March 5, 2010
The Social Hiatus… Coming to an End?
I am sitting in the café at Borders bookstore on this cool, crisp Friday evening. Lately I’ve been doing my writing in public places such as the library, Starbucks, and bookstores as an effort to get myself out of the house and around people more. Though I’ve always struggled to some degree with social anxiety, the problem has intensified over the last few months with the depression. My therapist suggested that I start introducing more “social” back into my life, starting out by doing solitary things in public places (as I am now) and maybe doing something occasionally with just one friend. Though it’s not easy for me, I’ve been doing my best to ease back into interacting with other people. Even shopping at a store makes me nervous, and I almost threw up with anxiety before a scheduled lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago… But it gets a bit easier each time. My social anxiety has kind of come and gone in spurts throughout the years, and if you were to meet me right now, you’d probably never guess that I was shy or nervous. When I need to be, I put on a very good act, and you’d never know that my heart was racing and that I was starting to sweat underneath my collar. Hopefully that will subside with practice though… I don’t want to be a social hermit forever!
I do have to say, however, that taking some time away from people (though it should never be a permanent way of life) has been more positive for me than not. For a while I had been feeling overwhelmed with people constantly vying for my attention, whether it be through incessant text messages, phone calls, or pleas to “hang out.” It got to the point where there was barely one minute in the day when I wasn’t feeling pressure from someone. I could barely think my own thoughts. I could be at a party having a real conversation with someone, and having five text message conversations happening at the same time. It drove me insane!
After my last hospitalization, I quickly realized that if I was going to recover, I was going to have to cut all this craziness out of my life. I took a huge step and basically told everyone (nicely) to back off. I took text messaging off my cell phone plan (which lowered my monthly bill by $20 by the way), let people leave voicemail messages if they wanted to get a hold of me (for me to return or ignore at my discretion), and stopped going on that accursed Facebook (a.k.a “stalkernet”). It was the best decision I have ever made. Suddenly, I had peace and quiet. I could actually sit down and think, read a book, or carry on a live conversation without someone bombarding me with texts! I also turned down a lot of invitations to various social gatherings, not merely because of my social anxiety, but because I knew I needed to give myself time and space to heal. I mean, despite my nervousness, I could have made myself go out (as I have many times before), but I realized that right now isn’t the time. In order to restore some level of sanity to my chaotic world, I had to scale back on the amount of social pressure and unnecessary outside input (including certain people’s opinions on what I should be doing with my life).
So now I’m trying to find some sort of a balance. I feel like I need to introduce a level of social interaction back into my life… slowly, and carefully, so I don’t overwhelm myself. I still refuse to text, and I go on Facebook maybe once a day but merely to respond to important messages. I’d like to get better at returning people’s phone calls… which I rarely do (I get very nervous on the phone as well). I’ve also been able to hang out with a close girl friend of mine about once a week, which has been nice and not too stressful. Spending time in the library, bookstore, or grocery store is also helping me get used to being around people again. And, I went to church last Sunday again for the first time in quite a while… And though I felt like I sort of faded in the background, I was able to handle it well and was happy to see some very wonderful people I’ve missed.
What’s next? I don’t know. I think it will be a while before I feel comfortable hanging out with groups of people or going to any parties or the like… That still scares me… But I’m taking these little baby steps, so I know I’ll get there eventually. I’m not worried about it. I know that as I get stronger and healthier, I will become less self-conscious and concerned about other people judging me. Hopefully as I start to feel more comfortable with myself, I will be able to feel more comfortable and confident around other people. One day at a time…