Social

Friday, September 26, 2014

I know it's confusing for people who know me and even those who are new in my life to understand that I suffer from social anxiety.  This anxiety is fairly new (since losing Max), it isn't crippling (thank god), it isn't always visible, and I am pretty good at faking comfort and confidence in social situations even if my heart is racing and I am feeling either completely removed (preferable) or freaked out (not preferable). This confusion has led to some really awful interactions and hurt feelings for me and others and at times has only served to cause me increased anxiety. I find that even when I warn people ahead of time, their expectations of me are just not realistic.

In the first year or two after losing Max, I hated to leave my house - my only comfort zone. If I left, I ideally wanted to know exactly who would be wherever I was going so I could prepare myself.  Being around people I didn't know was really really hard.  I was sad all of the time and couldn't fake my way through pretending to be anyone other than a grieving mother....I had no other identity in my early grief.  I couldn't concentrate on what anyone was saying.  I couldn't (not wouldn't - but COULDN'T) make small talk.  Being introduced to people or reintroduced to people I didn't know very well or at all scared me.  I felt too exposed and my brain was just not firing off the connections that would enable me to shmooze.  I knew that I was probably seen as unfriendly and uninterested - and the truth is that I was.  I had no interest in anything except talking about, brooding over, and missing Max. 

After a year and a half or two years, I grew a thicker skin.  The best way I can describe it is to think about how you feel when you are watching a particularly horrific story on the news - about a beheading, or something terrible happening to children, or people living in unlivable circumstances - your thick skin is what gives you the ability to change the channels, forget about what you just saw and just keep eating dinner.  Imagine that you couldn't change the channel.  You couldn't erase the images you'd just seen.  That is how I lived for a long time.

Today I leave my home.  All of the time.  I go to parties, and play groups, and I have even traveled for work several times this year.  I freak out for days (sometimes weeks) before entering nearly every single new environment.  Traveling to Israel twice this year caused me so much more anxiety than I can possibly describe.  Knowing that I would have very little (if any) down time, being with mostly new people who don't know me or my story, the fear of being asked about how many children I have..... it was so overwhelming. These trips had the added bonus of also taking me away from my kids for days on end, which also brought up a lot of the emotions (guilt, fear, dread, distrust) I have surrounding losing Maxie while he was at daycare.  At times I was removed and sullen - I felt misunderstood and isolated.  Keenly aware that I needed to figure out how to be a more upbeat and positive personality - like the one you are supposed to have while staffing a group of people in a foreign country. It was a challenge.

Of course I find that, most of the time, putting myself in new and unfamiliar situations is worth the anxiousness that is provoked.  I wouldn't keep putting myself out there if I didn't think it was worth it.  It is still hard though.  Much harder than it ever was for me in the past.  Sometimes the anxiety that the potential situation provokes is too much for me and I either decline the invitation or end up participating and feeling very aware of the fact that I am in no place to be around new people.

If you invite me someplace new - I am grateful for the invitation.  If you are with me someplace and I seem to go from friendly and engaged to sort of removed.  If you wonder why I am not as excited about the upcoming event as I once was - this is why.  I appreciate that you think I've pulled my act together.  I want you to know that I haven't.  I am still working hard on it though and taking more chances than I ever thought I would.  Give me some time.  Give me some space.  And, please, please, please - try not to take it personally.

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