Social Anxiety is Real

Suffering from social anxiety is no joke.
Life can be difficult when you’re simply not comfortable around other human beings.

Its worse when you’re like me, a relatively honest person who doesn’t like to lie.

Most social interactions start with some variation of the question “How are you today?”
This question can lock up my mind as I fall down a rabbit hole trying to figure out if they really want to know how I am, or are they just being polite.
At some point I’ll do what most other people do and say, “Fine.”

Social convention dictates that I repeat the question back to them. I usually don’t want to appear to be rude, so I will…causing yet another moral dilemma, in that I’m lying when I ask, because honestly, I don’t really care how they’re doing, and I’m terrified that if they are not indeed “fine” that they will dump their problems on me.

Then there’s the whole “leaving the house” thing.

There are times I don’t like leaving my house because it means interacting with other human beings. It’s not uncommon that I will refuse to leave the house for anything except work (and I can occasionally work from home, so there’s that).

You might think I’m overstating things…but I’m not.

A few years ago when I wasn’t in a good place emotionally I had my first heart attack.

It hit at about 3am. I knew it was an heart attack. I was a military medic for almost 20 years.

I didn’t call 911 for more than 3 hours because I just couldn’t deal with people. Seriously, from my medical background I knew that if I called 911 that I would have to interact with the paramedics and I just couldn’t deal with that.

Finally, 3 hours later, the pain got so bad that I figured I could deal with a couple of paramedics without having a complete meltdown I reluctantly dialed 911

10 minutes later I had 6 firefighters and 2 police officers in my livingroom.

They all wanted to know how I was doing

“Fine” I responded tersely.

It was another 5 or 10 minutes before I heard the ambulance siren approaching…I was so desperate to get away from the crowd in my livingroom that I walked out to meet the ambulance at the curb.

What was the first question they asked me?

“How are you doing?”

On being a high-functioning introvert

Some people are surprised to learn that I am an introvert and suffer from bouts of social anxiety and agoraphobia.

Unless things are really bad, I have no problems with most social interactions. I can be friendly, engaged and even talkative.
I might be aching to wander away and retreat into my shell but most people would never know that.

When things are bad, I can’t leave the house.
Not “don’t want to”, but “CAN’T”
Here’s an example.

A few years ago I had a heart attack, a fairly serious one. The pain woke me up in the middle of the night along with severe nausea.
I waited 3 HOURS to call 911.
I told people that it was because I thought it was just heart-burn.
I was a military medic for almost 20 years…I KNEW it was an heart attack!

The problem was that I was going through a particularly rough period of my life and just couldn’t deal with people at the moment.
From my medical experience I knew that not only would the responding paramedics poke and prod, but they’d be asking me questions, and talking to me and reassuring me and generally invading my personal space.
Because all that is essential when treating any medical condition.

So yeah, I didn’t call 911 for a heart attack because I couldn’t deal with social interactions!

And yes, I was fully aware that I could die because of that.

That’s how bad my social anxiety was that day. I would rather die than have to talk to another human being.

I finally called because the pain was immense enough to eventually override everything else.

I relay that particular story so you don’t mistake the affects of my anxiety as a lack of willpower or some other character flaw.

At this point some of you are likely saying, “But you have a good job that requires you leave the house (to go to work), and that you interact with people!”

One of the important things to keep in mind is that like many chronic conditions, anxiety sufferers have good days and bad.

If I must leave the house and interact with people on a bad day I have coping mechanisms that help me get through.
Work is usually a refuge for me. Its rare that things are so bad that falling into my work doesn’t mitigate the anxiety.
When it does I have people I to whom I can say, “I’m having a bad day today”, and they’ll know what I’m talking about.
With people outside that circle who notice that I’m off, I use the “not feeling great”, and if they push I’ll chalk it up to something that I ate.

Work is an imperative though. I have responsibilities to my co-workers and customers.

Social engagements are another issue entirely. I often feel some combination of anxiety, trepidation and/or dread whenever a social engagement is approaching. Even ones that I know I will enjoy.
As the time approaches my brain will race around looking for excuses to not go.
Its sort of like this:

ME: Oh no, I think I’m coming down with the stomach flu!!
ALSO ME: Relax, you just farted. You’re fine.
ME: I’ve got a really really bad headache coming on!
ALSO ME: No…you don’t. You really don’t.
ME: But there will be people there!!!
ALSO ME: JUST GET IN THE GODDAMN CAR ALREADY!!!!

You get the idea.

That being said, social engagements of any type are out of the question on bad days.
There is no particular thing that I’m afraid of on these days, its just the idea of simply interacting with another human being seems to be impossible.

Case in point a few days ago I was having a bad day. Unfortunately I absolutely had to go to the grocery store.
It took me a good hour to work up the nerve to go.
When I got there I was distressed to see that there were people canvassing for a charity at the front doors.
I put on my best “Don’t talk to me” posture and strode quickly past, grabbed a shopping cart and WHAM..came face to face with a sweet old lady asking me to support something or other (I don’t know what it was).
I stammered out a no thank you and practically ran into the store.

I picked up a few things, but was so frazzled by the unexpected social contact that I ended up forgetting to pick up what I went to the store for. (and there was no way in hell I was going back for them!)

So the title of this is being a high-functioning introvert, but having read it over…who am I kidding? I’m a mess.

3 Days that Saved My Life

This will be hard to write and for some, undoubtedly, hard to read.

I’m going to share my story in the hopes that it might help someone.

It’s no secret that I struggle with depression. Many are aware that there are days that I wake up regretting that I didn’t die in my sleep.

Mood wise, things got better towards the end of last year.

I noticed my mood slipping, but wasn’t too concerned as it always does during the winter months.

My life went to shit. I made some mistakes in the past that caught up with me and have created a difficult financial situation.

There were other things that I have to deal with that seemed harder and harder the more depressed I got.

Then my 11yr old Great Dane, Kharma started to show her age. Great Danes rarely live past 10, so this wasn’t unexpected, but the realization that my big girl is dying hit me harder than I thought it would. (I got tearful just typing that in fact). She is currently sleeping on the comforter behind me, so she is soldiering on.

Eventually, with everything piling on my depression deepened even further.

Then, one day I realized that things were futile, hopeless, joyless, and there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel.

I started to isolate myself as much as I could. I stopped looking after myself. I started subsisting on instant Pho noodles because the act of taking something out of the freezer to defrost was like trying to climb a mountain. I couldn’t even contemplate the energy it would take to prepare a meal, no matter how simple.

Often I would find myself sitting on the couch with Kharma’s head on my lap prematurely mourning her loss.

It became harder and harder to leave the house, except for work.

Even though it was difficult I did my best to stay in touch because I didn’t want people to worry.

Thoughts of suicide started creeping in more and more frequently.

That voice in the back of my head that speaks up at times like this, pointing out that people love me, people need me, my dogs need me, work needs me, and that things will get better became less and less convincing, and more annoying.

There have been a couple of times in the past where I reached this point, and during those episodes I became fearful that I would harm myself.

That fear wasn’t there this time.

There was only fatigue. A bone deep exhaustion.

I didn’t see the point of carrying on.

The internal struggle of choosing between living and dying started becoming a nightly ritual.

I had almost reached the point where the voice telling me to carry on was gone.

Then, at a particularly bad and hopeless moment that side of my brain made a proposition.

“3 days”, it said. “If you’re determined to die, 3 days won’t matter one way or another.”

So a deal was struck. I would wait 3 days and if things didn’t get better I would end things.

When I struck that deal I figured I would be dead in three days.

Three days passed, and I can honestly say that at that moment I’d completely forgotten about the arrangement.

It was a few days after that when while driving home from work I found myself singing along with the radio and realized that my depression had lessened and I was actually thinking about the future.

My personal life is still a shit show, Kharma is still approaching the end of her days, but I have plans on how to deal with it all appropriately. It will be hard, but not impossible.

I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and will eventually reach it, thanks to those 3 days.

Depression

This weekend I sat with my phone opened to Facebook, my fingers poised over the keyboard to post something.

It was hard to come up with something.

I was going through a deep depression.

I wanted to tell people what I was going through. I wasn’t asking for help, or for anyone to do anything.

I just wanted people to know that I was hurting.

After many attempts I came up with:

“Today was a rather blue day”

I hit post and moved on and slogged through the weekend.

This bought snuck up on me. I didn’t realized that I was depressed until I recognized the individual signs. Not looking after myself, a near constant fatigue, random aches and pains, headaches, restlessness, apathy.

In all that, the only thing I could think to do was to let people know. Maybe a sign of progress because normally I’m not one to reach out when things get bad.

I’ll get through it.

I always do.

When Grief Isn’t Grief…

Regular followers will be aware that my Queen of Spazmania, Colorado was diagnosed with cancer a few months back.

She went through a rough patch, that prompted me to ask people to stop reminding me that she was dying.

Today she is doing pretty well.  She’s lost a lot of weight (she was too heavy in the first place),  but she’s eating, drinking and is her normal self so I’m not worried about it.

But Monday morning, something weird happened.

If I linger in bed too long Colorado will eventually come up and remind me that she has to go out.   She starts by sitting next to the bed and panting until I pet her.

Monday morning was no different, except as soon as I reached out to scratch her head I started to cry.

She was her normal self.

When I reached out I don’t think I was thinking of her eventual passing.

I thought that maybe I had felt it in her energy.  I knew Shelby’s time was coming.

Through out the day I found myself getting tearful thinking of losing her.

I didn’t understand that.  I had plenty of time to prepare.  I am ready.

Yes, it will be hard,

When we take an animal into our lives we have a sacred duty to look after them.

The hard part of that is letting your faithful companion go when its time.

I did that for Shelby, even though I was not ready and it almost destroyed me.

When Colorado’s time comes,  I will let her go.   To keep her around when she’s sick and life has no joy for her would be cruel,  and very unfair.

She is my friend,  she even saved my life once when I my mood hit bottom and suicide seemed like a pretty good idea.

It will be hard…as I’ve said.

There’s a reason I mention the “it will be hard” thing twice.

All day Monday,  I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to not cry when thinking about Colorado’s final day.

When discussing it in the past I might get a bit tearful in the moment, but nothing like the crying jags I just couldn’t control.

It was on the drive home that the real reason hit me….

Arranging her final visit with the vet will be hard…very fucking hard.

And that’s what was getting to me…

It is another hard thing that I have to do, in what seems like a life of constant hard things.

Admittedly, when one suffers from mental health issues, especially depression,  getting out of bed in the morning can be a hard thing.

That’s not really what I’m talking about.

I’ve never shied away from these hard things.  In fact,  I tend to be very good at doing hard things.   So much so that I was often handed tasks that were hard.

I’m talking about the sorts of things that can have a negative impact on one’s spirit.

It was Dr. Nielsen who pointed out a few years ago that I have the ability to turn all that off.   I didn’t realize that I was doing that until he pointed it out.   To me it was just “buckling down” and “getting on with it”.

Thanks to therapy I’m losing that ability.

Of course, as one gets older the closets that one shoves the trauma of experiencing these hard things into has problems keeping shut.   And I can tell you that some of the nightmares that come leaping out at you are worse than any movie,  and its often accompanied by wondering just how in the hell you managed to completely forget about THAT!

A little bit ago, during a particularly rough patch,  it seemed like nothing was going right for me.   I remember spending a great deal of time lamenting that nothing would ever be easy for me.

That wasn’t my head space on Monday btw.

So in short, it was just another rock in the proverbial invisible basket.

I do have one very real fear when the time comes.

Colorado can read me.

No matter how well I’m hiding it, she knows my moods.

When one is saying good bye to their friend,  being calm and relaxed is essential lest you friend fights to stay by your side.

I can hide my emotions well.     I can be a full blown panic and no one will know it.  But Colorado would….

That’s the big fear for me when her time comes.   I don’t want her to go through that alone.

When Shelby passed I felt honoured to have attended his passing.

I hope I can do the same for my girl Colorado.

And now I’m crying again…fuck.