"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

speak now #19: my experiences with anxiety

Now Playing: Terrible Love by Birdy (I can't fall asleep without a little help, it takes a while to settle down my shivered bones, wait til the panic's out)

I have another secret.

A lot of people wonder why I sometimes actively avoid social gatherings. I have been known to cancel on parties for no apparent reason, even though I generally have a good time at parties if everything goes well. Conversely, I am either rushing off to meet someone else straight after meeting up with a friend, or kind of...clingy when people leave.

Just saying, I know about all this stuff.

Everyone has a different experience of anxiety, and it shows in different ways in different people; it can also be triggered by many different things and reduced by many other different things.

In my younger and more vulnerable years I didn't really have what you'd call a busy social life. I spent a lot of time at home because, you know, I'm an introvert - I blogged, I read, I researched (incidentally, I do a lot of non-school, non-uni related research; which is why my general knowledge is somewhat impressive for my age). So there was that, and the fact that I didn't really have that many friends growing up and...I won't lie. It was lonely. Sometimes heartbreakingly lonely.

But, you know, you get used to it. I'm definitely used to spending a lot of time alone, to the extent that most of the absurd amount of time I spend essentially doing nothing at uni I really don't mind; I like being alone, I like my space, and I like doing things like blogging or listening to music or reading that isn't really conducive to productive social interaction.

That being said, I do love people. I've really found my crowd in uni - but when I say that I don't mean a circle of friends, but more like a list of individual relationships that are unique and separate from each other. Each relationship has its own flaws, its own benefits, its own dynamics and power struggles but it's not too hard to keep up with because I don't really have that many friends. I'm not complaining. I had too many friends in year eleven and that resulted in too many people to stab me in the back. But they really are individual relationships and the only thing my friends have in common is, well, me...occasionally one of them will run into the other but there's no real cohesion.

Another thing I've found about uni is that it is a real pain in the ass to make time for people. Uni people invariably have more "free time" than high schoolers, but when you factor in partners and part time jobs and partners and "study" and partners and travel time and having other friends and partners and partners (I'm highlighting this because all my friends randomly got partnered up and it is very annoying), plus the fact that every single person has a unique timetable, it is kind of hard to find mutually available time to do friend stuff. A bonus is that you really get to pick and choose your friends as individuals instead of trying to ram yourself into a clique, and if you have a problem with someone or a relationship isn't working out you aren't really obligated to spend much time with them like you are in high school. And, if you're like me with lots of two-people relationships and not a network of intersecting relationships, the time you spend with friends is very one on one and intimate - which I love, because I'm a sucker for attention. But those interactions are not very frequent (when you compare the obligatory socialising of recess and lunch at high school) and kind of unreliable.

So from these three things.

I'm still not fully used to having friends who aren't obscenely fake or about to stab me in the back. I'm not used to having people who want to spend time with me and will actively go out of their way to see me. To be brutally honest I'm not used to leaving the house for anything other than school. So that can be kind of...overwhelming, sometimes. If I'm meeting up with someone or going to a gathering I'm normally stressed out the night before. I probably don't get much sleep. I am almost always grumpy and nervous when I'm getting ready. And I really, really, really hate being late.

I am extremely socially awkward; I hate talking on phones, waitresses freak me out, and if I'm shopping I will actively avoid sales assistants because I will embarass myself by getting extremely tongue tied. So meeting up with people is also kind of stressful.

Also, apparently I have a lisp or some kind of accent that is apparently hard to understand - I know I stutter occasionally but I smell a rat with this whole lisp thing. I also have kind of bad hearing when people speak - sometimes I hear words but they just don't register, and sometimes voices are just really hard to hear; especially male voices. So that doesn't help the social incompetence thing much, because I can't hear anybody and nobody can understand me.

...this is why I love Facebook chat.

These kinds of things, I guess, are explainable - I didn't have much of a social life growing up, I'm very socially awkward and friends are a pretty rare and precious thing for me. I don't really know why I get so stressed out, but you remember one bad incident more than you remember a thousand good ones and there are certain times...and certain people... that have fucked me up a bit. But the thing that is harder to explain are my mood swings.

I get pretty bad mood swings; it's one of the remnants of depression. In the extreme I have had depressive episodes that last for days and pretty intense panic attacks, but in between are these really unexplainable mood swings; how I feel isn't really tied to what is happening to me anymore, which is kind of freaky. There are some patterns; the weather, my menstrual cycle, and my mood is generally more stable if I spend a lot of time really busy and active and social - seeing lots of people and doing lots of stuff - or if I spend a lot of time by myself, sleeping and surfing the net and being a slob. I've also noticed that I am much more sensitive, and much more likely to pick fights or throw tantrums with people if we are texting or emailing or chatting on facebook; when I'm talking to people in person I'm usually a bit more stable. But because social environments and socialising is so stressful, the second people leave I usually feel...terrible. Even if everything went well, even if the conversation was fun and I get lots of hugs (hugs, incidentally, are amazing mood stabilisers; gotta love oxytocin) and we didn't manage to piss each other off or kill each other...when a meeting ends I usually end up feeling miserable for no apparent reason and crying over nothing which is embarassing and just not fun. You'd think I'd be happy that I'd met a friend, or relieved that the stress of social things is over, but it doesn't really work out that way.

I've noticed that if I've spent at least four or five hours with someone - which I know sounds like a long ass time, but I'm smart and all my friends are smart and we have lots to say (and at any rate, a four hour date is not a long time when you see someone like once a fortnight, if that) - I don't get that sudden mood swing, or it's a lot less noticable. It's also a lot better if I rush off to something else afterwards, which is why I often try to cram a lot of different meetings into one day. It's also not so bad if I coincidentally meet up with someone, or if a catchup is kind of spontaneous and spur of the moment. It's worst when I only see someone for one or two hours, I don't know when I'm going to see them next, and meeting up had been planned for a while.

So that's the very long convoluted story on why I get clingy when people leave. It's because I know what's coming, I don't exactly know how to stop it, and it would be so much better if I could waste more time that you don't have. It's also the story of why I sometimes don't bother, with this whole 'friends' thing - I know I've lost too many friends through mutual neglect and drifting apart. I get bullied, a lot, for being 'clingy' or 'obsessive', or for being a loner but anxiety has really impacted how I associate with people and the effect people have on me.

Anxiety and relationships

Anxiety has obviously impacted on my relationships in lots of different ways. When I'm very stressed out I can sometimes, unbelievably, come off as easygoing - I often let other people choose where we're going and what we're eating and what we're talking about. In reality I am easygoing about some things with some people but I am by no stretch of the imagination a pushover; there have been fireworks when people make that mistake. People also think I'm shy or coy, and more than one person has gotten angry when they realise that I enjoy lots of physical contact with my friends but they had assumed I was one of those look-but-don't-touch girls. That's the problem with having anxiety; people assume lots of things. People assume you're quiet, or shy, or sensitive, or clingy. They assume you're okay, when sometimes you're not.


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