In school, I would always have a best friend, only one, or sometimes two. I would cling desperately to this friend or two, but never make any further friends. And it would be the same two people year after year (Linda and Anne, bless you wherever you are). Only Linda went to my school, and she was the most important person in the world to me. If she was ever sick, I would have no one at recess. I remember leaning against the red brick wall of my school on one of those days, feeling absolutely alone in the universe without her. Having a friend was vital to me, but I couldn’t reach out and make any more friends.
Things got worse in high school – I don’t even want to think about the pain of being so lonely and unwelcome. Linda moved on to other friends – I stayed alone. This is the social anxiety world, and I believe the worst part of it for me was in high school. I never lifted my head, I wished to disappear all the time. Ouch.
Well, let’s fast-forward to adulthood. I managed to make one or two friends again, somehow. And again, I clung to these friends. They had to supply all my social needs. I was an intense friend – easy to upset, but also very honest and loyal. For the last ten years, I basically stuck with two friends. Every weekend we might see a movie or go to dinner. And that was it. I didn’t talk to anyone else. They were my social world. Small, constricting but familiar and safe.
A few years ago I learned about social anxiety, which I had never heard of. I realized this did describe me, and that there was a way out. Although I am an introvert and can easily spend time alone, I am also quite a social person and long to be with other people. I want to know what they are like, what they will say, how they see the world. I am not sufficient unto myself at all.
Mainly, I helped myself to climb out of this state that isn’t the real me at all. I spent a bunch of money on a self-help program of tapes (this was a few years ago) and a workbook, I read self-help books, I did a small amount of CBT (not my favorite therapy at all), and I joined some support groups for social anxiety.
The support groups have been great. Mainly not for the advice they give, which is a real mixed bag of the helpful and the terrible, but for the opportunity to socialize with other people who have similar difficulties. I have met an amazing mix of people at these groups. I have met a published poet, several programmers, an aesthetician, a janitor, someone with a Phd from an Ivy League school, people who have come from immensely difficult circumstances, people in recovery from addictions, very good looking people, very ordinary looking people like myself… The good part is that a lot of them are also looking for people to be friends with.
Bouyed with my success with making friends with some SA pals, I’ve also been going to more general events such as walks, dinners and movies. I find I can usually find one or two people to chat with at these events also. I am no longer a strange outcast who can only talk to two people in the world. This is an excellent feeling.
So this past weekend, I was out every day at an activity involving people. Friday a mainstream movie with an SA buddy. Saturday a walk with one new friend and an art movie with my old friends (so relaxing to be with people I have known for years). Sunday a walk on the beach with two other friends and a beer at a pub.
Sunday evening I was exhausted – I do find I need a balance of alone time and social time. Somehow, I still stress quite a bit when with a group – it’s not effortless. But it is rewarding. And to know that people seek me out, and that I can be helpful to others, and that they wish to be with me, is a new and good experience.
So today I spent at home mostly, very content to be by myself. There is currently an arts festival on which I had thought I’d like to check out, but I realized I have faced the world enough for now, so I stayed at home and blogged. I need to walk the line between staying in boring and unproductive safety and overwhelming myself with too much stimulation.
Yep, I’m sociable now.
Image grabbed from Retro Renovation