Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (in context)

To put this in context – I don’t go out much.

I go out with my boyfriend, and occasionally my best friend (she lives in another county), and very occasionally with my boyfriend’s family (my family live in Scotland). This is really hard to write as I know that people I have kept this from will be reading this, but here goes.

I avoid going out because I get really nervous. I get nervous to the point of feeling physically sick about it every day until the event, and then bottling it at the last moment because it’s all too much. The more important the event, the harder I try, the bigger the hurdle becomes. This has included every work’s Christmas meal for the last decade, my best friend’s wedding, well, everything really. The more I avoid, the harder it gets to go out, and the smaller the things that become insurmountable. It’s the classic vicious circle, and all my own doing. I am so ashamed at the excuses I have made up over the years. To everyone I have made excuses to, I am so so sorry.

vicious_cycle

The background

It all seems to stem from a meal out with friends where I panicked, out of the blue. I became unbearably hot, and I couldn’t eat a thing. The more I tried to eat, the more I couldn’t do it, and the more obvious it became that my plate was still full. I felt so embarrassed. That night I had an enormous migraine, the worst in a very long time. Now, in hindsight, perhaps that is why I couldn’t eat, and I should have explained that I didn’t feel well instead of failing miserably at covering up, but I really didn’t know what was going on.

To cut a long story short, from then on I avoided meals out (in case the same thing happened), which in turn became any kind of going out, particularly anything with food involved. To make matters worse, I LOVE food, but I physically can’t eat when I’m anxious. I worry so much about what people think of me, what I look like, what I’ve said, it just makes a night in on the sofa look so much more appealing, and so the vicious circle goes on.

The revelation

But, and this was a recent revelation to me, I actually enjoy going out and being with people. For years I’ve been telling myself that I prefer my own company, that I choose to stay in, which is much easier than facing the reality that to be happy I have to conquer this.

I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I struggle to tell the difference between events I want to attend, and events I don’t want to attend. I am so used to telling myself that I don’t want to attend anything that I’ve managed to convincingly fool myself. Apparently I need to go with my initial reaction – a quick flutter of excitement means I should go.

The invite

One of my dearest friends invited me to her leaving do, at a pub I hadn’t been to, with people I only knew a little bit, with FOOD. My initial reaction – I’d love to. I love this friend to pieces, and I wanted to do this to show her how much I care, and to show myself that I can do it.

A HUGE tick in the motivation box.

This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me while I write the next bit…

Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (self-help books)

Over the years I have tried so many self-help books that I’ve lost count, I don’t even want to know how many there have been.

I’ve tried Claire Weeks and her “Pass through Panic” CD, the “Linden Method”, Paul McKenna books and CDs, online CBT courses, you name them – I’ve probably tried them. I’m not knocking them, I know these have worked for many people, just not me. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time.

Most of the programmes I’ve tried have been along the lines of starting with something which only brings moderate discomfort (e.g. for me, tea and cakes), and, as that situation becomes more comfortable, trying the next step up the ladder until that too becomes comfortable. This was ok on the first rung of the ladder, but I never got past the first rung because I didn’t have the confidence or skills to move on. I struggled because:

• It was too big a step – how do you move on from a café to a restaurant? Or from a cup of tea at someone’s house to a full meal? It was too daunting.

• The steps were too far apart in terms of timings. I needed to be able to build on these steps every day, or I’d be back to square one again. But how do you invite someone out for a cup of tea one day, then tea and cake the next day, then a meal the next day, without them thinking you are totally crazy? (for me the answer has been several things – by admitting I struggle, by blogging about it and receiving so much wonderful support, by building my confidence with my counsellor, and practicing mindfulness – learning to switch off the panic button).

• Authors would say I needed to drop my safety behaviours, such as having mints to stop me feeling sick, a valium in my bag in case of emergency, taking Mr Silver Linings with me, having an escape plan. The thought of this meant I couldn’t face it, I need these things. (However, my counsellor says that these are all fine, they’re not unhealthy, the important thing is that I get out there and try things).

• Claire Weeks (who has helped a lot of people), asks that you don’t escape anxious situations, that you stay and wait until the anxiety subsides. Escaping and avoiding are two things I am very, very good at.

My problem is that I’ve been BATTLING anxiety for over a decade. I’ve gritted my teeth and made myself attend things I haven’t wanted to attend. And none of this battling has worked – I figured I lacked the willpower and courage needed, and so I beat myself up even more!

The next post will look at the counselling I’ve had, and how it turned out I was doing it all wrong. No more battling, no more teeth gritting!

 

Starry moments: day 17

Today was a HUGE starry moment in my relatively small world.

For most of you, the next bit will probably sound odd, as in, what’s the big deal? But for anyone with social anxiety – get this – I went for drinks and food with people I don’t usually socialise with, in a pub I’d never been too. I’m so chuffed with myself.

This weekend I’m going to write how I did it, as a reminder to me and hopefully some help to others.