On Mental Health

Social Tunnel Vision

Recently someone mentioned in the comments on how far I’ve come with my social anxieties and I thought: What do you mean? I’M STILL TERRIBLE! But then I thought about it on the timeline of the last 14 years (I said 10 originally but then I realized my anxieties started much earlier than that) and I thought: Well…okay…maybe I’m not terrible anymore.

When I turned 30 my friends threw me a surprise party and it was so cool. But I think about it often because the only “current” friend I had there was a neighbor. Everyone else were friends I had made before the social anxieties started taking over my life. The only “current” friend was the previous neighbor in the apartment complex I had lived in. You know – the kind of friend I didn’t have to be “brave” to meet because our doors were right next to each other.

That was in 2005, and things didn’t get better until after Dad died in 2009. When Dad died, once again it was family and “old” friends. No one “current” because I hadn’t braved making friends since 2001 (the year I graduated from college…I left all of my usable social skills behind when I graduated) and I remember thinking: Thank goodness I made friends before 2001 or I’d have no one here that wasn’t blood related.

IMG_6551Now, here I am, about to turn 40, and I excitedly greeted several people I call friends last night. I looked around at this triathlon class I’m doing (another terrifying topic for another day) and I thought, These are all new friends! After Dad died and I started braving terrifying events again (like boot camps, and book clubs, and training programs, and triathlon classes, and theatre production teams) I started making friends again and you know what? I HAVE COME A LONG WAY!

Of course, then I had to talk in front of the group last night and I had to fight off that TERRIBLE tunnel vision that starts up when I’m talking in front of groups. I see the darkening around the peripheral vision, my chest gets tight, and many times my mouth opens and something COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE comes out. (TRUE STORY: Once I was running with some people I don’t know very well but who are high on my “hero runner” list and I was nervous talking so I casually laughed about taking a pregnancy test when I was 18. HAHAHAHHA! ISN’T THAT A FUNNY STORY? I HAD A BABY WHEN I WAS STILL A TEENAGER! HAHAHAHAH! ) Now, nothing inappropriate came out of my mouth last night, but I did just do this thing where I looked around the entire room every time I talked and just kept making eye contact with the coach because he doesn’t make me nervous so somehow he was stabilizing me to keep me from falling apart completely.

When those moments happen I feel like I’ve made no progress whatsoever, but then I look around and see all of those people I was excited to see…people I waved at or greeted enthusiastically…and I remind myself how awesome that is. One other good indicator is that there’s a local restaurant we go to and we ALWAYS run into people we know there. Old Kim? Would mean it was time to put that place on the DO NOT VISIT list because I used to hate running into people I knew in public. I needed preparation! What do I say? How to I stop from awkwardly discussing my uncomfortable bra? RUN AWAY!

But this place? I love going to FOR that reason. When we leave and haven’t seen anyone we know? I feel disappointed.

And that’s HUGE. I’ve gone from running away when I see someone I know in public, to excitedly greeting them. Now, I might still mention my bowel distress or something incredibly awkward, but I won’t run away! PROGRESS.

So I celebrate my progress. I’m not ever going to become a people-loving extrovert. But I feel like I’m now comfortable being a friend-making introvert. Which is huge progress from the Homebody Introvert I was before.

It is a good place to be. I’ll take it.

4 thoughts on “Social Tunnel Vision”

  1. Next time you get tunnel vision, look my way and I’ll make some goofy face at ya. 😛

  2. I was thinking this exact same thing last night! I was at a baseball practice for my son, who is entering his third year playing in this league, and was amazed at how many people I knew and actually wanted to talk to! This year is my 25th high school reunion and I won’t go because I hate seeing people I know, but I think maybe I’m becoming better at talking to other adults. It’s kind of disconcerting, actually 🙂

  3. It is funny! Well, i mean, teenage pregnancy is not funny as a whole, but you and E both turned out pretty great, so you now get to joke about it and have it be funny. You HAVE come a long way! you’re way too hard on yourself 🙂

  4. I am super happy to be on the “new friends” list 🙂

    My social anxiety generally revolves around worrying about people liking me. Or the dreaded, “DO THEY LIKE ME AS MUCH AS I LIKE THEM??” Thankfully I am finally learning to let go of the always ALWAYS damaging desire to make everyone around me like me, but I still struggle with frequent thoughts of whether or not my friends really enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs.

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