Anxiety, three ways

The Halloween show was last night--a million bands stretching into the night, hundreds of people crammed into what once seemed like a generous space until the room was filled with a palpable, heated force field of body odor and sweat.

So yeah, it was a lot of fun. There was beer and there were friends and there was awesome music. My favorites were TLC (not just for obvious reasons of bias--the ladies killed it on this one), Queen, Beach Boys, B-52s, Gram Parsons and Stereolab.

I'm probably leaving out a few other favorites but lots of beer was consumed and even though most of it was Pabst and Miller High Life, that still has noticeable impact on the memory portion of the brain cells.

Fun, but also an excuse for my anxiety to come out to play. Because: Lots and lots of people + social setting = ugh.

It's weird, really. For my job--both of them--I am forced to be a social, un-weirdo. I must be outgoing, I must initiate conversations, I must act normal. And I think that, for the most part, I do. I feel comfortable, mostly, doing interviews with complete strangers. I feel comfortable, mostly, speaking in front of a class. Although maybe the more important point here is by "mostly" I mean that there is always the moment before the interview starts or before I start the class that I feel nervous, scared, dreading everything. And then I take a deep breath and push forward.

When it comes to personal social situations, however, it is not necessarily that easy.

Rather, I'm pretty damn good at talking myself out of going out because I. Just. Cannot. Deal.

I hate that about myself. I hate that i get nervous and tongue-tied and that I worry about what other people think of me and how I look--and well, you get it. Put me in certain social situations and I suddenly turn into an awkward 8th grader with zero confidence. An awkward 8th grader who'd rather just stay home and read or watch Parks and Rec while drinking a whiskey on the rocks.

But I can't do that. At least not all the time. I'm not quite ready to descend fully into crazy cat lady mode. I want to give it all the old college try so I push myself out there. Besides, sometimes anxiety just feels so damn self-indulgent, narcissistic and futile. (Stop swearing at me Internet, I know anxiety isn't those things. I'm just saying that sometimes it makes me feel stupid. And silly. Hey vicious circle, how ya been?)

Recently at a party I found myself slipping into a black hole of self-doubt

The night was in full swing and I'd been doing OK but suddenly I found myself standing alone and with that came feelings of self-doubt and shitty thoughts: No one likes me. I'm stupid. This is horrible. How did I even end up here?

As the feelings crept around me like a suffocating ether, I made my way to the bathroom and sat down on the edge of the tub.

Somehow--the anti-depressants maybe?--I decided I had three choices:

  • Get the fuck outta dodge and go home already
  • Drink another drink and, thus, drink myself into having more fun
  • Allow myself to wallow, briefly, and then carry the fuck on already

I chose the third option. 

You can sit here for two minutes, I told myself. And you can feel all the feelings and then you have to get up and go back out there and talk to someone.

And so I did. I sat there and felt stupid feelings and thought stupid, irrational thoughts. And then I stood up and looked in the mirror and took a couple of deep breaths and then rejoined the party.

I did not get another drink--well not right away anyway--but rather I walked up to a small group of people and the people in the group seemed genuinely glad to see me and I felt my heart swell just a bit and, also, a sense of relief wash over me. (And for the record, there have been points in my life for which the above remedies--all of them--are completely ineffective. And so, yes, I have prescription for Xanax but I haven't taken one of those pills in about two years. So I count myself lucky there for the time being. But sometimes it's the only real, if temporary, fix. Right now I'm at a point in which I'm exploring other paths to not freaking out).

God help me it's not always that easy of course. Sometimes option one is the premier option of choice. Sometimes it's option two--I am a very social drinker. Give me a few drinks and I'm the friendliest, most chill person in the room. Which, of course, is likely not true but that's what my drunken brain likes to tell me.

But back to last night at the Halloween show. The same darkness, the same options. It didn't help that some of my serious anxiety triggers were especially sharp. You know what sucks? Trying to have a conversation with someone and having that person act as if you are the nerdiest three-headed monster idiot from outerspace. I'm pretty sure I wasn't imagining that. OK, maybe a little? Who knows. Whatever.

I wish I could tell you I whole-heartedly chose option three again. Instead, I worked on a mash-up of all three choices. Hiding in plain sight in the back room, grabbing another watery Pabst and trying, in earnest, to think my way through the thoughts.

It's a process, I guess.  A life-long one. I've always felt more than a little bit like Allison Reynolds before the makeover and Judd Nelson. And here's a mind-blowing truth: All the makeovers in the world wouldn't make Ally Sheedy's character suddenly feel "normal." Just wait until they finally make the sequel--you'll see. Again, it's  process. One that is lifelong.

Anyway, consider this a PSA of sorts. Next time you see me out in a crowded room looking like a deer caught in headlights, sulking alone or throwing back another drink, just know what's likely going through my head--but don't feed my inner trolls, OK please? Be kind, rewind. Or something like that.



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