If you want to read part 1 of The Social Heebie Jeebies, check out the post that I wrote almost three years ago.
Before you read the following, you should know that it took me a while to finish this post, meaning that “last Sunday” isn’t necessarily the actual last one, since there’s been a lot going on on many levels: I’ve been busy, and I also changed my perspective a couple of times along the way.
Last Sunday, I spent the entire day inside my apartment even though the sun was shining and it was a rather beautiful day. I felt too sensitive and vulnerable to walk out the door and face the world. I needed a break from the mask.
What’s the mask, you may wonder? The mask is what I need, once I reach a certain level of exhaustion, to make it through the day. I use it to function like a person. It’s what makes me accomplish things that most other people seem to get done on autopilot, without even wasting a thought on; it’s what makes me kind of capable of doing things on days when I feel like even the most basic tasks seem impossible to accomplish.
I’m not sure if the pandemic had/has anything to do with it, but I find that it now takes me a lot longer to recover whenever I take part in some kind of social event. On Saturday, I socialised (a little bit). The next day, I felt exhausted and didn’t want to see anyone and therefore skipped attending another event, even though I had planned and actually paid money to go there.
On some days, everything that isn’t running smoothly in my life weighs heavily on my shoulders. And, since it’s never just one thing (and they’re usually all connected to each other, obviously!), I get overwhelmed. And when that happens, I shut down. I retreat into my bubble and proceed to numb my feelings with all sorts of bingeing – television shows and food are my go-to coping mechanisms. And it usually works! After a day or two of numbing and doing absolutely nothing productive, I usually get so frustrated with myself that I kick my own butt and get out of the house. I was lucky this all happened on a Sunday – just like it did last week (“fun” fact). It’s usually much worse if I desperately need a break but can’t have one because it’s a working day or I have appointments that can’t be postponed. Or because I committed to plans that can’t easily be cancelled.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with a higher level of anxiety again and, more precisely, my all-time nemesis: social anxiety. I noticed because it’s been standing in my way a lot again and it continues to do so. It’s often difficult for me to know whether I’m not doing things because I’m too scared or because I simply don’t enjoy them – where does my introverted personality end and where does fear begin? Where’s the line?
After having educated myself on the subject for years – I’ve actually struggled with this ever since I was a kid -, I now want to learn how to manage the relentless fear and avoidance that arise before anything “anxiety-worthy” has even happened.
It’s been keeping me from so many things. I’d love to be able to not break a sweat right before telling the waitress/waiter what I’d like to order. I’d love to not freak out about doing anything (that I can easily do when no one is watching, by the way) in front of people or even when I think that someone, somewhere, even out of sight, may be watching me do it. I’d love to not have to constantly worry about how I stand/walk/look/talk in the presence of other people.
It’s probably not surprising that my social anxiety gets worse whenever I’m not in the best shape which, unfortunately, happens often because I almost never get enough sleep – there’s either not enough time or I simply can’t sleep because I’m too anxious and/or not done with processing the events of the day. Oh, the irony.
As you can see, it makes perfect sense for me to prioritise rest and recharge time. However, I can’t seem to refrain from judging myself for needing so much recovery time, therefore keeping myself from fully surrendering to the relaxation I’d need to feel better again.
In my latest therapy session, it was established that, in order for me to have good relationships with people, I need to give myself permission to take time for myself whenever I need to. I wrote this down in my notebook, so that I won’t easily forget it (which I’m prone to). I also saved it as a reminder on my phone, such that it will pop up on the screen twice a day.
I was made aware that I don’t need to be entirely convinced of the truthfulness of the statement, as long as I focus on how I feel. And now, whenever the reminder pops up, I take a second to determine how I’m feeling in that moment and remind myself to breathe.*
As someone who’s spent their entire life on focussing on not making others uncomfortable and on not being a burden or inconvenience to anyone else, it’s definitely an interesting exercise. And it’s a work in progress. Sometimes I manage to detect my limits/needs in the right moment and sometimes I don’t, which then leaves me drained. And that’s okay.
Sometimes I know that I reached my limits but would feel too uncomfortable leaving the situation. And that’s also okay.
To circle back to the beginning of the post, I realised that I might need to reframe the concept of the bubble that I explained in one of my older posts. I shouldn’t consider it a weakness but rather a necessary element of what it means to be me: in order to have satisfying relationships, I need to factor in downtime for myself. I need to give myself permission to schedule time that’s only for me before I crash from (social) exhaustion, even if other people don’t need this as much as I do (queen of comparing herself to others over here 🙋♀️). And when I say satisfying relationships, that doesn’t only apply to me, because when I honour my limits and take care of my own well-being, my friends also benefit. This last part especially was pretty ground-breaking for me, as I had never considered that my own boundaries could have a positive impact beyond my discomfort around setting them and beyond the effects they have on me.
* A couple of years ago, a friend of mine suggested a similar exercise – which I did for a while, then forgot about again…