Tag Archives: social anxiety

Overcoming the Fear . . . of New Places

I’ve talked a lot about how chronic illness has changed me. It’s changed everything from my physical appearance to my patience. One thing that continues to surprise me, however, is how much more nervous I am about new experiences now. There’s just so much that could go wrong. It may not- it typically doesn’t go quite as wrong as I imagine it will- but there’s always the very real possibility.
Let me explain using a real-life example from today.
Joe and I decided to visit a church where some local friends attend. Now, before this whole chronic illness and rapidly deteriorating joint situation began, I would have never thought twice about visiting a church. However, I’m a hot mess on any normal day of the week. Add to my normal hot mess having to dress like a real adult (you know, something that isn’t a Disney tshirt and athletic shorts), having to be ready by a certain time, and actually leaving the house before noon (I don’t really get a functional blood pressure until later in the day), and I’m an accident looking for a place to happen.
Today, while walking up the ramp into church (Shout out for an accessible entryway!), my knee quit doing the whole “knee thing.” I crashed into the side of the church to keep from falling. Joe, who is totally used to such shenanigans responded with, “You okay, Margaret?” I, of course, am now convinced the entire congregation thinks I came to church drunk and my name is Margaret. The second faux pas is way worse though. Today was Lord’s Supper/ Communion day at the church. It’s a beautiful service that I’m always humbled to participate in, but leave it to me to turn it into a debacle. As the deacons were passing out the communion wafers, they motioned for me to pass the plate to Joe on my left. Cool . . . except holding anything is complicated with EDS. I overestimated how hard I needed to hold onto the plate, my hand jerked awkwardly, and I spilled the symbolic Body of Christ on the floor in front of the back pew. Joe and I tried to clean it up- but those little wafers fall apart like chalk. And, you guys, it was just bad.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Church was great. No one asked me to leave- or even to stay behind and vacuum under my pew. All in all, I’ll call the day a success. However, that story brings me to this point- taking a chronic illness into public is a bit like taking a rambunctious toddler out among non-toddler humans. You have no clue how it’s going to behave. Yes, we all have socially awkward moments, and today’s mistakes could have happened to an able-bodied person, as well. However, the fact remains that the combination of chronic illness and me has turned me into a one woman wrecking crew.
There was a time when today’s events would have humiliated me. I would have told Joe I was never going back to that church again. However, at this point, I’ve accepted that these things just seem to happen to me. My body is unpredictable, and I doubt that’s going to get better with time. Here are a few things I remind myself to keep from hiding under my bed when social interaction turns into social embarrassment.
I’m not a celebrity.
I’m a somewhat normal 32-year-old woman living in Campbellsville, KY. Paparazzi could not possibly be less interested in me. I’ll never be featured on the cover of US Weekly (Thank goodness.). So, why on earth, do I think that anyone is enormously preoccupied with how I act? You see, in my mind, everything I do is amplified times a million, and I’m convinced the whole world is offended by me. I spend serious time stressing over my inability to sit and stand at the appropriate times during church. I just know that someone is hurt by my seeming irreverence. The truth? Most people probably don’t notice, and those that do are probably more worried about whether anyone is noticing that they’re singing off key or that their breath smells funky. I’m really not that big of a deal.
New experiences are worth the risk.
Today I participated in a beautiful church service. I met new people and visited with others I already knew. I even got a sucker after the children’s service. (I’m not sure how the minister knew I would really enjoy a sucker, and I’m seriously hoping I wasn’t staring at the candy box as though I’d never seen such delicacies before.) The experience of worshiping with other believers, sitting beside my husband during church, and seeing welcoming smiles on the faces of friends and strangers far outweighs any embarrassment I felt. I have yet to have an embarrassing public experience where I felt that my embarrassment wasn’t worth it to do something fun or new (although there have been a couple close calls).
People are generally great.
We hear a lot of stories about the mistreatment of those with invisible disabilities. I get it. There are people in this world who are jerk faces. However, for the most part, people are good. The deacon whose plate of communion wafers I threw in the floor? He chuckled good-naturedly and waved his hand as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.” The people sitting around me who noticed that I didn’t stand for all the opening music? They smiled and nodded and shook my hand when it was the time to do so.
The moral of the story? I’m a mess. That’s okay. People are cool. Keep taking risks- and learn to laugh at your failures along the way.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

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My social skills are still in tact- sort of.

I actually wrote this blog post about a year ago, but I wasn’t comfortable with posting it once it was written. It’s not that it’s deep emotional stuff, but it’s a little embarrassing. I realize that it’s strange that I get so excited about getting out of the house, and I realize that it’s even stranger that I get so nervous about it. The truth is, a year has passed, and I haven’t taken many more social risks. I’m okay with that. I’m still hoping there will be a day when I snap out of it and become unapologetically me- capable of being bold and brave entirely on my own. But I also realize that I’m a work in progress, and it probably won’t happen overnight. For now, I have plenty of people to keep me adequately socialized from home or via phone/ Internet. I also have my new Facebook support group friends, and I am completely blown away by the love and acceptance they show. So . . . you know, it’s all good.

A side effect of being a ‘professional sick person’ is that you don’t necessarily see a lot of people. Seriously, several days (and I really mean several) go by, and I don’t speak to anyone but Joe, my mom, and Zoey (the dog). This is partially my fault (because I really hate talking on the phone- why can’t people just text?), but I really believe that my social skills have suffered. Those of you in a committed relationship know that there are conversations that you have with your significant other that just are not acceptable among the general public. I mean, Joe handles my late night, incoherent ramblings (so does my mom via telephone), and no one else in this world should have to put up with that.

But today, I had lunch with a new friend. I woke up (technically, Joe and Zoey woke me up); I got ready, and I drove to a restaurant near my house. Simple, right? Not so much. See, in my two years of being too sick to work, I’ve not exactly been a social butterfly. As a matter of fact, I realized this was the first time since I got sick that I went to lunch with a peer without Joe there to keep the conversation moving. I was super stressed. I mean, what if I was at lunch and got sick? Normally Joe is with me, and I can just say, “Let’s get out of here before something dramatic/traumatic happens.” But, with someone new, can I do that? I mean, what if she thinks I’m crazy? Oh no, what if I am crazy?

Can you tell by now that I was totally working myself up over nothing? Somewhere in the two years that I’ve been staying at home I’m pretty sure I developed social anxiety. Now, it’s only fair that I say at this point, that my new friend is totally cool. (I should have asked her if it was okay if I blogged about her, so I could say her name. However, it’s sort of fun that I can’t say her name . . ., because you’re totally assuming I had lunch with a major celebrity today, right?) I could have fainted, taken meds, possibly scratched my face with my feet, and I think she would have been fine with it, amused, but fine.

The reason I shared this with you (other than to brag about the fact that I made a friend!) is to point out that relationships when you have a chronic illness are different. I rely on my husband for a lot of stuff. I rely on him to give me all the time in the world to get ready. I rely on him to accommodate for how I feel. I even rely on him (occasionally) to help me remember whether I’ve taken medicine that day. Because of my reliance on Joe, I have made it difficult on myself to venture out. I’ve isolated myself from a lot of my friends from my former life (ie. healthier days), because their normalcy was more than I could handle. In a sense, I disabled myself a little. Chronically ill friends, please try to maintain relationships outside your marriage. Spouses, partners, caretakers of the chronically ill, encourage ‘your sick person’ to venture outside of their comfort zone. Being sick is a lot to handle for both people in a relationship. You will need support. And not only support, you are going to need fully functioning social skills at some point, too.

Oh no, I just had a thought. Do you think my new friend will still want to be my new friend when she realizes I made a whole blog post about going to lunch? Just when I thought my social skills were recovering . . .

Peace, love, and health, friends.