I used to be fairly extroverted. Social interactions never caused me much anxiety, and I looked forward to meeting new people, learning about others, and just conversing. Since losing Brady, that all has changed. I had never experienced social anxiety, and now I do.
My therapist has suggested that I might be more of an ambivert now – not an introvert or an extrovert, but an individual with a balance of both features. I certainly don’t always want to withdraw, but I don’t want to be around people all the time, either.
These days, I find myself doing a ridiculous amount of prep work before I socialize. I wonder sometimes what I used to talk to people about. What did I have in common with others? How did I converse so easily? Now, it feels overwhelmingly difficult to find common ground at times.
In preparation for a party, I recently brainstormed small talk topics I could bring up, if conversation were to lull:
- Do you like E.R.? (Or maybe “favorite TV shows” is more appropriate)
In addition to my small talk list, there always needs to be an exit strategy. How will I quickly get myself out of the social situation if
I start crying uncontrollably things get awkward.
Recently, my husband and I went to a party at one of his friends’ houses. The night prior, I cried about how nervous I was and tried to make an exit plan with him. My husband challenged me “maybe you shouldn’t have to have an exit plan, and you should just go into it with the mindset that everything will be fine.” “Okay, I’m doing it!” I said. Might as well, I’d tried many other things to (unsuccessfully) kick my newfound social awkwardness. This particular social outing was an especially big commitment, since this friend lives about 40 minutes away, and my husband was going to have a few drinks. I’d be the driver, and I didn’t want to be the reason he’d cut a fun night short.
Thankfully, I didn’t need my small talk list, or an exit strategy. I still had successful social interactions. It ended up being a really fun night!
I came into my next appointment with my therapist feeling pretty proud of myself. She said that when you are experiencing social anxiety, what you should do is the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. If you want to withdraw and stay home, you should instead go out and interact with others (and hanging out next to the chip bowl doesn’t count). I didn’t know it at the time, but I had done something skillful.
I won’t say that I’m magically healed of my social anxiety. I’m still steadfast in my ambivert-ness, but it did feel really good to get my first successful social interaction under my belt. One of my biggest fears has been that I won’t be able to get any of the “old me” back. While this interaction probably didn’t seem like much to most, it was the first glimmer I could see of some of my old (fun!) traits returning.