Thanksgiving dinners

It’s been our Thanksgiving weekend in Canada this past weekend. I did a lot of socializing with mixed success.

I am still not sleeping more than a few hours at a time, so I’m quite fatigued, which doesn’t improve my social skills or lack thereof. But I have to give myself credit for the attempts at being sociable that I have made anyway.

I went to three dinners in all. The one I enjoyed the most was the one I felt most neutral about. The one I enjoyed the least was the one I thought I’d like. You never know.

Saturday evening I went out to a local chicken chain restaurant for a monthly dinner with my social anxiety pals. I knew everyone and am quite comfortable with these people, and I had an easy relaxed dinner. I have in the past gone out with them and not had a good time. I think the key to getting along with people you don’t have much in common with is not to get into any topic you feel strongly about. This is what I did this time. I stayed away from politics and questions of diet, medication and exercise, where we will clash. It’s fun just staying lighthearted, teasing people a bit, not caring much.

In this group, my social skills are in the top ten percent, so for a change, I feel quite capable and like an asset to the group. I am interested in other people, so can draw them out a bit.

The other thing I did that was good was basically ignored one of the people who, while he is well-informed, tends to lecture a bit about what he knows. I chatted a bit with him, but didn’t pay him any particular attention, as he makes me anxious. Why should I seek out someone who makes me anxious? I have a tendency to do that, but this time avoided it, which ensured I had a better time than usual.

I enjoyed this chicken dinner the most of all three. I felt I was putting into practice some social skills stuff I’ve learned, and I was nice to people and helped them feel more at ease, to some extent.

Sunday two friends of mine invited me to their house for thanksgiving dinner of turkey, veggies and pie. I had promised to bring a pie, so that was my project for the afternoon before dinner. I baked an apple Schnitz pie from a Mennonite recipe – it’s got an easy crust and is pretty easy to make. Turned out pretty well.

This dinner I found the most difficult. I’ve known these friends for a long time, but find one of them quite difficult, and the other is somewhat in her shadow. So I don’t feel any particular social comfort from being there in the first place.

There were about 8 other guests. Four of them I’d never met before, and three of these absolutely dominated the conversation. There was kind of a flavour of ‘being in the know’ and being very sophisticated and educated, that I do not like. I both dislike it and also am intimidated by it. So sitting at the dinner table, I found almost nothing to say, and started spiralling down into real bad social anxiety.

For anyone who suffers from SA, you’ll probably know this feeling, where it becomes more and more difficult to say a single word, and you feel like you might be about to die of embarrassment. I had the severe urge to run away.

Between dinner and dessert, I first escaped to the bathroom, and took a much needed dose of anxiety medication, which I hadn’t thought I’d need at all. Then I again escaped to the basement, where there was a bookshelf, and started reading one of the novels. Stupid. I was like a child, hiding from the grown-ups.

Well, dessert went better. Maybe it was the break, or the med, or the fact that I contributed a pie and this was complimented and I was able to talk about the recipe. Also I helped in the kitchen a bit, making me feel slightly more competent.

After dessert, I joined the kids watching a video, A Bug’s Life. At least that gave their parents a bit of a break, as the kids were happy to have a grown-up there, so didn’t call for their mother every two seconds.

Before I left, I did have a bit of a conversation with one of the nicer attendees, who is an English prof, about kids, and arrangements, and such. Having had a kid myself, I could converse about the difficulties with sympathy.

I was the first to leave, making my escape with relief. This was my most difficult dinner. That night, I could not sleep until four in the morning, what with having found it so stressful.

Monday was a big Thanksgiving dinner at my family’s. I’d discussed the difficulties I have with family celebrations with Ms T last week, and she’d suggested bringing a friend to help dilute the family dynamics.

I brought along my quite outgoing friend who is from another country, so would not have had a holiday dinner to go to. This was a great move, and greatly improved the experience for me.

My mother had cooked the previous day and all day Monday, and there was a huge feast. She is a very good cook and takes incredible pains so every dish was delicious. She looked so very tired though – pale and very quiet.

There were about 15 people in all – my brother and sister and their partners, an uncle, two of my dad’s friends, another friend, and me and my friend.

This was at least a little more relaxed than my friend’s dinner, as no one was dominating the conversation, and I knew everyone. There was the usual tension, with my dad going on about my brother’s fabulous career, having nothing to say to me, and my brother and sister as usual not about to talk much with me either. But still, I helped in the kitchen, and just participated in some chit chat about the food and such, which was easy enough. I find conversation is easiest when busy in the kitchen.

Again at the dinner table, I was struck with bad anxiety. I was sitting opposite my sister’s partner, whom I really do not like much, and who tends to ignore me entirely and is quite loud in general. We’re expected to banter and be amusing, which is difficult when you’re dying with anxiety.

I should have tried harder to sit with my friend, who was busy talking away at her end of the table, and who actually enjoys talking with me also. But I didn’t, I just let things happen and sat with people I find difficult.

So after dinner, I again escaped to a room with a bookshelf, and read a few pages of a novel I found there in order to calm down.  Then when I returned, I did what I should have done in the first place, and pulled up a chair next to my friend. I joined in the conversation between her and another friend, and for the first time started to relax and enjoy myself. Having someone who likes you around makes such a difference. We started talking about Princess Di, of all things, and I ended up staying a little later than my siblings, which has never happened before, just talking about Princess Di.

So the family dinner turned out not to be the worst, though not problem free either. I feel like I managed the situation. I pleased my mother by going, I was neutral with my siblings, and had a nice chat in the end with friends.

Having a friend who likes me along is so wonderful, and I was very grateful to her for going with me. She is not hurt by the family dynamics, can enjoy the food and the company, so it’s fine for her too.

I think for the next family function, I’ll see if she can come again. Next time I’ll sit in her vicinity at dinner too, and I’ll probably have a better time.

Art: Unknown source

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4 comments
  1. Nechtan said:

    Hi Ellen,Its good that you have a friend you can relate to and who you feel at ease with. That must be a big help.Quite a few meals there and lots of different experiences. I'm glad you got through them all but can relate to the after effects of anxious periods making for long sleepless nights.You are doing so well considering how little sleep you are getting by on. I do hope your sleeping pattern changes soon for the better as situations are hard enough after rest without trying to tackle them fatigued.All the bestNechtan

  2. Ellen said:

    Hi Nechtan,Yes, having a friend along is great for feeling more at ease. Thanks for the comment – my sleep is slowly reverting back to normal, so things should be a little easier going forward. Cheers

  3. alice said:

    hi ellengood for you for putting yourself through this ordeal, many wouldnt.perhaps youve hit the nail on the head. good company makes for an easy time. the more high and mightly people are, the difficult the dinner will be.i think your great for going, and learning from the experience.i hate the time when im silent, ive had times like this from being a child. especially when others pick up on me being quiet and say things out loud, embarrassing me even more.xxx

  4. Ellen said:

    Thanks Alice. I want to keep going to things like these dinners until I feel comfortable at them, even if they're not always a fun experience. Yes, I can get into a real fund with silence – the more silent I am, the harder it becomes to talk…Ellen

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