A couple of years ago, I had two Christmas nights out planned in the same week. I only managed one of them, because I had a complete meltdown on the Wednesday. On Friday, getting ready to go out, I posted this on Facebook.
WHY am I having kittens about tonight? is it
a. I have ‘nothing’ to wear, ie I haven’t bought anything new for Christmas parties
b. there might be people I don’t know
c. anything I do have which is clean, it might be too dressy or not dressy enough
d. we might not be able to get a taxi home cause it’s mad friday
e. whenever i wear make-up i look a bit like a drag queen
f. general food anxiety, because there will be food, and people eat
g, I might say something stupid without thinking and offend or upset someone
h. all of the above
Do other people think this stuff and just not say it? Or is it medication/lack of/depression/introversion/OCD….???
I had an overwhelming array of responses, but they mainly fell into the following camps
- Yeah I feel like this too, it’s rubbish isn’t it?
- I feel like this too, I think everyone does don’t they?
- You’ll be fine. We’ll look after you
- Why are you worrying about that? Stop panicking!
I’m so unbelievably lucky that since I culled my Facebook friends, I no longer have any comments like ‘What’s your problem? There’s so much more to be upset about.’ You might think I’d be annoyed about the ‘stop panicking’ comment, but it was a private message, and followed by many reasons not to panic from a very dear friend who understands me.
I then read this awful article about and how basically you can will yourself into not feeling anxious by realising the anxiety is your fault and you can control it. That, my friends, is how not to understand that social anxiety isn’t just being anxious or nervous – it’s a phobia.
Most people have a fear, whether big or small, of something. Show me someone who doesn’t have any fears, and I’ll show you a robot. I have a phobia of daddy long legs for example. I don’t like the way they move, and they used to make me scream. I can be in the same room as them these days, but time was I used to run screaming from rooms and had people telling me I was silly for being afraid of something.
On the other hand, spiders don’t scare me at all, but I have never once told someone they were stupid for having to get their husband to remove a spider from the bathroom. If you are afraid of spiders, there’s absolutely no logic to that fear. It’s very unlikely the spider you have in your house is poisonous, unless you live in Australia, and they’re very small – ‘more scared of you than you are of it’ is the usual response.
Now, I can understand a phobia of spiders if you have one, because I had a phobia of daddy long legs. I won’t belittle your fear. In return, I’d like it if everyone in the world would extend this politeness to people with social phobias.
We know it’s irrational. We know it’s stupid and silly, and that nothing will go seriously wrong, and everything will be fine in the morning. THIS DOES NOT HELP. If anything, it makes us feel worse that we feel this way because it’s silly and stupid, and so therefore, WE are silly and stupid.
A sympathetic response is nice – it’s the responses above like ‘we’ll look after you’. It made me feel loved and looked after. But the responses I really loved were the ones saying ‘Oh yeah, I totally feel like that too’. Knowing that you aren’t the only person who can’t imagine a balance between turning up in pyjamas or in full evening dress is like someone saying to me, ‘oh yeah, I don’t like daddy long legs either, they move in a weird way.’
So whilst on that Wednesday I couldn’t get myself out from under my quilt on the couch, couldn’t stop crying when I thought about leaving the house, and eventually ended up having a takeaway in the safety of my house, on Friday I went out. Talking things through and having people being empathetic helped, and I went. Yes, it was fine, but in my rational brain I knew it would be.
The next time I get that phobia about going out, I won’t think back on this and how it was fine, and not feel phobic any more – in the same way the next time you find a spider in your bathroom and it doesn’t kill you, you won’t then be able to be rational about it the next time you find one in your bath. You’ll still go and get your husband to remove it, in the same way as I’ll go and find my friends to help me remove the catalyst to my fear.