When I penned this post a couple of weeks ago, I feel I was still posing this as a question. As I write this, today, I am fairly confident I have some social anxiety at the very least. Googling the definition only makes me more confident of this.
This time last year, I found myself in therapy, yet the thought of being socially anxious was not remotely on my radar. However, I have found myself becoming increasingly introverted in the last couple of years, as I’ve left the stability of my office job (sales).
Whilst I have known I’m an introvert for a while now, after watching Susan Cain’s infamous TED Talk (+ subsequently going on an introvert book/blog/general binge), I never would have said I was socially anxious. I’m aware I’ve typed that twice already. But really, I would have though it impossible. My job for 5 years was talking to people all day long, working in an open-plan office!
That said, looking back, there were still clues there. Each day, the first couple of phone calls were certainly the trickiest. I’d feel awkward, and anxious, but I thought that was just ‘warming up’ for the day, and it seemed to be common amongst other sales folks too. Perhaps we’re all socially anxious to an extent. Like everything, it’s probably a scale.
This morning (at time of writing) I was supposed to go to my second “monthly goalsetting” event. It’s an event run by a couple of friends I know, who are wonderful, intuitive human beings. For the first session the previous month, the two-hour event was followed by a brunch – which pretty much everyone in the group went to. A handful of us even hung around after that for some drinks, I stayed till around 6pm and others were still going. A long day by my current standards, but a good day.
Today (at time of writing), when my alarm went off to give me time to get ready and take the train, I spent a few more precious moments in bed, pulling the duvet over my head. I don’t like mornings, and I like my bed. Half an hour later, I emerged from my sanctuary. I was going to miss the train I’d planned to get to arrive early, and the next one would get me there around 5 minutes late, and that was if the connections were all smooth.
As I lay in bed for longer, I feel on some level I was already doubting if I’d go along to the event. Thinking about it, I think I felt a little nervous about the apparent lack of progress with my job search (I didn’t have a job yet, after all), and from the judgement that would come with that. I met a really sweet, lovely girl last time, M, and I was sure that – probably out of complete innocent interest – she wouldn’t be meaning to make me feel bad. Said girl, M, had only graduated last year and was now seemingly flying in her first role after university. And now, with me arriving late (like several of us had done last time) twice in a row, and the prospect of walking in and having to apologise to everyone… it was something I just couldn’t hack. In that moment, I decided I wasn’t going to go.
I gave myself the excuse that I’d not been 100% well this week and was recovering from a slight cold, and Whatsapped the two girls as such to let them know. By not going, I’d be saving myself from the cold weather, and 3 hours of travel. There is a chance that I could’ve picked up some more germs along the way to add to the remnants of my cold; but really, I knew that wasn’t the main reason for my not going.
Simply put, I was not really in the mood for talking to anyone that morning (as nice as this group was), and I was anxious about the judgement re: my job situation (or lack of one) – and the cherry on the cake was walking in late after missing the intended train.
Interestingly – and shamefully – I was often late for meetings in my sales job. I became frightfully good at apologising in a way that kinda let me get away with it. Back then, I was in more of a routine, and ‘socially-energised’ (or, really, anxious in a different way) from the job I was doing all day. So, somehow, I got through the discomfort. I honestly think the ‘buzz’ I feel the constant buzz of being in the (open-plan) office and socialising, was what carried through the day and helped me cope. Even though I’d start each day feeling nervous, I’d ‘warm up’ from any calls/meetings early in the day.
These days, the lack of routine and steady interaction with others (which I’ve been missing for nearly 3 years now), seems to have added power to this discomfort.
Was I wrong to ‘chicken out’ of this goal-setting gathering? I had been looking forward to it, and I hadn’t done much socialising this week (again, at time of writing). There-in, perhaps, lies the problem.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the last couple of years. I know I’m particularly sensitive to others, and their opinions and judgements. (In fact today, at time of publishing, I’ve written a long post about all of the people at my gym I’m currently aware of/avoiding/feel awkward with – it’s a long list, and adds more evidence to my having ‘social anxiety’).
I feel that, with the lack of structure and interaction of late, this social anxiety has only been heightened. It has gained in strength.
Reflective on the positives, I am pleased that I am finally realising this, acknowledging it, and slowly getting to know it better. Hopefully, I can begin to actively manage it. It helps that mental health, and social anxiety (which the NIMH describes as a ‘mental health condition’ – this is news to me, I must admit), are being talked about more. I am fortunate to have already connected with several other bloggers and readers here on WordPress, who also write about their experiences with mental health. Folks like James Edgar Skye, who often writes about his social anxiety.
I’m grateful for information being ‘out there’, and others – like James – helping me feel a little less weird, and much less alone.
PS. There was no post on Sunday this week; instead, I sent out my first ever ‘awkward newsletter’ – complete with voice note + updates on what I’m up to. If you opt-in here, I’ll forward you a copy.
✏ Written: Saturday, 24th February 2018 [time not recorded]
What about you?
I’d be really interested to hear from your experience(s) with social anxiety, if you have any. Also, whether you’re someone who is socially anxious or not, let me know whereabouts you would say you fall on the ‘Introvert/Extrovert’ scale.