11.26.2017

I'm Not Shy, Just A Little Messed In The Head

So, I recently (Feb of 2017) started seeking treatment for my social anxiety.

Whoa, Todd. You just gonna throw that right out there in the open like that? Aren't you worried what people might think? And where exactly are you going with this? Is this something you really need to be telling us?

These are all good questions. And I'll get to them in a minute.

Now, back to the actual topic. I know I have talked about it on this blog before, but because I'm terrible at putting tags and labels on my posts, it's unlikely you'll find it, unless you already read it. Part of that is probably subconsciously intentional.

So, where was I? Oh yes. The social anxiety. I discovered, through the observations of a good friend and also through discussions with my doctor, that I had social anxiety. My particular flavor manifested in two main ways.  One, I would overthink the shit out of everything. But not actually everything, only things said to me by people I care about. I could get a text and rabbit hole for hours about the true meaning of what was said. OR, and this was even worse, if I texted someone and didn't get a reply in what I thought was a reasonable amount of time, I would automatically assume the worst. That the person was plotting a subtle way to get me out of their life because I had just annoyed them one too many times.

It was a terrible, terrible feeling. It made me miserable. And it absolutely was not fair to the other people. I was ascribing traits and thoughts to them based on my anxiety. Mind you, there was no basis in fact for the thoughts and feelings and plans and annoyances that I thought they were throwing my way. It was my own shit clouding up the water. After I sought medical help for this, I realized that not everyone responds to texts in the manner or timeliness that I do. Some of my friends only respond when they have something to say. Most all of my friends have lives, so they can't reply instantly to a message. I get that...now.

The other major facet of this social anxiety was a low-level paranoia (for lack of a better way to describe it) that reared it's ugly head when I was invited to social situations. I would spend the days prior to the event coming up with things that I needed to do instead of going to the thing. And then, if I guilted myself in to actually saying I would go (because, you know, they would probably hate me if I said no), then I would spend the hours beforehand with this inner dialog playing. It usually went something like this.

Me: You know, they are just inviting you to be nice (or because you're "XYZ's friend")

Other Me: No. That's not it at all. If they didn't want me there, they wouldn't invite me.

Me:Are you sure? Maybe they are just inviting you because they feel sorry for you.

Other Me: Why would they feel sorry for me?

Me: Because, dude, you're life is nowhere near as together as theirs. You're like the pet project in all of those movies where the super sexy people have their shit together and take pity on the nerd who doesn't.

Other Me: Fuck you. That's not...well...I mean. I guess that could be true.


Messed up, right? Dude. I know.

Here's the thing, if I could get past that inner dialog of doom and actually go out, most of the time I had fun. Or some semblance thereof. And while the doubts crept back in here and there throughout the event, mostly it was OK.

So, why bring this up now? I know, I know. Surely I could be making better use of my time than baring all of my imperfections to the interwebs, like writing for NaNo. You're right, but don't worry about that, I'm definitely counting these words.

I bring it up now because I realized that it's kind of a daily process and even though I'm on medication for my social anxiety, I have to realize that it's not a catch-all cure.  For about 2 weeks, my neighbors had been planning a 'friendsgiving' get together. At first I was looking forward to it. But as I went through the week (last week) leading up to it, I was starting to see the remnants of those old inner dialogs creeping in. Kinda like when you write on a foggy mirror after a hot shower, when the fog clears, the words are gone, but if the shower gets hot enough, you see those words again.

The weekend was supposed to go like this.  Work on Black Friday (my birthday), then drive up to Mansfield for a friendsgiving with my writing group. Then Friday evening, tacos and movie and wording with my BFF. Saturday was supposed to be another write-in with the writing group and Saturday evening was the friendsgiving with the neighbors. Sunday was D&D.

As the week wore on, I started to feel more isolated. I cancelled dinner plans Wednesday, and I really wasn't feeling the whole Thanksgiving vibe. It just felt like my routine was...off. I don't know how to explain it. As of Thursday I really was ready to just bail on the whole driving up to Northern Ohio thing Friday and Saturday. I just wanted to couch burrito. I'm sure part of it was a manifestation of the social anxiety of it being my birthday. I don't know, I don't really do well with my birthday. I haven't in a long time. With my second wife, it seemed like such a non-event, that I came to feel like I really didn't deserve to have anyone make a fuss over my birthday. And part of that still remains.

Still, I didn't sabotage the plans. I made sure I could leave work and head up north. And I did.
And you know what? It was good. I had a good time surrounded by people I love who genuinely care about me. It's a good feeling. And I needed it.

Then Saturday hits. I go to the write-in and have a KICKASS session. I get over 3,000 words in towards my NaNo goal. I'm stoked. But...I haven't heard from any of my neighbors all day. I start to think that they aren't having the get together.  As I'm on the 70 minute drive home and I'm coming up with reasons to bail on them. I'm not feeling well. I need to get words in toward my NaNo goal. Any of a half-dozen reasons that might be socially acceptable and/or believable. Everything except the truth: I'm not really sure that I believe that you want me around. 

I pull in and see the most amazing thing.  This sign:
A post shared by A.T. Skaggs (@atskaggs71) on

And I pretty much laughed my ass off. It was the perfect "OK, My neighbors get me" kind of thing. Apparently they all knew about it and were in on it. That lifted my spirits and cleared the doubt.

So, I pressed on and decided to go to the neighbor gathering. Turns out it was a potluck. Lots of food, lots of libations. Lots of laughter. I was in really good spirits and to the point where I couldn't believe that I had doubted that they wanted me to hang out with them.

And then I got in to a discussion with one of my neighbors about writing. And it felt weird to be seen as the mentor when I myself still feel like I have so much to learn. I guess the thing with that is, I'm putting myself out there. I'm not perfect. And I'm definitely not where I want to be, but I'm following my dreams. And that kind of juju is powerful. I see it in my friends who are doing the same with their writing (and that's why they inspire me to keep going).

So, all that is going on. We're hanging out and then I hear, "OK. we're gonna sing now." And a coupdl of my friends walk in from the kitchen to the living room with a candled cake and they start singing happy birthday (to Toddammit, of course). 

And I very nearly lose my shit. As a writer, my ability to form words is my currency. I can tell you in that moment, I was flat broke. I had no words.

A surprise party. They turned it into a surprise party that they had been planning for days. I was beyond touched. It is the greatest gift to feel loved by those close to you. The love I got this weekend was amazing. My cup truly runs over now.

But, I think back to a year ago. Could I have done it then?What if I had bailed? It's just odd to track how far I feel I have come.

So, I guess I'm writing this post for 3 reasons. The first is so I can get some words in for NaNo today and not feel like as much of a slacker as I do.  The second is that I feel that if I don't document something, then it's almost like it didn't happen. This way, I can come back to this post in the future and see where I am then and how far I have come from the day I wrote this.

And the third is that there is a small part of me that thinks this post might help someone else. I feel like I'm not the only one that goes through this twisted shit and thinks I'm going crazy. And it was a revelation to me when I had friends come to me last year and say "Dude, I don't have my shit together either. Get some help. Get out of the rabbit hole." I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist.  The whole 'you are not alone' is so HUGE in this kind of thing. Humans are not meant to be solitary creatures (I say as I sit alone in my apartment), having connection is what makes us truly able to feel alive, in my humble opinion.

So, if you see me out somewhere and I seem quiet or reserved, don't think I'm shy. I'm not. Chances are, it's early on and I'm still trying to talk myself into believing that I actually belong there. When I do, though, watch out. I may be an introvert, but I can rock the shit out of a party once I get going. It's like a British Christopher Walken baby!

Alright. I need to go check on laundry and see about getting some more words in somewhere else.

Thanks for indulging me here tonight. If you identified with anything in here, know that you are not alone.

Peace,
Todd

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