Last night at 6:18PM I pulled up to UCBC for the Tesseract fundraising event. I was having a full on anxiety attack as I sat in my car. I both love and need to be around people. Put me on a stage and I will talk to 1000s with the authority and confidence of the most seasoned speaker. Sit with me at a table one on one, and when our time together expires we will separate as richer friends. Even so, being placed into a social crowd is my emotional kryptonite. In these kinds of situations, I usually keep to events where I can be hidden by the busyness of running the event. This allows me to feed on the energy of the other attenders without having to face my own social anxieties.
This was not that type of event, and I had absolutely no wall to position between myself and my mess of anxious feelings. I sat in my car deciding, will I go in or will I leave and offer the excuse of something coming up unexpectedly?
At 6:23PM I worked up the composure to face the reservations created by my internal monologue of apprehensions and headed inside. Each step toward the door was an act of decisive self-possession; my mistrust attempting to dissuade my advancement.
I made it through the doors and immediately lost all will to stay. The worrisome view of a table with 8 people already seated engaged in conversation seemed foreboding; the task of approaching and joining them overwhelming. I would have ducked and run, my head down like a criminal guided into the court room, but I had been seen already.
In that minuscule moment I had accepted the embarrassment of telling my therapist that I attempted a purely social event but just could not face the distress of my panic. He would chide me, remind me this kind of event was our exact therapy goal, and we would make a new plan for a future event. The shame of facing him would rush past, awkward but tolerable.
However, that table was full of people I know and work with, and others though I did not know I would also be collaborating with at some future point. I could not escape after being seen; a resolute approach to join the group was my only option.
One hour I resolved to stay; sustain the illusion of self confident social skills, and leave before the dread of my clumsy self doubt overwhelmed. I am a theatre professional, I could handle an hour of play-acting the social maverick.
I did not leave after an hour. Instead despite all the phobic dread I had composed around the event I relaxed and had an amazing time. These table mates were amazing both those who were old friends and the ones who were new. I sat and listened to stories, told stories, and shared time with nothing manifested from my plagued inner monologue. Four hours later when it came time to excuse myself there was no urgency or lingering longing for escape.
Life after a long term relationship can be difficult. Having a partner, a reliable person to retreat to in social situations is an overlooked perk of coupling. I have crafted my social encounters for almost three years now, ensuring every event I attended included a safety net of a person that I felt safe to hide amongst or a supervisory role that I could retreat within. However last night, I surrendered that control and went rogue against my anxieties.
I walked in, joined the crowd, and had the absolute best time.