Last night was ROUGH y’all. My brain was working overtime to clock in some Social Anxiety hours keeping me from sleeping and making me insane.
And I mean “insane” in the real sense. I know we’re all trying to be more conscious about how we use words like “insane” and “crazy” since people like me need those words for times like this, and we want them to be interpreted exactly how we mean them.
Last night, at one point, I thought: This is why I didn’t leave my house for several years between 2005 and 2009. I hesitate to use the word “agoraphobic” to describe those years because I did not have a diagnosis, did not even see a mental health professional, and I did manage to hold down jobs outside the home during that time. But I do have memories of the times I had to be around people outside of work and family and those memories are shadowed very heavily with dark clouds of severe anxiety and fear and I know I missed out on a LOT of things to avoid those feelings. Would I have been diagnosed as agoraphobic? I’m pretty sure, since every therapist since has not hesitated to use that word to describe those years as we try to keep myself from falling back into those habits again. And last night I remembered how severe it all was as I had a very bad episode.
Here’s the thing. We all talk about social anxieties now, which is great because it makes me feel less alone. Unfortunately, I feel like this has dampened the language a bit so when I describe to you what my brain was doing you may think, Oh, yeah! My brain does that too! But that’s why I used the word “insane” because last night I honestly felt as though I was losing my damn mind.
Okay. So I had a great day yesterday, meeting a friend for lunch that I haven’t seen in 25 years. It was lovely and wonderful and it just soothed my soul.
But my damn broken brain yesterday…as I did that thing we all do where we replay moments of the day…could not stop spiraling around mundane “mistakes” I made. And I use the quotes around “mistakes” because several of the instances my brain was hyper-focused on, were not even errors so much as Things I Would Just Like To Have Handled More Gracefully.
It’s weird, over the years of therapy and educating myself on conquering my social anxieties, I’ve built an arsenal of tools to help me A) get out the door to gather with people and B) avoid catastrophic panic attacks. It’s been a long time since my brain spiraled out of control in these hyper-analytical episodes where I basically was just destroying myself last night over every little gestures I made and syllable I uttered.
It was one of the times where I’m acutely aware of my physical reactions to anxiety. I was exhausted yesterday, even considered taking a nap between lunch and picking up my Mom from work. I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. But when it came time for “bed” while I was neck deep drowning in anxiety…sleep was very far from my physical abilities. My heart was racing (I know this because my watch monitors it) and my head was throbbing and I was feeling queazy. And from about 7pm until midnight my brain was a train running out of control on a track and I was doing everything I could to stop it.
I could not stop regretting everything I said and did at lunch. And then that spiraled me into other areas of my life, like Facebook where I suddenly worried I had offended someone on an article I shared out and I worried I was giving assvice on a friend’s post about her back. The friend was LITERALLY ASKING FOR ADVICE, but I was just suffocating with worry about whether or not I should have given her advice or kept my mouth shut. It was like the retroactive anxiety from lunch with an old friend created a ripple effect and I was questioning every text I sent and ever conversation I had and I even was worried I was really rude to the cashier at CVS when I picked up Mom’s medicine. The train was rushing down the mountain and taking every mundane social encounter from my day with it.
It was like the years of therapy and education about social anxieties and coping skills were GONE. I could not get my brain to change focus. I read, I walked, I ran errands, I watched Twilight, (What? You know that’s my mental health retreat movie!) I listened to podcasts I’ve heard 100 times already, I did guided meditations, I focused on breathing, I watched my favorite YouTube comedy groups, I did EVERYTHING I COULD to stop my runaway brain and NOTHING WORKED.
And let me be clear: ALL OF THESE THINGS NORMALLY WORK. I don’t know if it was because yesterday had more weight than normal social encounters (when you haven’t seen someone in 25 years there can be a lot of pressure on the situation) or if it was just because my life is just hovering at a higher-anxiety level lately so my threshold has dropped a bit. Either way, none of my coping skills worked. NONE OF THEM. It was one of the many times I thought I understand why people think they’re dying if they are suffering an unfamiliar anxiety attack. Because it SUCKS. But I know the signs and the symptoms and while I felt like I was dying, I knew I was not. I was just going temporarily insane.
Although, I started to doubt it was temporary as coping tool after coping tool failed. It was then where I wished – for the first time – that I had a prescription for something for acute attacks still. It’s been so long since I’ve had isolated panic attacks I haven’t needed anything like Xanax in years but MAN, last night? Made me reconsider letting go of that prescription.
Finally, around 11pm (knowing I had to get up at 4am to start a day that included driving back to Huntsville), I took a couple of melatonin and put in one of my longer guided meditations and hoped the melatonin would kick in while I tried my best to really focus on the guide.
It must have worked. My alarm went off 40 minutes ago so I actually fell asleep. And my brain feels much more like it’s under my control this morning, and not under the control of my social anxieties. I mean, I still have a few things I wish I’d handled differently yesterday, but today my brain is working enough to understand A) it’s not near as bad as I felt like it was yesterday and B) it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of important relationships.
That’s the most important thing I try to remember when I’m suffering from extreme social anxieties. If someone is going to seriously judge you for your social inadequacies (which for the record, this friend TOTALLY would NOT do), then they are not worth the part of your soul you give them in worrying about the interactions before or after the encounter. And NORMALLY, it helps to understand that but last night it did not help to understand ANYTHING.
Nope. Last night the train was just barreling down the tracks down the mountain and I just had to hold on and wait for the valley I trusted was coming in the distance.
But it was the first time in a LONG TIME that I’ve had that severe of an attack. And I’ll tell you this: I think my plan to maybe not try to attend some upcoming high school reunion activities is probably a good plan. I had already been thinking I’d avoid them as I already had plans that overlap, but I was considering squeezing in a short visit before my other plans started. But now? I don’t know. Part of me says: DO NOT LET THE ANXIETY WIN. But the other part of me has no desire to have another episode and maybe right now I need to understand that my mental health is a little more fragile than usual and so I should take necessary precautions to avoid triggering any bad episodes.
Y’ALL. IT WAS ROUGH.
But I’m better now. And so very grateful for years of better. Those dark years that social anxieties keeping me trapped at home were rough and if nothing else, last night reminded me how much better things have been in the last 10 years.