My mortal enemy’s name is Social Anxiety.
It ruins a lot of days, and I worry about it ruining relationships. I know good relationships take effort and have to be maintained. The best relationships are reciprocal, and they work because of mutual communication. I know this.
I know that people live busy lives, and most of them DON’T have daily battles with Social Anxiety, so they don’t understand that not receiving a return email will wreck me for a weekend.
I know that in order for me to function in civilization, sometimes I have to leave the house and be around other human beings.
But Social Anxiety doesn’t care that I ‘know’ those things. It’s a formidable foe that doesn’t respond to logic and reality. The negative thought spirals I have when I’m around other people, or communicating with other people at a distance, or, hell, even THINKING ABOUT other people still happen, and Social Anxiety shows up at the most seemingly innocuous times to fight with me.
I’ll have a benign, or even sentimental thought like, ‘I haven’t talked to S much (or at all) lately…’ or, ‘I miss J & B, I should catch up with them…’
A ‘normal’ person would then just send those folks a text or make a phone call, have a chat, maybe even make a plan, and move on with their day if they couldn’t communicate, making logical rationalizations. ‘B is busy with the kids…J’s working…S has been feeling ill for the past week, pollen’s high…’
Social Anxiety won’t let me do that.
My next thought after, ‘I haven’t talked to…’ or ‘I miss…’ is, ‘Well, that’s because you’re annoying and ridiculous and they don’t want to talk to you. Why would they? You’re boring and weird and stupid. And worthless. You don’t have anything important or entertaining to say, so just don’t say anything. You shouldn’t say anything. You should do the world a favor and just stop talking altogether. You sent them a text 4 days ago…3 weeks ago…8 months ago, and they never returned it. Not even with ‘K.’ That’s a clear indicator that you’re bothering them. You’re such a pest. If you text them again, that’s desperate, and then you’ll be even more of a pest. Just stop thinking about other people. None of them care about you. They aren’t contacting YOU, so they obviously don’t want to talk to you or be around you. You can’t just invite yourself into their lives. That’s dorky. And rude…’
And, strangely, Social Anxiety also uses THIS combat tactic…
’M messaged you last. That conversation went well and ended on a pretty good note. You should just leave it there and not screw it up by contacting M again now. You’ll only say something annoying and dumb and then M won’t message you back for weeks and you’ll have to worry about what you said, so it’s better to just not say anything.’
So then I don’t contact my friends. I mean, we’re still ‘friends,’ I guess. We still have each other’s numbers and everything. But there’s no contact, and eventually, I know, there will no longer be a relationship. Relationships are active and require input from more than one party. What I have are memory projects, mostly, like a mental scrapbook. I flip through the images and think, ‘Remember that fun thing we did together that one time? Remember when we talked about that one thing and they laughed/agreed with you? They liked you then.’ And then, depending on how strong Social Anxiety is that day, sometimes I’ll get, ‘Or DID they? They probably just felt sorry for you because you’re so pathetic and they went to that place and did that thing for you out of pity. And you aren’t really funny or interesting. They were pretending you were to keep from hurting your feelings. Or they felt like they owed you because you bought lunch that time before. They’re obligated to talk to you and spend time with you because you’re family/you went to high school together… Or they were using you because you can still translate Spanish/can read a roadmap/have a parking pass…’
And after I guess romanticizing them at a distance, it turns out many of the friends I made who live far away are similar to the people who are geographically close to me as far as their views of me go…not all of them…which I’m grateful for every day…but most of them now feel the same to me as the people around me. As soon as any effort to communicate or hardship cropped up, it seems like the responsibility to move the relationship forward became solely my responsibility with a lot of them. It bums me out. That my natural way of engaging people seems to turn people off, or that I must be giving off the impression that I’m only valuable if I’m always easy to access and unquestioningly agreeable to others’ viewpoints, positions, and plans. (Again…thank you so much to the small group of you who reciprocate me and help me fight my nemesis. It used to just be me and J vs. Social Anxiety. And before J, it was just me, and Social Anxiety ALWAYS won. It’s that ‘social’ part…that makes it a foe that can’t be beaten back alone.)
J is the only person in my life who lives anywhere near me who shows me complete constancy. He knows all of Social Anxiety’s evil ways, and always manages to show it up and shut it down. ‘Did you talk to anyone today, Jen?’
Somehow, J asking me that question, or asking me questions about my friends, leads me to engage with them. Because I want to answer J. Because he asked me. And I want to reciprocate his effort. If he wants me to talk to somebody today, I’ll pick someone and text them. (And it usually goes well.)
J contacts ME first. Every day for weeks if that’s what it takes. And he never fails to respond to me when I initiate contact. (He knows how hard that is for me.)
I never feel ‘weird’ going somewhere with J. I can go anywhere with him. Rock concerts. Packed movie theaters. Amusement parks. Protest rallies. To hell with all those other people if J is with me. I don’t even think about what they might be thinking about me. I only care what he thinks. And he just TELLS me what he thinks. I don’t have to guess. So Social Anxiety never gets to establish an advantageous position on J. He even helps me out when my nemesis has gotten a hold on me because of an interaction (or lack thereof) I’ve had with someone else who is important to me, and I start thinking all those awful things about myself. ^^^^
‘None of that is true…I don’t say or think things like that about you…you shouldn’t talk to yourself that way…I’m not going anywhere…I love you…’
J’s never daunted by Social Anxiety and the rampant insecurity it causes. He always eventually helps me defeat it. I know I’m supposed to be able to talk my own self down from negative thought spirals, but my own reason and resolve never have been potent enough weapons. J’s added to mine usually ARE. And now, I have a few more allies to help me too. Thank all of you. You know who you are. ❤