Last Saturday I went to a surprise birthday party for a friend I went to college with. I’d known about the party for a few weeks and most of the people there were going to be people I went to college with and their spouses. My best friend of 21 years was also there. I was really looking forward to it.
I got extremely anxious beforehand anyway. A lot of people don’t understand that it’s possible to want to do something very much and still be anxious and nervous about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve expressed anxiety about something only to be told, “Then don’t do it,” or “So stay home.” But it’s not that simple. Sometimes I do just want to stay home, but other times I want to do the thing. Anxiety doesn’t care, though. It still shows up.
I was asked to bring an appetizer sort of thing, and I wanted to contribute, but I am a horrible cook so it ended up being a source of stress for me. Because of that and other factors, I cried several times before the party.
Just in case anyone is reading this who doesn’t experience social anxiety, here are some of the things that went through my head before and during the party. Maybe it’ll make it a little easier to understand why those of us who deal with this get weepy, irritable, tense or quiet before social situations.
- If I cook something and it sucks I’ll end up crying and staying home.
- If I take something store-bought it will seem like I don’t care.
- Everyone else is going to look so pretty and cool. I’ll be the fattest and ugliest one there.
- C and M always have really cool clothes on. My clothes are so boring.
- If I wear long sleeves will it be weird since it’s so hot outside? If I wear short sleeves people will see my scars and think bad stuff about me.
- What if the lights are too bright or the air freshener makes me sick? Everyone will think I’m a baby if I say I’m sick and leave early.
- BFF didn’t answer my texts. She’s probably just hanging on to our friendship out of guilt and a sense of nostalgia. I’m probably so annoying and she’s tired of me talking about my feelings every time we converse.
- I’ll be the only one there who isn’t married. I’m not married yet because I have BPD and I’m bad and shitty and unlovable. Are they going to figure that out? Will I be an outsider?
- I haven’t seen some of these people in years. I don’t know what I’m going to say. They see each other more often. I’m going to get left out.
- What if I trip and fall or break something?
- What if I clog the toilet?
- My boyfriend is going to spend the whole time thinking about how much funnier, prettier, smarter, cooler, and more confident the other girls there are.
- Why would he want to be with me, especially when I have BPD and I’m so anxious about this?
- My hair looks stupid.
- I still suck at doing make up.
- What if there’s an earthquake or a tornado and I die away from home?
- What if someone asks when we are going to get married? I’ll cry from embarrassment.
- I’m going to panic if the house is too crowded and loud.
- Everything I say sounds so dumb and annoying.
- People don’t really want me around.
I know these don’t sound like the thoughts of someone who wants to be at a party, but I truly did. I loved seeing my friends and their spouses. Three of them have children and playing with them was so cool. We laughed a lot and reminisced and talked about our lives now. If I could turn off the worry and anxiety, I would, but I don’t have that ability yet.
I think most of the thoughts are caused by a mixture of self-esteem and fear of abandonment. Others are pure fear, like being afraid of dying away from home. Sometimes being social isn’t worth the anxiety for me, but this time it was.