Well, this is awkward.
I like to write when I’m happy and sometimes when I’m angry (anger makes me funnier!), which is like 87% of the time.
When I don’t like to write is when I’m struggling with something that I don’t like to talk about – namely, crippling social anxiety. It’s no fun. It’s kind of the skeleton in the closet. Because most people, when they meet me, are like “oh! You’re not anxious/awkward/weird/nervous at all! You’re great!”
That’s because it takes days if not weeks for me to mentally prepare myself for going to some sort of social event. Especially one where I don’t feel that I know anyone. I understand the phrase “herculean effort” in the context of going to a comic convention, which is something I enjoy.
To be frank, I don’t even know why I’m writing this. Maybe it’s to give other people out there some hope? I don’t exactly have tips for managing this; I am not a poster child for healthy habits. But I guess I can describe what happens to me, and if someone out there finds this helpful, then that’s great.
Without further ado, I present “The Polymath’s Guide to Dealing With it.”
Step 1: Sign up for the event, momentarily forgetting that you will be curled up in the fetal position when you finally realize that you have to be around people, in public.
It’s all fun and games when someone’s filling out a registration form. All of your Twitter friends are doing it, and you know that it’s going to be fun. Why wouldn’t you sign up?
Step 2: Forget about the event because you registered like 18 months in advance, to make sure that you could get a ticket, and go on about your life.
Life moves on. Not going would be worse than going, so we’ve done our due diligence and signed up just as soon as possible. Because it’s way worse to say you’re going to go, talk it up a bunch, and then miss it because you failed to sign up.
Step 3: As the event approaches, begin making a list of all of the things that could go wrong.
The event could be cancelled; inclement weather could crop up and cause flooding; the venue might experience a fire; a spontaneous mosh pit might form right around your 5ft person; your car could break down; your flight could be cancelled; your plane could crash; a meteor could strike the Earth; alien invasion; you might get sick; everyone there might speak a language that you don’t understand; the power could go out in the entire city; your favorite shirt might be dirty the day of; they might not have functional bathrooms; you will have to walk all over a city you don’t know with a giant suitcase that just screams “MUG ME! I DON’T BELONG HERE”, and you’ll get mugged, and no one will believe that you are you because you will have no proof, and they’ll end up arresting you, and you get out, and no one answers their phones, and now you’re homeless.
Step 4: Become hyper-aware of all things related to the event, reading into each one of them.
Start checking the weather for the area. Learn the public transit time tables. Read up on crime. Double, triple, and quadruple check your reservations for hotels and travel because you probably actually forgot to make the reservations, and you’ll be stranded.
Step 5: A few days before you need to leave, start panicking.
Full blown. Take an hour long shower with your head tucked between your knees, so you can breathe. The world is literally crashing down around you because of your silly notions of being around people.
Step 6: Apologize to your family for being so weird and fixated on this thing
They already know this about you, but go ahead and bemoan the fact that you keep doing this. They will remind you that you’ve done it before, and everything has turned out just fine, and you’ll actually enjoy yourself. Agree with them, but secretly don’t believe them because this time will be different, and you know it.
Step 7: Distract yourself
Watch funny movies or tv shows; play an embarrassing number of hours of video games; write blog posts, poking fun at yourself
Step 8: Don’t sleep the night before your departure
Sleep is for wimps.
Step 9: Fake it ’til you make it
At the end of the day, money you’ve paid trumps the fears, so you put on a brave face and head out. No one needs to know that on the inside, you’re just a knotted ball of anxiety and self berating. Spend the entire social event working overtime to not let your fears bleed out over everyone you meet. Smile and joke and laugh, secretly fighting off whispers that all of those people are actually laughing at you. Make sure no one sees your forced deep breaths.
Step 10: Go home and recover
Spend at least a week sequestered in your home, speaking only to those with whom it is necessary to converse. Eat whatever food is available in your house – grocery shopping is too disastrous. Play a game that you know you’ll win, so you feel like you’re accomplishing something.
4 thoughts on “The Polymath’s Guide to Dealing With It”
SAM! This article is amazing, one because I always tell white lies about why I can’t be somewhere or why I can’t go, like Dreamforce this year. This is the first year I’m not going, and I have a free ticket because I run a user group, surely I COULD make it work.
Why? I’m afraid of my own butt? I don’t like being forced to sit at dinners where I’m too nervous to eat and having people ask why I’m not eating makes me so nervous I get nauseous and on and on and on. This kind of scenario hits me at every “group/team” event where people stare at me and wonder why I can’t slam all the free booze and so on. If I wasn’t so focused on just breathing and making it through a moment, yeah free food/ANYTHING would be great!
Last year at 3am prepping for the airport I just started crying sobbing like a little baby knowing how badly I handle these kinds of events with so much going on. I threw up (out of fear) at the airport drop off zone where everyone noticed and my worst case scenario happened – puking at the terminal zone, yep its really as bad as I thought it would be glad I can tuck that memory away lol.
I’ve been on a million flights I don’t even have nerves, it’s just the idea of being out of my comfort zone, having someone else think I’m weird for not being able to party all night after walk 20 miles to score up sessions. It all became – TOO MUCH!!! I have anxiety about the anxiety I have to hold in my gut and inside.
Thank you for sharing, I’m not alone. I’m a social extrovert too, but the idea of it all exhausts me to no end. Every now and then I meet people who get it, like those who suffer from car sickness or another ailment. I just want to make sure I don’t let it control me and I go do the things I love to do. My goal for next year is attend/register and GO to MWD and Dreamforce. Maybe I’ll get really wild and make it to a world tour.
Thank you for sharing with me; and you’re spot on, anxiety about the anxiety is almost worse.
Love love this post! I can totally relate! I’m totally cool around crowds and up on stage, but small talk (or even the possibility of having to make small talk) sends me into that quivering balled up mess in the shower! I suck at it! But needless to say you rocked Step 9 at Midwest Dreamin’! Wouldn’t have even known you had anxiety if you hadn’t posted! I’m so glad we got to meet in real life and hope we can spend time together at Dreamforce! We can melt down together!
Thank you – I’m so glad we got to meet, too!