Social anxiety can be a bit of a struggle. Here’s how I dealt with it this weekend: I didn’t show up. A baby shower and a birthday party, both of which I have been planning to attend for weeks, but couldn’t. For the baby shower, I just didn’t show up and I feel like a jerk about that. For the birthday party, I lied and said I had the flu, and I feel even worse about that one. I very rarely lie, and even when I do, it’s generally of omission, not a straight-up lie.
I could have said I wasn’t feeling well, which was true, but that’s such a weak excuse. A broken arm, a car wreck, an actual illness are all acceptable reasons to not show up for people. Depression isn’t. Anxiety isn’t. I could have said that I felt like all of my skin had been scraped off with a potato peeler and the idea of being around anyone else in that condition was too much, but I didn’t.
I think in general, we’re all coming around to accepting depression as an actual obstacle that we have to work around, but we’re not there yet. “I’m too scared to go to your party” isn’t going to cut it. “I need three days to sit at home and recover from the severity of my own self-loathing” doesn’t work either.
I should have called into work sick on Saturday but “being a person” isn’t an illness, even if it feels like one, sometimes.
I was agoraphobic from the ages of 17-27, and to be honest, it started before that and it has never gone away, even though people like to declare that a full-time job and having friends means I’m “cured”. When I was 27, I came to a point at which I decided I wouldn’t let anxiety rule my life anymore. I struggle with it every day and I usually win. I hate that it beat me this weekend. I hate that it turned me into a liar and a lesser version of myself. But I don’t know a way around it.
“I can’t be happy that you’re alive because I’m too sad,” is a shitty thing to say to someone on a regular day, let alone a day that is set aside to celebrate that person’s birth. Being happy that someone I love was born, on a day when I’m depressed, is like looking out at the ocean, my gaze following the prismatic rays of sunshine from the heavens, down to where it glimmers and glitters on the floating, frozen bodies lying in the ocean above a sunken Titanic.
On a good day, I can keep my eyes on the Heavens. On an okay day, I can see the light and the death and find a balance there. On a bad day, all I can see is the death and the mourning and the loss of our greatest treasures. All I can see is the infuriating fragility of life and hope. I wonder what the point of celebrating our small victories is when our defeats are so much larger and more devastating and relentless.
It’s like the first flower that grows after an atomic bomb explodes. Most people see the flower as a symbol of regeneration, the circle of life, life finds a way and other bland cliches, unhelpful philosophies, and conventional wisdoms. I look at the flower and I think about all of the people who died immediately and the poor souls who died slower and more painfully. I think about how irreplaceable each and every one of those people were, and I look at the flower and I think, it’s not enough. Who could ever think that could be enough?
The only thing I can really do is hold on to this experience and use it to allow me to be kind to other people. Sometimes, when I go for long stretches in which I feel strong and smart and capable, I lose my empathy. I get very judgemental. Letting down the people that I care about is always humbling but it makes me kinder. I remember that people don’t fail me because they want to. It’s because they’re human and people aren’t perfect.