You Are Highest Before Your Fall
Like most mental health issues, Social Anxiety (SA) is hard for many people to understand unless they have experienced it. You can list all the symptoms in the world, but that often leads to people wondering why the person with SA doesn’t ‘just relax’. But I’m going to try anyway.
My own ‘brand’ of social anxiety is a little different from most, in that I can usually handle one-to-one social experiences fine, and I can even handle giving presentations to large groups without anything more than the normal nerves and anxiety. What is difficult for me, however, is large groups where everyone splits into cliques (and I usually find myself excluded from all of them, left floating in between like driftwood), noisy environments, bustle, and lack of personal space. What will really set me off, though, is if I think people are judging or criticising me.
My last post was about how strong and confident I felt. The next day something happened that I am still handling the emotional fallout from. Some friends had planned to meet in a trendy cocktail bar in London for a good friend’s birthday. I arrived quite early thanks to unpredictable public transport so sat down at one of the small bar tables to wait. I didn’t really want to spend much so I drank my drink very slowly, at the same time convincing myself that the bar staff were getting annoyed at me for sitting there for an hour and not buying anything. Of course there was nothing to support this mental conclusion! Anyway, I got through by convincing myself that I’d be ok once the others arrived.
There were supposed to be 12 of us in all so we had reserved a table. This table turned out to be just a slightly larger bar table, with nothing to separate it from the rest of the increasingly full bar other than a rather soggy piece of paper that said ‘reserved’, so it wasn’t a surprise that the kindly bar staff had to shoo a large group of ladies who had occupied the table. They swiftly and slightly begrudgingly took possession of the the next table along, a smaller one. By this time it was myself and three others. Doing our best to look big and take ownership of the table to avoid being invaded by any of the now significant crowd.
At this point my friends decided to go get some drinks in, so they headed to the bar while I was left trying to keep our table on my own with nothing to prove the show that I wasn’t just a selfish arse hogging a whole 12 person table to myself other than a couple of handbags. As I sat there feeling very uncomfortable, I got lots of looks from other customers of the bar who were obviously wondering why I had a table to myself while they had to stand. The group of ladies, who had now been shood again away from their second table, were not at all subtle in their glaring. I felt awful. I knew exactly what they were thinking, and I couldn’t blame them for it. They were in bigger crowds, had drinks, and thus had much more right to a table than I did sat there on my own. The bar had got very noisy, and very crowded. I could no longer see my friends at the bar. The whole place felt like it was looming over me, shouting at me, and about to collapse on me. I wanted nothing more than to escape but obviously I couldn’t leave my friends belongings there. I also felt they would be pissed at me if I lost their table.
My head was spinning, I was shaking, and I could feel me tensing up and closing inwards, as if willing my muscles to tense up so much that they pulled me inside of myself until I vanished into a point. I became hypersensitive to the lights, the noise and it felt like being shut in a giant oven with someone banging the outside with a stick and shouting in my ears while they flashed torches right in my eyes. Everytime someone glanced over at the empty seats next to me I died a little more.
Finally my friends returned, and the second they did I shot out of the bar like a cork from a bottle. I was shaking, I started crying, and a short way down the road I threw up. I was such a mess that my lovely partner, who came out to look after me after I finally stopped walking in random directions and found my way back to civilisation, refused to let me get public transport home and insisted I get in a taxi instead.
So that’s how, in the space of 24 hours, I went from the strongest and most confident I have been in a long time, to the most broken.