One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff
I’ve previously mentioned the solace of loneliness that anxiety thrives on. Being left alone to deal with my worries is strangely zen. It gives me all the time in the world to beat myself down, cry for no reason, and fight off a panic attack without any pesky intrusions, like news from the outside world or the kind words of someone who cares. Spending time alone also gives my brain a lot of time to think of all the ways people hate me; however spending time with people intrudes on the time I could be spending alone, worrying about the people I should be hanging out with.
Does that make sense? No, of course it doesn’t. We’re talking about my fucking brain here; why would it make sense?
Before I go on, I should make mention that spending time on my own isn’t an entirely bad thing. “Me” time doesn’t have to be a torture session—it can also be a mental wellness tool. Spending some time by my lonesome allows my brain to have a spa day, free of overanalyzing what others may say or do. The same can be said for spending time in the company of others. My anxiety does tend to quiet once I’m around friends and loved ones. A little bit of booze as social lubricant helps. Not enough gives me too much time to over think every word I might say. A little too much brings down my inhibitions to a point where I’ll say too much—it’s all about finding the right balance.
And, one day, when I do find that balance, I hope to tell you about it. But for now, here’s this.
I recently celebrated my twenty-ninth birthday and had a great time with a lot of my favorite people all in one room together. Everyone got along (another thing I tend to needlessly worry about)—there were tons of laughs and some great memories. I felt loved. I felt happy. I felt relatively free from stress. Then I spent the next few days wondering if at any point in the night I might have said or done something stupid that could have alienated someone or made them feel bad. This was actually a marked improvement from last year, where my anxiety (and hangover) kept me in bed for half the day.
My tension may subside when I’m around people having fun, but it sure does kick my ass hard after leaving a fun gathering with friends. I could be tipsy or stone sober and I’ll overanalyze every word I said and how I could have hurt or pissed off someone. I’ll kick myself for every dumb joke told or word stumbled over. I’ll allow my own mental shitty reinterpretations of events to overshadow the actual, fun memories. And it’s entirely self-imposed. I spend days, if not weeks, exhausting every possibility as to how I could have ruined a good moment. I think back to every reaction, trying to decode facial expressions and reactions from memory, wondering if I was being selfish or uncaring towards anyone’s stories or thoughts. Did I talk about myself too much? Did I jeopardize the conversation? I can even find ways to cut down distinct memories of happy moments.
Once I’ve started mentally chastising myself for all the things I could have done or words I may have said wrong, the punishment doesn’t end there. Next comes the financial meltdown, as I freak out thinking about the money I could have saved if I’d just stayed in and watched TV. The agony my brain puts me through after any social outing leads me to look forward with eager anticipation to the next time I’ll get the chance to not go anywhere or do anything. You know, until I decide that everyone must hate me if I’m not being invited to fun events anymore.
This year I’ve spent a good amount of time wondering how I got to a point where I have so many people willing to, like in the instance of my birthday, come out just to celebrate me—do I deserve that? What about every time I’ve cancelled on someone because I wasn’t feeling well or was too broke to hang out or my brain decided to enter itself into the mental olympics at the same time, forcing me to take a seat on the bench and avoid all social interaction? Why should anyone ever want to be my friend?
Don’t get me wrong—I want all the good people I have in my life to stay where they are. I’m grateful to have kind and fun people surrounding me. But that doesn’t mean I believe that I deserve the friends I’ve made.
I think I don’t deserve a lot of things. If I come home from work and want to spend the night taking a bubble bath and finally finishing that novel I’ve been reading for the past six months, I exhaust myself thinking of why I should. I haven’t cleaned the apartment. I haven’t written something. I haven’t done the dishes. I haven’t kept up with correspondence (spoiler alert: that one’s probably not going to happen). Why should I allow myself something luxurious? What’s my reward for? Bathing and reading aren’t luxuries. They’re necessities, yet I treat them as things I don’t deserve just so I can mentally punish myself about the chores I haven’t had the energy to do.
It doesn’t work. The mental brutality just leads to more exhaustion, which means sleep takes priorities over chores or writing or even giving myself the reward of a bath or a good book. The whole aforementioned spa day for my brain? I often don’t believe I deserve that. What have I done to allow myself the chance to not be a wreck? How can I ever get over my mess of anxieties if my brain doesn’t think I deserve that?
The truth is, I do deserve my friends. My life is richer for having them and, despite my many faults, they stick around because they’re all good people and our times together are never nearly as bad as my brain makes them out to be. I deserve my moments of zen and happiness because the world is a crazy place and we all need to take a breather once and awhile. I deserve to reward myself not because I’ve accomplished anything major, but just for getting up and getting through the day in one piece. One day, I’ll remember that.
But for now, I’m off to take a nice, long bath and read. Maybe. We’ll see....