For years I thought I didn’t like people; I have always struggled with Social Interactions and would panic whenever I knew a social event was coming up.
I developed social anxiety, it has ruled my life for years, I avoided people when possible. School was a struggle, Work was a struggle, friendships broke down and I didn’t always know why.
Last year I attended a Social Anxiety Course/Group. Due to lockdown it was all online. The course gave me many different tools to use, it explained the why, and how the brain works.
During the first lookdown I was in my element, no social interactions or events to contend with.
After the first lockdown, I found it really difficult to get back to where I was socially, I literally dreaded getting up every morning knowing I had to do the school run and engage in ‘small talk, because I stopped doing anything social it was much harder to to do. I started to put in place and use the tools I had learned through the course and stopped focusing so intently on what my Anxiety was doing.
I learnt a long time ago avoidance generated more anxiety and snowballed into other areas, by avoiding one thing, I would need to avoid others and lose the ability to do it. It would have a huge impact on my Mental Health. As long as I kept facing the problem or fear, however difficult it was, I would be able to keep doing it.
This lockdown I have really struggled, Lockdown has forced Social Isolation on us, and my Mental Health declined further. Despite finding them difficult, I have really missed those social interactions, I have missed seeing the mums at the school gate, I have missed seeing my family and friends.
Turns out I like people and I like spending time with people; it was my Anxiety and the effect it was having on me that I didnt like. It’s well known that Autistic people and people with social anxiety find social situations difficult, it caused me to dread those interactions because of the fear of what people thought of me, the social misunderstandings and mistakes I make. Spending so much time trying to fit in and be ‘normal’ produced its own set of fears , especially when I thought I had failed and believed I was broken.
I have to choose and plan which social events I attend, I still find anything social zaps my energy levels quickly due to the amount of effort I have to put in and due to the sensory sensitivities. I have to put in boundaries and use what I have learnt to cope with them.
- Don’t plan to many events for one day, 1 week – it causes me to become overwhelmed and experience high levels of Anxiety if I have to much to do in one day. By knowing how much I can handle and planning my week, it helps to reduce Anxiety and enables me to handle any unplanned events better.
- Leave early if I need too – I know I can only cope for so long, due to my Anxiety and energy levels, as long as I leave before I reach the point of being tipped over the edge I will avoid experiencing panic attacks.
- Recovery time – social interactions and events leave me feeling exhausted and with increased anxiety, especially when there are a lot of people, loud music, or a lot of things going on. Allowing myself time to recover at home afterwards and engaging in self-care, it helps to increase my energy levels and decrease my Anxiety levels.
- Preparing before a social event – if there is an event I know I am going to really struggle with, I have to prepare myself for it before hand. This can be lots of self-care and spending time doing what I enjoy. By doing this I find I am less likely to ‘burnout and need less recovery time afterwards.
- Reduce the pressure I put on myself and know my limits – I expect far to much of myself at times, I feel have felt that I should be able to cope better than I do, I will push my limits. It doesn’t achieve anything, I just end up feeling rubbish and self-critical.
Is fitting in and being like everyone else really that important?
I certainly used to think so, I used to think I needed to be liked and had to have loads of friends to be successful. Now, not so much.
Therapy made me realise that people do accept me for who I am and I am likeable. I have friends, ok its not a big group of friends that I go partying with, but they are friends I can go for a coffee and a chat with, friends who mean the world to me. Some I have met online and a couple I have known since I was 3. They know the difficulties I have and don’t judge me for them, they don’t take offence if I need to leave early or if I have to cancel.
I have a partner who ‘gets me’ too, he knows I can only cope with things for so long before needing some time to myself, he may stay at some events while I go off on my own for a while or he will come with me. He doesn’t criticise me or gets annoyed with me for it, he won’t expect me to exceed my limits and will support me with it. It’s been that way long before Autism mentioned and I feel lucky to have his love and support.
With all this new knowledge and with the skills CBT has taught me, I am feeling more positive. Its learning what my limits are and implementing coping strategies to deal with them. I finally feel like I am getting somewhere.