possibly to dull similar anxieties. I choose not to drink alcohol or use drugs, and I try to find creative ways to move through my feelings of anxiety. It often works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This time, I am grateful to have been helped by some kind souls and I was reminded of the power of being vulnerable and telling people the truth no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it feels. It’s so much simpler that way and it helps me get to the other side of my feelings and regain my ability to enjoy myself and the people I am with.
If you ever feel any amount of anxiety at a party and see me, please come talk to me about anything at all. Even if we aren’t at a party and you don’t see me in person, I am always happy to chat or listen. Chances are that I also feel some amount of anxiety and would welcome your company even if I am not easily able to seek it out.