Always lurking. Looming. The looming dread. The looming fear. The looming unknown.
People say "get out of your comfort zone" and let me tell you that most of my life is spent getting out of my comfort zone because I am never entirely comfortable. But the difference today is that I know myself enough to know how to handle it and grant myself some grace. I don't come down too hard when I'm not at my best. Because no good comes from that.
Social Anxiety and Generalized Anxiety are BEASTS. They aren't projected on your forehead so many don't know who is walking around with that dread at any given moment. That is anxiety. Not rational, not easily led away. Not for the weak of heart. Social anxiety is much the same except it pounces on your chest whenever faced with a new situation from people, places or things. Now, the promises have come true in my life, and I don't even recognize the level of panic attacks and fear from my past, but it is still there. The looming. The dread. Not all the time, but enough so that it is a thing that I am bound to.
I posted a picture with a some words on Christmas night. It sparked a lot of "me too"s from people. Because talking about things lessens their power, right? Or at least helps lighten the load. I don't know about you, but when I hear people say, "me too" it gives me great comfort. It gives me the permission to exhale and reminds me that I am absolutely not the only person feeling this way.
The words can be found below -
Hi. I'm an adult who spends way too much time in bathrooms at social and even family events because it's too damn hard.
The good news is it's gotten to be less and less hard. But it's still there. The anxiety. Always lurking. Always waiting to creep up my throat from my stomach to crawl into my eyeballs and hang out there for a while.
It doesn't matter who I'm with. Even being around people I genuinely enjoy is super trying at times. I can usually be found hanging out with the animals or the kids or in the bathroom because they are the safe spaces.
So hi. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas if you celebrate. We did. So lovely. So grateful. But it's still hard. Feeling all the feelings.
And hey, now I'm on my couch and the kids are snuggled in their beds having had the best month-long holiday so it passes. It always passes.
All they know is we had so much fun and presents are awesome but being thankful for all we have and giving it away is most important. And they know that mommy shows up. One day they may understand what a struggle it sometimes was, but they will remember I suited up and showed up. Most days.
May we find and give joy, hope, and unexpected kindness each and every day. Even when it's really hard and we just want to stay on the couch.
All the "me too"s on that one. Thank you.
What I want to make clear is that there is nothing "wrong" with me. I am not shy (because shy has such a negative connotation and it bugs me when people say that about my kids), I am not quiet, I am not rude, I am not a malcontent. Quite the opposite really. I am anxious. I have social anxiety and I have to remind people of that (even the people closest to me) sometimes because I have times when I am so entrenched in feeling it that I come off as rude or disinterested, when that isn't it at all. I simply need to retreat. Either physically or mentally or emotionally, and that is OK. Do you hear me? THAT IS OK.
The misunderstandings about anxiety run deep. Would I rather be on my couch at home with my people than out in public with so many others? YES. ABSOLUTELY YES. But the way the world works is not always accommodating to that lifestyle I so crave. And the other thing is, it's bad for me all the time. My feelings lie to me. My anxiety lies to me. My depression tells me that I shouldn't see people and I should just stay in bed. And some days I do. At least metaphorically. When you have little kids, you know you don't get to stay in bed - ever.
Suit up and show up has become a thing for me since early in recovery (and aren't we all in recovery from something). I never got it until I got a steady job and had to literally suit up and show up every day for work. Never had that work ethic before, but after years of recovery and gaining some wisdom with age, I get it. I do it. Not every day and not perfectly, but I do it.
And as with everything in recovery, it infiltrates every part of my life. My anxiety and depressive nature tells me that I need to cut myself off and not be accountable. It tells me that I'm doing just fine when all seems dark and lonely.
THAT is the point I need to rise up. THAT is when I need to remember how this all goes. For me, anxiety and depression can lead to drinking and my alcoholism would be so so happy about that. But not today. Today I can remember what it was like. Today I can reach out to my online friends and to my real life friends and simply say, I'm not great. And people get it. This is when I need to rely on the connection and the gratitude and the service to others to pull myself through. Thank goodness I know this today. This tape has been PLAYED OUT, y'all.
The problem is that I can fool even myself. I can suit up and show up so well nowadays that people would never know. I bet many of you can as well. I don't WANT to connect. I don't WANT to find the gratitude. But I do it because it saves my life and makes it better. I do it because I know it works.
What I tell myself and what I need you to know is that it's ok to not be ok.
I don't always do it well, but I suit up and show up. I have kids counting on me and they are learning their social cues from us. They are learning about confidence and how to treat people and themselves with respect. We need to honor what we are feeling but then decide if it's a healthy behavior that stems from those feelings.
Since we've had these kids and even before then really, I try my best to not say anything negative about anybody's appearance. My husband and I both are careful with comments about our own bodies, really emphasizing health over any kind of perfection. I made that choice because while there can rightfully be things to dissect about people's character, I don't want it to be about the way they look. The shape of their bodies or what they wear is not important. Character is what counts. These kids see that. I'm telling you, this parenting business has made me a much better person, despite myself.
Let me tell you a little story. Our kids started up their winter session at preschool on Monday and they were both so excited. They really love preschool and we really love having them in it a couple hours each day. Now, their teacher had told me that there was going to be one new girl this session and my daughter in particular was stoked that there would be a new girl.
"I wonder what her is like. I wonder what her name is. I wonder what her favorite color is."
Monday when they were signing their names in the book they sign into at the beginning of each class, we found ourselves RIGHT NEXT TO THE NEW LITTLE GIRL. I said, "Hello! is today your first day? What is your name?"
She told us and as I was getting ready to make introductions and help my girl along, she said, "Hi I'm ____ and I just had a birthday. I am 4 years old!"
The little girl said, "I JUST HAD A BIRTHDAY TOO AND I AM 3 YEARS OLD!"
My girl then said, "I will be your friend today."
And there is my goal. To be more like my four year old. She didn't need me to get the conversation started or help her along, she jumped right in.
But then I thought, I am acting as if there is something wrong with me because I am not that great at doing this. There is nothing wrong with me. I have been conditioned to think there is because not being overly social or having the skills to act as if I am at all times is something I'm made to feel badly for.
When in reality, I've connected with many many others just like me.
We got my girl a Belle dress for her birthday. Her face OH MY GOD HER LITTLE FACE!
My girl LOVES Belle from Beauty and the Beast right now. This pleases me to no end as she has always been my favorite from the Disney films of my time. I mean I was in college when it came out and I went to see it several times in the theater and had the cassette tape (!!!) in my car and straight up wore it out. A girl who retreats into books rather than people and falling for a beast are things I can identify with.
We had watched the movie just a few days before and again she said, "I like him when he's the Beast better", meaning before he turns back into the man she winds up with after the spell is broken. And you know what? I quite prefer the Beast myself. This thrills my boy who pretends he's the Beast and gets to marry his sister Belle. It's all very sweet and not at all creepy.
With this anxiety I have and my constant desire to retreat, I've been told that I should get over it, that I should be OK because most times these people are family or even groups of folks at parties that I genuinely like. It makes no difference. Anxiety knows no rules. AND I AM OK REGARDLESS OF WHETHER YOU THINK I AM OR NOT. I know I am.
I was on anti depression/anxiety meds for a long time after I got sober but I stopped when we were going through IVF and I've not felt the need to go back on them. I have no issue doing so if it's needed, but I am ok with feeling this right now. I quite enjoy feeling all these feelings today. I get to feel the brightest, deepest, widest joy I've ever felt and the flip side is I get to feel really sad and hurt and angry. Which is a gift for someone who tried not to feel anything for a long time.
I work to be ok with myself and keep finding people that understand. They find me! Many may not care or even believe it's real, but I know. I know it is real and that's all that really matters. What matters is how I go about walking through this life that can be treacherous and a minefield for people like me.
Now I know with certainty that no matter what someone projects, their lives are not all peaches and cream. We are all doing the best we can and the only way I can do it is with people saying, "me too" and "I get it". Connection is the key. Service to others will always always always help.
This doesn't go away for me. It doesn't mean I don't love people like crazy and want to be involved, it just means can't sometimes. My brain and heart scream at me.
This isn't something I can turn on and off and it isn't something I have much control over. What I do have control over is how I react to it. How much power I give it. If I need a break, I take a break. If I need to reschedule plans, I reschedule. Even at the last minute. And then sometimes I go right back and say, "wait, can we still do this?"
For me in my life right now, what's most important is suiting up and showing up for my kids. They don't need to know how colossally hard that can be some days. They just need to see me do it. That is my charge. And I am so grateful.
I carry my anxiety with me today, it doesn't carry me.
I can be really outgoing and really into gatherings with folks when I choose to be and if I'm in a good space. If I'm not, then well, I'm not. And it's all ok.
Blogging has afforded me this great circle of friends online that I may never meet, but I know they're there and likely feeling much the way I am at any given moment. It's comforting. The trick is to find that in people you surround yourself with in real life as well. If you're really lucky, you find them in your family, your work, your church, your recovery meetings, your circle. You find who you are meant to find if you are open to it. And they get it.
Would I wish to be better adjusted at life and have an easier time dealing with the everyday? No. I wouldn't. Because as with everything else, this has all made me who I am, just as our children will figure out who they are and if they have memories of their mom being a little quiet or off in another room when around a big crowd of people, they will know why. It has nothing to do with not loving the people in that other room. It has to do with loving herself. It's OK to care for yourself too.
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