A few weeks ago I received an invitation to a luncheon with the ladies on my block. I have had a lot of social anxiety being around my neighbors, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, some of these neighbors are cliquish and I have often been left out of the loop. Two, there is some weirdness that I cannot put my finger on. Two of the women on my block will not speak to me or even say hi in passing- I have no idea why- and this behavior is just bizarre to me.
I also have a history of going to various social functions over the years in this neighborhood (baby showers, birthdays, holiday parties, etc.) and really suffering with severe panic attacks and really disturbing anxiety symptoms.
So when I got this invitation back in November I didn’t really think much of it. I RSVP’d “No” that I couldn’t make it because of another commitment.
Well, remember back in September I told you I joined the gym? It was really hard for me at first, because as luck would have it, there was often anywhere from 1 to 4 of these cliquey neighbors in my yoga classes. I pressed on and kept going to the classes, both for the physical benefits and also so I could learn to sit in a room with these people and just be ok with it.
I kept at it and still do. Joining the gym has been a wonderful experience for me.
Ok so back to the luncheon. I received a phone call the other day from one of my neighbors – she is like the clique ringleader, but basically a nice person. She said something like, “Jill, we really want you to go with us to lunch this week. It’s going to be so fun, are you sure you can’t go?”
This girl extended her hand to me and reached out, and I was really touched. I told her as much and said, alright, I’ll go!
As soon as we hung up, the anxiety set in really bad. I was overwhelmed. The logistics of this luncheon were a this anxious person’s worst nightmare:
We had to carpool for an hour each way to the restaurant. That– being trapped in a car with these people– freaked the hell out of me, and I started to frantically think of a way I could back out again.
Somewhere in the midst of my anxious thoughts, I decided to put all my tools of anxiety self help into use. Somewhere deep inside I knew I could get through this. I knew if I had a panic attack in the car, it would pass and I would survive.
So I decided to use the days leading up to the luncheon to really practice all my tools for anxiety recovery. I went back and re-read my go to books on anxiety.
I went to the Anxiety Tips & Help page several times, and re-read some of the posts that have helped me in the past.
And I did something else- I made myself an audio recording of my voice giving myself a pep talk to give me the strength to go to this function. (This “pep talk” became the anxiety self help audio that I shared with you yesterday.)
I also shared with people that understood what I was going through for support. And of course I prayed. A Lot.
When I woke up yesterday- the day of the luncheon, I was slightly nervous, but my thoughts were in control. I refused to indulge in any what if thinking? You know– What if I throw up in the car? – That sort of thing. I refused to play that old game.
After I was dressed and ready to go, I listened to my anxiety self help audios over and over again. At least 4 times.
I had some butterflies in my stomach when I left the house, but it was not unbearable. Riding in the car turned out to be easier than I expected. (Since I am hard wired to expect the worst, any anxiety triggering event ALWAYS turns out to be easier than I expect.)
It was as if I was on autopilot- I was naturally not exaggerating any nervous symptoms that arose, I remained rational in my head and refused to add any second fear to any first fears that arose. I was able to converse with the other ladies in the car, and best of all, I didn’t even have a panic attack! It was wonderful.
I don’t care to sit in any restaurant for 3 hours, but that’s what ended up happening. Overall it was really ok- I was able to see this luncheon for what it really was– a pre-holiday gathering of neighbors just enjoying a fancy meal together. And nothing more. It wasn’t overly exciting, and was absolutely not worthy of the mental hell I would have put myself through if I had given in to my anxiety and not gone.
I was so grateful to God that I decided to go to this event and not back off because of social anxiety.
Please know that if you want to succeed at something like this – like going out to lunch- even if you have panic attacks and social anxiety, it can be done. You can not only go, but you can go and even enjoy yourself. What a concept!
If someone told me 5 years ago I would be able to take a one hour ride to and from a restaurant in a crowded car with 6 neighbors who I wasn’t comfortable with, and then sit at a round table with 10 other women I wasn’t really comfortable with for 3 hours- I would have told them they were out of their freaking minds.
The only thing that is out of my mind today is my anxiety. Please remember, I’m nobody special. I just decided I have HAD IT with living a constricted and fearful life because of my panic disorder and social anxiety. I am proving to myself that with continued gentle exposure to my feared situations, using my calm, inner voice of reason, and my anxiety self help tools, I am truly getting better.
And remember, if I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT TOO!
Do you have any recent successes to share with your anxiety? I’d love to hear them!
I wish you peace,
ps- If you want to get a copy of the anxiety self help audios I made, you can check them out here. They really work!
photo credit: http://www.lanecountywcr.com/