My social anxiety returned with a vengeance in the past 24 hours. Well, it wasn't as bad as it once was, but it was worse than it has been in the past few months. I scheduled to start my training for a volunteer position today where I would shadow other people currently volunteering. Sounds simple enough, and I knew it would all work out just fine, but I felt that anxious anticipation last night as I considered the coming evil. I said to my mom four or more times in the course of one conversation. "I'm kinda nervous about tomorrow."
Today, I was quiet all morning. I had trouble even answering questions in the half hour before I left. I shuffled back and forth from one activity to another and just wanted to generally curl up on my bed and lie there rather than go. I started thinking of good small talk questions while I put on my eyeliner because a socially anxious person must always come prepared. I sighed into my cereal. I couldn't stop thinking about my coming doom, even though I knew I would get through it and I had managed to talk to all of those strangers in the training dinners we had that I so bravely attended. But I knew it would still be awkward and I just get so nervous doing new things. There are so many questions and you're not sure what is going to happen so you can't plan out what to do with yourself and where to go so that you don't get all flustered or overwhelmed in the moment and run away or mess up.
My leg jiggled in the car and my sister said it looked like my entire body was vibrating. I walked around for 10 minutes once I got to the neighborhood because I was afraid of being early, even though my bladder was about to burst. I scrambled to plan out what exactly I would say when they answered the door. Nothing seemed quite right, but I grasped at the thing that made the most sense to explain why I was there and rehearsed it over and over as I walked down the block and made my way to the entrance. I rang the bell. I recited my line. I navigated a rather awkward conversation with two strangers. I asked to go to the bathroom (believe it or not, old me might have just tried to hold it because I was so afraid of asking questions, which requires one to initiate conversation out of the blue.)
I talked to five or more strangers. I shook hands and introduced myself and said the grownup stuff you're supposed to when you meet someone. I shuffled my body around in a generally not-too-embarrassing manner. I made small talk with two old men. I took more initiative in the conversation than I might have before. It was exhausting, but I'm proud. It might have been nothing for any extrovert and only a minor worry for a non-socially anxious introvert, but for socially anxious me, it was another step in a better direction of not being ruled by my fear. And I know that it's only because of the many, many, many other little steps I've taken every day over the last decade that I am in the place where I can take the particular step I took today. And the step I took today will get me to a place where I can take a step towards another goal, another level of comfort. And so on into the distance of some magical place of being able to chase my dreams with minimal social anxiety holding me back - maybe just enough to keep me from saying something stupid. Oh, wait. Is that my social anxiety speaking? Maybe not because I just sat through a four-week class of people who felt they were entitled to speak any thought that ever came to mind.
Anyways, on the topic of being a brave little toaster, I was thinking just a little while ago - and this is actually what inspired me to write this post when I should be in bed - about the time I had to leave school for half a week last year because things had gotten so bad with my depression. I don't really remember what happened except I just broke down to my mom and felt so incredibly physically and emotionally awful and burnt out that she and I both knew I needed to get out of that God-forsaken place and come home for a rest, even if it meant missing some classes.
I emailed my counselor and told her I wasn't doing well; I think I had just had an appointment with her, ironically, but had been trying to put a brave face on things, as I've been wont to in therapy. I explained how I was feeling and I even admitted that I had been injuring myself, which I had heretofore kept from her. We met the morning of the next day before I left and I signed papers to allow her to contact Student Life and Learning and my professors to explain that I was having an emergency and asked for their understanding regarding my absence. She asked me about the self-harm and I clammed up. I always feel embarrassed talking about it because I knew it freaked people out and people looked at people who did it as freaks. I still don't tell people about it and haven't talked about it in therapy since. I have paused and triple thought about every sentence I included in this piece admitting to it. I think the questions were mostly just for safety though; they didn't dig into the emotional side of things. I just remember feeling humiliated and being glad when they were over. And glad that they were in a place I couldn't show her when she asked to see.
I was five plus hours from home, so I only went back on breaks and it was kind of a huge pain in the neck to get back, but my dad was kind enough to drive up and get me. I guess I should always remember that as a testament of his unspoken love; many fathers, I'm sure, would have been skeptical of a daughter needing to come home in the middle of the semester because they were Really Sad, and I'm still surprised he wasn't either. But he came. I remember feeling a bit awkward bringing my stuff out to the car to meet him, not knowing what to say and very much knowing why exactly I was taking this unexpected trip but not really wanting to speak it aloud.
I was thankful my roommates weren't there when I left because I didn't want to figure out how to explain to them what was going on. When I made my plans the evening before, I remained silent about it to them because I didn't know what to say and was embarrassed to explain and receive pity clucking or, worse, silence. I left a note and my nicer roommate sent a kind text of support later.
It was good to be home, though the anxiety of having to return and deal with schoolwork hung over me, as it always had in grade school when I took time off because I was sick. I mostly slept or laid in bed in the fetal position because, although I didn't know it then, I was not processing the antidepressants I was on so my body couldn't deal with all of the medication that had built up in my system. I emailed professors. I slept. I ate. I met with my intimidating psychiatrist who I would always absolutely dreaded meeting. He asked me more uncomfortable questions, especially about the injury. He asked what I would do in the summer when I wore a bathing suit. I said I didn't know because I was flustered and felt uncomfortable that me wearing a bathing suit was the first thing that came to a 60 year-old's mind when he found out I was injuring. In my head I was like, "Bitch, I don't wear bathing suits because I never go swimming and when I do I wear shorts because #conservativechristianbornandraised #youcantakethegirloutofthechurchbutyoucanttakethemodestyindoctrinationoutofthegirl. Anyways, I remember feeling even more humiliated, wanting to melt into the armchair and slither away in a pile of ooze, and move on from that particular set of questions. I'm sure something was done to adjust my meds. And it was probably something bad for me. Maybe he added Wellbutrin to the mix . I'll have to research.
Anyways, I slept. I probably cried. I slept some more. And I dreaded the day I would have to return.
And finally that day came when I had to face the music. Mom bought the plane ticket and I started packing my stuff into two bags. I had only flown in my adult life once the year before when I went to England. I was kind of alone because no one ever wanted to sit with me and got separated from everyone in customs and had to go through security alone (thanks, guys), but I had still been with a group, so I was nervous to really truly Fly Alone, but by golly I did it. And I had forgotten that I did that, but tonight I remembered and thought, "Dang, girl. I'm proud of you. You should be proud. That's a big accomplishment for an anxious person having a nervous breakdown." I think I may have even checked a bag.
I'm proud of myself for doing this volunteer job. (And another one too). For pushing myself. For not letting fear always dictate my life and limits to me. For bushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. I'm proud of myself for taking a break when I so desperately needed one last year, even though it was quite scary to do. I'm proud of myself for having the courage to return to school even though I was really sick and I had a lot of anxiety about going back, dealing with my missed work, facing professors, etc. And I'm proud of myself for flying on my own.
Baby steps, you Brave Little Toasters. Baby steps.