The Battle Scars of Social Anxieties

Back in 2010 (I think?) Donnie completed his first triathlon training class at Fleet Feet and wanted our family to attend the pool party they were having to celebrate. I remember really dreading the thought of it. The triathlon season had taken me to a bad place as I was bitter and jealous that he had this activity outside of the house (I was still a stay at home Mom and miserable) and that he had all of these fit and trim friends and I was not doing anything athletic but taking care of the kids and maintaining a constant level of grumpiness.

But he wanted us all to go to this pool party and I wanted it to storm so it would be canceled.

We went, but I didn’t want to talk to any of his fancy triathlon friends, and I didn’t want to hang out around fit people, so I got in the pool with the kids and basically stayed there the entire time. We got out to eat, quickly, while giving everyone the side-eye, and then I made Donnie take us home.

For awhile there, it was MY face next to the word “party pooper” in the dictionary.

I remember the discomfort of being at that party VIVIDLY, even now, 6 years later. I don’t remember talking to anyone and I used my kids as shields all night long.

Little did I know that I was going to join a boot camp (that would also TERRIFY ME) that would lead to making friends and gaining confidence and six years later I’d be in book clubs and triathlon training groups and trail running groups and I’d be embracing Donnie’s triathlon career with matching t-shirts and spectating plans and I’d still feel uncomfortable in a bathing suit but I wouldn’t let that ruin my fun.

I still have my issues. I still need twice as much alone time to come DOWN from a social outing as the outing took to begin with, and I still am constantly embarrassing myself with my awkwardness. But I’m getting out there. And I’m keeping the bitterness at a more tolerable level.

My biggest hurdle is that there is still a part of me that assumes everyone hates me. Not a HUGE part, but it’s still back there and it comes to the surface when I do something stupid. I recently called someone the wrong name, TO HER FACE, and didn’t even realize it until the ride home. And I swear, not a day goes by where I don’t consider how much she probably dislikes me now. I try to be logical, and put myself in her shoes and think Wow. If someone called me the wrong name like that I would be SO EMBARRASSED FOR THEM, that I’d go out of my way to be kind so they wouldn’t stress out about it. So, that part of my brain doesn’t hate myself, but the rest of me? Every time I remember that I did it (which is constantly) I moan – AUDIBLY. There’s something that triggers the memory, which autoplays without my authorization, and to stop it I’ll say – OUT LOUD – “Nope. No. Noooo.”

The other day my daughter heard me do that and said, “What? No, what?” And I said, “Sorry…I just remembered something embarrassing I did and I was trying to stop remembering.” She said, “Oh, man. I know that feeling.”

Because she is her Mother’s Daughter.

Sometimes I’m still not emotionally capable of dealing with social situations. There might be a gathering I’m supposed to attend and if I’ve had a high anxiety day in other areas, it might be hard for me to let go enough to put my best foot forward for a group event. I have to prepare for them, emotionally, so sometimes I still cancel or back out. But most of the time? I actually look forward to them. I have made enough friends now, in the last 5 years of conquering my social anxieties, that I’m rarely going to a function where I’ll be entirely alone. I’ve also gathered an arsenal of tools to help me cope in social situations. The most powerful one being: ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS. I found that if I can keep other people talking? I lessen my chance to do something asinine.

But I’m still a complete fool. I still say and do stupid things all the time. I still replay events over for days and pick out all of the dumb things I said and did to hate myself over. There’s still always a small part of me that would rather stay home. Sometimes that part of me is quiet or I can ignore it, but it always celebrates if something gets canceled because deep down – that part of me still just wants to sit in her pajamas every night and watch TV.

The scars are still there, but I still go because I’ve found so much good in the world through meeting people that I’ve decided the balance is in the favor of getting out of the house. I went to book club last night, even not having read the book, and being surrounded by those wonderful women for a couple of hours gave me so much joy and positive energy in my life that I couldn’t believe that I almost didn’t attend the first one they invited me to 5+ years ago.

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Finding My Bliss Without Religion

I closed my eyes and felt a cold breeze on my face this weekend for a split moment when I was hot and tired and it felt wonderful and amazing and I said to my friend Chelsea, “How else would I really get the chance to appreciate a cool breeze than in a moment like this?” In that moment…in the middle of a great weekend full of my favorite trails, my favorite friends, and my favorite music…I just felt blissful. It was a good break from the stretch of anxiety and stress I’ve been feeling getting used to a new work schedule and keeping my house clean and general First World Middle Class White Woman Problems…which aren’t really problems at all in the grand scheme of things.

Photo obviously taken by Chelsea. Seriously, the breeze was THAT good.

Photo obviously taken by Chelsea. Seriously, the breeze was THAT good.

But it was a blissful moment that gifted me with some much needed calm and perspective. And as a child I didn’t believe that anyone could feel those moments of joy and peace without God/religion. I used to imagine that the heart of someone who didn’t have faith in God and love for Jesus, would be full of angst and darkness and distress. I imagined the godless were unable to achieve peace and unable to feel good. I didn’t know anyone growing up who didn’t have some form of religion or God in their lives, so to me – those people were living in a dark world without love or beauty because they had no forgiveness for their sins so they were incapable of experiencing true joy.

Now, no one TOLD me that, it was just the picture I drew of the world because of the constant discussion of how important it was that we try to “save” those people who had not been saved. Their lives were terrible without God and it was up to us to send missionaries to all parts of the world to pull them out of that darkness and into the light of God’s love and forgiveness. We were taught to pity those without God, to feel sorry for them. And I’m sad for that girl who thought that the godless world was dark and that agnostics or atheists or even pagans were living a life less full than she was.

Recently someone asked me when I stopped believing in God – as they knew me being a devout Catholic in my youth – and I honestly couldn’t answer the question. There was no concrete moment or experience that I could point to, just that the belief was gone. I did say that I’m spiritual, and I do have faith in the power of good and love, and I hoped that would ease any concern they may have for my soul. I wanted to send her this picture of my bliss to show her that I was capable of all of the feelings of joy and peace and love that I had enjoyed as a believer, my life was no less full than it was when had religion.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since. How did I go from the girl in high school who went to mass when it wasn’t even required, to the girl now who is very spiritual – but has no belief in any form of a Judeo-Christian God? I remember starting to doubt my religion when I started learning about some of the more complex “rules” of the Catholic Church, and disagreeing with those “rules”. And while I have many Catholic friends who remain in the church in spite of their disagreement with the church’s stance on birth control or divorce, I started feeling like I couldn’t stick around. I’ve always loved the ritual of mass, but I couldn’t quiet the voices in my head whenever I attended. Why was my Dad considered a sinner because his marriage hadn’t been annulled and he had another relationship after my Mom? Why couldn’t I use birth control or be pro-reproductive rights? Why couldn’t priests get married? Why couldn’t women be priests? I couldn’t silence those questions enough to enjoy the mass, so I started looking for other churches.

I went through a strange stretch over the next several years. I spent some time studying Eastern religions, read a lot of books about Buddhism and enlightenment, met with other Buddhists to try to learn more about their belief system. But that interest faded as I never really found people I could learn from, and spirituality is hard to garner from books. I went the other direction for awhile, examining different types of Christian churches. I was facing major personal strife in that time as well, and struggled with the concept of my sins and how – according to many religions – I would be bound for Hell without a faith in God and Jesus. So, I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church, hoping that would relieve my spirit of the guilt of my sins.

But it didn’t. And I still struggled with a lot of the same questions about how I could be part of a church that looked at a gay and straight person differently. I asked someone once, “If a straight person and a gay person are both celibate before marriage, but then they both get married and celebrate the union by making love, how is one a sinner and not the other?” And this was before I knew that I’d be parenting a gay child. The answer revolved around the bible and I never really believed, even at my most devout, that the bible was infallible. I was too much of a believer in Evolution and Natural Selection to believe in the bible’s description of the creation of earth, so using the bible as an explanation of the sin of the my gay friends and family just didn’t sit well.

But I kept searching. I just believed that I had to believe in SOMETHING. I tried different churches, even went back to Catholicism for awhile, because that was familiar, safe. But still…the voices of disbelief got in the way.

And one day, I just started asking myself, “What if I don’t believe in anything? What if I just accept I’m not a Catholic? Or even a Christian? What if I give up?”

And slowly that idea settled and with it a sudden peace at giving up the search for religion. I was immediately forgiven for the sins of my past because there was no one to hold me accountable. And that absence of a judgemental God seemed to motivate me to be accountable for myself. I started feeling that I needed to live my life better, if I was going to live without religion. I felt like I had to be more deliberately good if I didn’t have some religious framework to sustain me. And with every step towards the person I am now, it all just felt right to me. Like I had finally found my church. The church of love and family and friendship and joy and community and none of it revolved around the bible or a dogma. I finally felt the peace I had previously thought only came with faith in God or salvation.

But that peace I felt when I let go of looking for church, is why I still very much relate to religious people. I know that peace and so I understand how – if you get that same peace and fulfillment out of your church – you could be devout and faithful to that belief. I remember the peace it gave me for a long time, so I can totally understand that, but it just doesn’t give it to me now. Now, I get my peace and feel inspired to be good, from the people and the community around me. I have Faith in humanity, in my friends, in my family. I have Faith that if I put good into the universe, it will return to me time and time again. I have Faith in love and that, in it’s purest form, it can truly mend the deepest of wounds to the soul. I believe that we can collaborate to do great things, even in our differences. And I’ve had these beliefs for about a decade now, and I’ve never wavered, even in the slightest.

It wasn’t that I stopped believing in God, I guess. It was that I started believing in myself and in the people around me, and that Faith filled the hole left vacant, and removed my desire to find my religion again. And I wish no one would pity me and my life without God. Because I still find peace and bliss and love – just now I’m often covered in mud during those moments of spiritual joy.

The Weekend Of Woos

Does anyone remember this episode of Friends when Phoebe and Rachel go running?

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I think about Phoebe a lot when I’m running because I tend to be the one who randomly goes, “WOOOOO!” Sometimes it’s because I’m excited, like we’re finally at Death Trail! Or Waterline! Sometimes it’s because I’m getting depressed because there’s SO MUCH MUD and I just need to pull myself out of it. Sometimes it’s because I trip and almost fall and I’m celebrating my save. Other times I trip and fall and am celebrating being injury-free in spite of the fall. Sometimes? I just see someone I know and I like to “WOOO!” when I see my friends.

So, seeing this picture that Gregg Gelmis took from Day 1 of the Stage Race? Brought me so much joy.

That’s me trying to be jumping and enthusiastic for the picture but, in reality, I’m basically doing a Phoebe.

I spent all three days Woo!-ing because I really did have so much fun. Even in the morning when we’re getting ready to start I tried to randomly “Woo!” to show my excitement for the day. Granted, the “Woo!”s got less spirited as the days ticked by, but I got a bit more delusional so they were still there, just with a hint of insanity added to them.

I also “Woo!”ed a lot the Indigo Girls show. I’m the one that, when there’s a good riff (and there were several, this is Amy Ray we’re talking about) I can’t help but scream, “WOOOOOOO!” to celebrate it. Also? They had this violinist who I guess has been recording with them – Lyris Hung and every time she was free to play I had to give her a solid “WOOOOO!” to celebrate.

The race and the concert combined really showcased what I’m now calling Woo Tourettes. I don’t always have control over it, but it’s always a “WOO!” and it’s always released when I’m feeling some sort of extreme excitement or relief. I’m guessing there were no less than 100 “Woo!”s distributed this weekend between three days of racing and one killer concert. If you ever do a race in the woods with me and hear a random “WOO!” – answer back. That’s my favorite! If I can see people on the trail ahead (like we did on Powerline on Sunday) then I’ll “Wooo!” as a greeting…and when they “WOOO!” back? It’s the best.

So many thoughts. So little time.

If you made a list if A) Most fun weekends and B) Most exhausting weekends of my life – this past one would top BOTH lists…probably forever.

From the time I woke up Friday morning at 3:30am to the time I fell asleep last night about 10pm (about 67 hours) I spent 2.5 hours working, 14 hours running, 4 hours at the races NOT running, 10 hours at an art festival, 6 hours at social gatherings, and about 20 hours asleep. The rest of the 10 hours were divided sparsely between Friday, Saturday and Sunday trying my best to maintain things like the house by cleaning and my body by showering. I am exhausted.

But it was great. I have a lot to say about the race and the weekend and the awesomeness in my life but right now I have about 30 seconds before I have to wake up the kids for school and leave for work so what you get instead is one picture from Day 03 that my friend Chelsea took of me taking advantage of an ice cold stream to invigorate my tired legs. 10950688_10153748031763496_6806061783534837729_n

2am Shame Spiral

This has been an INSANE weekend. I ran 13 miles at Day 01 of my stage race on Friday, and then volunteered at our local art festival Friday night. I did that so that I could see Indigo Girls for FREE Saturday night after running 16 miles at Day 02 of our Stage race. All leading up to running 14 miles today at Day 03.

INSANE.

So, you would think I would have been EXHAUSTED last night.

The concert was SO FUN. Nikki and I danced non-stop for 90 minutes. The Indigo Girls were the soundtrack from my high school years, but I kept up with them even beyond that. I knew most of the songs last night but they played several of my favorites. My favorites from a time in my life when I was struggling after my first marriage ended and I was trying to keep my head above water and finish school as a single Mom and the Indigo Girls were my anthem of every day. I saw them several times over the span of about 3 years, once with E when he was 4. Those songs were the nourishment for my soul which needed healing as I was rediscovering who I was in the wake of some crazy changes in my life.

And last night I got to hear several of those SAME SONGS in person, close enough that we could make out the flowers on Emily’s shirt and I could see the sweat dripping off Amy Ray’s forehead. I screamed the lyrics and danced my heart out and laughed and boogied with my daughter and felt SO ALIVE because I haven’t seen a live show in forever, much less music that carried so much emotional weight…I felt high on life in every sense of the word. It was a great night and Nikki had a blast and I’ll never forget it.

But then…of course…because this is ME we’re talking about…I woke up at 1:30am replaying moments from the night and suffering from embarrassment shame spiral.


Should I have hugged that friend? Did I make that awkward?
Should I have screamed when I saw those friends? Did they thing I was drunk?
Why did I talk to the guy with the stage race shirt?
Was I too excited?
How bad of a dancer am I?
Maybe I should have been more calm. I’m almost 40 for chrissakes.
I’m too old to have been acting like a fool like that.

I was so excited to be there yesterday that I embraced everyone I saw, just about. If they didn’t get hugs they got some sort of drunken (I was not drunk on anything but the excitement of my favorite music) and overly excited greeting where I was like a kid bouncing off the walls on Christmas Eve.

And at 2am I started worrying that maybe I was too old for that kind of crap. And even after several exhausting days I could NOT sleep for fear of embarrassment.

WHY?

I had an amazing night with my daughter. I screamed myself hoarse. I danced so hard I can’t tell what is sore today from running or what is from dancing. I felt joy deep in my soul listening to some of my favorite songs and yet…YET…I found myself freaking out over whether I was having TOO much fun for a 40yo.

So…I’m dumping this here. I’m unloading all of that embarrassment and shame here so I can let go of it and maybe just carry the amazing joy I had yesterday, starting out running through the woods with my friends, and ending with one of the most perfect musical performances I’ve ever attended. THERE WERE FIREWORKS DURING CLOSER TO FINE, Y’ALL.

IT WAS AMAZEBALLS.

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