social fucking anxiety!

i joke about having social anxiety pretty regularly. but now that i have my therapy chaps on and, even if i miss 2-3 weeks of therapy because of a holiday i still feel great, i’ve been more apt to understand what social anxiety even means.

my personal, subjective theory about my social anxiety is about safety, particularly feeling safe with other people. i’ve lived a very codependent lifestyle and, after witnessing my family with this realization in mind, they have as well. you could say i was taught to be codependent simply be observing the familial relationships between women and literally everyone else around them. i guess you could also say, this is one of the generational curses i seek to repair, heal, and generally obliviate.

in an entire 2 weeks, my grandma could not name what she wanted to do that made her happy without referencing helping someone else. her idea of fun was buying me pants on a whim – while i know that money is tight, while i know that i don’t need them and expressed that sentiment, and i was served a sweet side dish of i-have-difficulty-accepting-things-of-all-kinds. monetary, quality time, love – all of it, but that’s a different story.

astounded and ready to process some of these observations, i went back to the ideas of self care icon, karl marx, who reminds us that if we live and set our goals in honor of others, we really don’t have a strong base to achieve self satisfaction or fulfillment in the long run. (re: like the time he told the communists: y’all need new goals because they all center the bourgeois and if you do succeed against them, what will you do then?)

i found that after removing the layers of codependency, i have a need to feel safe.
i tend to immediately meet people and meet their needs – often simply and very quickly be analyzing my surroundings, their surroundings, their words, body language, and generally giving them my 150% listening ear – in an effort to appease them, take the attention off of myself, and establish myself as a nonthreatening person so they are less likely to hurt me.

there’s a bunch of historical layers here as i started wondering when and why this was happening. as in many therapy sessions, the answer stems from family, for me specifically. i did not feel safe around or nurtured by my parents – physically, emotionally, or mentally – and i was often placed in a position where i had to gauge their moods first because that would indicate how much of their moods would be taken out on me. for example: it did not matter if i ate or didn’t eat the last cookie, if my parents were in a bad, stressed out mood, i was unjustly assumed to have eaten the last cookie. this is a very pared down example of what could have happened and for the purposes of privacy, i won’t tell you the gritty consequences after the assumption was made.

surprisingly, living this way for eighteen years and then some left me with some gnarly habits.
i think for a long time, i could swat away the feeling of social anxiety and the terror of not feeling safe.
i always thought i was just nervous: nerves were those arresting stomach churning moments where my hands couldn’t stop shaking and i couldn’t sleep the night before, leading to very quick, jerky movements and a spotty memory the following day – right? it could be delivering a presentation, walking to class, talking to someone new – these things all made me “nervous.”

one of the important things i believe therapy can teach you is to connect what you’re feeling in your body, to your own thoughts and feelings. now i can better identify and distinguish the feeling of being nervous. nerves are light butterflies in my stomach, they are hand sweats, they are deep breathes and affirmations, they are a need to ride the nerves out with EDM because that’s what i would do before a high-intensity sporting event when i was younger, and i still delight in this now.

the churning? that’s anxiety. really, really bad anxiety.

i actually don’t know how to act when i’m not sure if i feel safe. my anxiety would always peek through my everyday interactions, but i could always smear it down with some sweet old, “how are you? what do you need? can i help? oh i see you feel like this, how can i be there for you?” immediately taking action and taking care of others.

a great side affect of this was the feeling of resentment in all of my relationships.
the feeling of, well, i care about them and would do anything for them, but they won’t even ask me how my day was. or, if i’ve said i’m feeling shitty, they’ll just nod and continue. or, i answer the phone and messages always for them, but they won’t do the same for me.

in response: i’m undergoing a mindset and bodily shift. i am literally showing up differently in all of my relationships – work, romantically, and with friends and family. reasoning: if i am constantly giving 150% of myself to everyone but me, my well will run dry within seconds, and it has.

beneath my resting bitch face, i’m literally burning all of the files in my head on how to be in relationships and writing something up anew. a hypothetical phoenix. a mental health maverick.

excited by the opportunity to show up differently with people, i was immediately confronted with the feeling of social anxiety. because the need to take care of others still only band aided my core need to feel safe. and when that was gone, my anxiety only amplified.

there is no easy, clear ending here today. i still have anxiety. in social situations, i am still apt to immediately reach for the “i’m fine, but how are you?” card which sometimes makes me feel like i fell down three flights in a therapy-themed game of chutes and ladders. and i know that’s not true, but it doesn’t stop me from wallowing for a second. so, i’m still exploring how to allow myself to feel safe, how to ensure that my body itself is a safe space, and to trust myself to act and honor my need to feel safe both during and after the anxious moment, and proactively before things get difficult. i’ll get to the part where i can let people in soon enough.

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