But before I get to that, let’s walk down my social timeline, shall we?
My social “growth” history as an adult is already a strange one because your ability to build strong friendships is hampered if you’re…well…a mess. I became a Mom at 19 and definitely was not quite sure of who I was yet and who I wanted to be so I had a weird few years where I was learning to be a Mom and going to college and “finding myself”…I was social AS HELL, but I was also terrible.
I actually had trouble being alone when I was in college. I always needed to be around people and I was constantly making friends with strangers. Every new semester was a chance to meet new people in my new classes. I jumped into hacky-sack circles (AM OLD) and found groups to take smoke breaks with. I prided myself on meeting new people and making “new friends” all the time. And if I wasn’t at school? I’d constantly be at the houses of my Mom-friends. I hated being alone. HATED IT.
But because I was a mess back then (should have recognized the signs when I didn’t want to be alone ever) I didn’t do a good job developing good friendships because I was selfish and constantly shitting on people. Then I had the year of reckoning when all of my shit caught up with me and I was forced to be alone and that kinda started the beginning of my battle with social anxieties.
Over the next two years I spent a lot of time alone, finishing up my second Bachelor’s degree and trying to learn to be a good Mom who was not caught up in weird maturity/social hell. (There’s a reason no one encourages 19-year olds to become Mothers.) I met Donnie during this time and was weirdly honest with him early on about how big of a mess I was. I had friendships – some old/rekindled, some new – but I was definitely more focused on my family than on my social life.
The next few years was me trying to build my family with Donnie and navigate my grown-up life by working full time and buying our first house and setting up retirement plans and battling multiple miscarriages and fertility issues. We didn’t socialize much during that time, but that is the time where I started blogging so I was making friends online. It was all I felt like I had time for, and it allowed me to be social without dealing with the anxieties I had in face-to-face interactions.
Unfortunately, Dad died in 2009 and I realized that while online friends were good for a lot of things, they weren’t great at giving hugs when you were grieving. I did have a couple of real-world friends who were instrumental…but it felt weird. My Dad was dead and I didn’t have this circle of support build around me like I felt like I should have. It just seemed like a 30-something grown women with kids and a career and a family should have…more friends around when her Dad died? Or something?
And that’s when I realized I needed to try to put myself out there more. I needed to conquer those anxieties and try to make more friends who could give me hugs when I needed them.
So for the next 10 years I joined book clubs and running groups. I went to political gatherings and community events. I went to neighborhood block parties and charity fundraisers. I worked to make a lot of friends, good friends, and those people have been there to hug me when I’ve needed it and it’s been great. I was doing a lot of therapy during this time to help as well, personal growth was instrumental in fighting my way around my social anxieties.
But the last three months I’ve realized: I AM DEVOLVING.
It’s been so long since I’ve visited with friends, I think I’m changing. I’m losing skills I’ve had and my social anxieties are thriving.
I’ve tried the Zoom call thing but it turns out that format is not good for my social anxieties. So, without the in-person validation of friendship, I find myself becoming paranoid that everyone hates me. I have spent more time completely over-analyzing the dumbest online interactions (with real-world friends!) in the last three months than I did in the 10 years before. I’m deleting tweets and facebook statuses because I’ve decided they made people mad at me. I’ve avoided REALLY BENIGN text messages for fear of saying the wrong thing. I’ve completely built stories of someone now hating me simply because they never responded to a message OF WHICH THERE WAS NO REAL NEED TO RESPOND. Meanwhile? I’ve left tons of messages without responses because all social interactions terrify me now. ALL OF THEM.
And it hit me last night. I AM BACK-TRACKING. I’m becoming anxious and paranoid like back in the pre-Donnie days. But back then I had reasons to be paranoid! I was a terrible person! Everyone really did hate me! This time there is no real reason at all, I’m just doing that thing I do that ends in mild agoraphobia where I build these narratives that convince me that all of my friendships were a farce and no one really liked me and so I need to just stay in my quarantine hole forever.
The thing is, I don’t really know what to do about it. I could schedule some one-on-one Zoom calls, maybe that’s easier than group Zoom? The group ones freak me out because I don’t know how to navigate conversations without in-person interactions to help me understand a natural conversational flow. I wouldn’t even mind mask-wearing hiking? Maybe? Except it’s summer and I’m desperately allergic to poison ivy.
I don’t know. What I do know is last night I was tossing and turning in these weird cycles of panic. First I was imagining everyone hating me and then I would do this weird thing where I lectured myself: WHY DO YOU CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK ABOUT YOU! QUIT SEEKING EXTERNAL VALIDATION! And then I’d argue with myself again, reminding myself that HUMAN CONNECTION IS THE ROOT OF TRUE HAPPINESS and then I’d go back to panicking that I’d never be happy because everyone hates me. AND ALL AROUND A MILLION TIMES UNTIL IT IS MORNING.
And then hit me: THIS IS THE BAD PLACE, KIM. I mean, I guess it’s a good thing there’s a part of my brain that knows this is all irrational and a facet of my social anxieties that just haven’t popped up in awhile. But what do you do about it in a pandemic? Where being around people without masks makes you anxious and but online calls also make you anxious? I guess I just ride it out and hope when this is all over I haven’t lost all of my social skills?
For the record, this was another reasons I stopped drinking. I thought the nightly beers were not helping with my paranoia. But after three nights of not drinking it turns out THEY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. I’m just a paranoid about everyone hating me when I’ve stone-cold sober.
I do think I’m going to call my psychiatrist today. There are other problems besides just the weird social anxiety/paranoia. All of my mental health disorders seem to be magnifying/re-surging/thriving right now and I think it’s time to do a hard medicinal adjustment/reboot. Maybe that will help.
Anyone else feeling similar weird social anxiety resurgences during this lockdown?