Having an anxiety disorder can be a confusing experience. Even after 34 years. On one hand it is easy to feel isolated and alone. You don’t see the world the way you are “supposed” to see it, and of is full of constant danger, both real and imagined. And you end up terrified of social situations and start avoiding them when possible.
So people who don’t understand the condition say “Well, that explains why you are a shut in, weirdo, you should be happy to be alone and locked away under your anxiety rock.” But it doesn’t work like that. I still long for connection. I still wish I could easily walk into a room of friends and enjoy the party, instead it is a gauntlet of terror. No idea what people will think of me. Terrified at what may come out of my mouth. Dealing with the exhaustive amount of work and effort required to keep that mask of normalcy I wear going. But in the end, I really do want friends.
When I was a kid, I would spend Christmas hiding behind my mom or under the kitchen table. From my own family, people that love me, and just wanted to be there for me. Every hug from a relative brought internal screams of terror and some sort of fight or flight response in my brain. They thought I was just shy and would grow out of it. I knew it was something more than that.
I didn’t grow out of it. As a teenager it bacame a joke at parties (including my own 16th birthday party that my girlfriend at the time threw for me) when people would say “Where is Tony?” The response would be “Have you checked outside in the trees?” I was so scared of the situation, I would want to run, but these were my friends, and I didn’t want to leave. So I would climb a tree. From there I could still be at the party, but not in the middle of things. Being the kid hiding in the tree, watching the party doesn’t exactly help you lose the “weird kid” title.
And I am still the same. A coworker had a question for me the other day, and as I passed, she innocently grabbed my arm to stop me so she could ask for help. Internally I panicked. I went into an almost crippling anxiety attack, and after answering her question, had to hide in a bathroom stall while I calmed down. Living in this bubble of crippling fear isn’t easy.
But last night I attended an online book club for Jenny Lawsons new book, and I felt like… I found my people. A lot of them seem broken, like me. And I am thankful to not be alone. I don’t know if I will hear from most of them again, but that part of me that longs to connect to others certainly hopes so. So, thank you Jenny, and the rest of the folks in the group.
I would go on, but I am almost at work, so I will have to continue a bit later.
(And sorry about the typos, this was typed in a rush, on my phone, riding on a city bus. I will clean it up later.)