Reading my blogs or talking to me online, you might think that I am a social butterfly. I used to do well in social situations. I was confident and strong. I was able to go hang out with friends and go to social places. It was no big deal. It was even exciting. But that was years ago. I haven't gone anywhere with a group of people I am not related to in years. Not weeks or months but years....My social butterfly days aren't what they used to be.
I haven't really realized just how much my anxiety has kept me prisoner till Sunday afternoon. I had a bridal shower to go to for my best friend of twenty one years. Yes, you heard me right, twenty one years. Let me start this off by saying I love this girl. We met when we were young and we have remained bff's since the first day she introduced herself to me in our old apartment building. She has been there for me through crappy boyfriends, bad fashion choices, moves from state to state, a failed marriage, being down on my luck and worse with money, depression, suicidal thoughts, agoraphobia, the birth of both of my children, and even still today. I like to think I have been there equally for her too. That is what best friends do, after all. We are so close we don't say bye, we say I love you and we have called each other sisters for as long as we have known each other.
I can't make it to her wedding, which is far away, but I was thrilled to be able to go to her bridal shower. I mean over the moon! I am so happy for her. I had to find a ride there, which my wonderful dad volunteered for. Then I had to get ready, which I pondered on what to wear for a whole two weeks before. The shower was going to be for three hours and I was excited to see her and all of her friends (whom I do not know) and to actually try and be somewhere without the comfort of my husband and kids. Whom, I love more than life but also, many times, serve as a buffer for me. I have less anxiety if I am occupied with them rather than trying to be out and about alone with just myself. And to add on top of that, I am not really someone who has a great deal of experience with parties or showers. This was going to be my first bridal shower. I was nervous because I am not really sure how these things work. I am inept at social functions to a certain degree. I do not know the "protocol" or the rules to such things. I don't want to do anything offensive or off putting. I am so bad at these things that actually have to call my other friend in Texas and ask what the socially acceptable dictations are, like do you have to send a thank you card to thank someone for sending you a thank you card...ect. Seriously, she is my savior on all things socially proper.
We got to the restaurant on time. I walked in and asked where they were holding the shower. I was fine. A little nervous but fine, until I stepped about two feet away from the reception desk. Then the anxiety started to rise. My thoughts were racing....what if this isn't the right place....what if no one likes you....what if your gift is stupid....what if your face betrays your fear and people judge you for being broken and odd... what if you say something wrong...what if you embarrass her by doing something stupid...what if...what if... My heart went from the regular thump...thump to a loud thud..thud..thud..thud, rapidly beating now in my throat instead of in my chest where all of the biology books say it is actually located. My hands started to shake. My feet felt rooted to the ground. My breathing became heavy and labored and then the tunnel vision locked in. I could see my hand holding on to the banister and nothing else. My field of vision got smaller and smaller until all I could see was the wedding ring on my left ring finger. Shining in the light, dancing under the soft ambiance of the restaurant's glow. All of the clinking dish noises and sounds of other people enjoying their meal had stopped. It was silent, all but the voice in my head and the beating of my heart and my labored shaky breathing. The silence of everything else external was deafening to me. I wanted to run. I wanted to flee like a hunted animal running to safety....It was fight or flight and my body was choosing flight. My mind however, was not.
I could feel myself slipping away into full panic attack mode but I wasn't going to just stand there and have a freaking meltdown like a baby. This was not going to work. This was unacceptable. I had been looking forward to this for two weeks and I was going to be damned if I just turned tail and ran now. I was not going to let my stupid OCD take one more thing from me I wanted to do. Not this time. Not today.
I closed my eyes and listened to my breaths. I calmed the voice in my head and then I had a mental conversation unlike anything I have ever had before with myself.
"Not today. You are not doing this today. You can have tomorrow, or next Tuesday, or every day of the week three months from now, but you do not get to have today. This isn't for you. This is for her. You are here to support her on her day and this shit is going to stop right now. I am not leaving. I am not giving up. I am not going to cry and freak out and panic. I am not going to allow you to make an ass out of me in front of my sister on her day and embarrass her. I am not going to let you make an ass out of me and embarrass me on her day either. It is time to stop running and hiding because you are scared. Or you think you are scared. Or things are "uncomfortable". Life is full of scary uncomfortable things and you need to deal with it already. So put on your big girl pants and suck it up! Take a breath. Shake it out. Wiggle your toes and get to stepping, feet. We are doing this. She has done so much for me and I am going to do this for her. No excuses, no issues, and no panic attacks. Suck back in those tears that are trying to form, stop breathing like a marathon runner, stop listening to the stupid what if's. You are going to stop this right now. You are going to walk in there and be her sister because you are her sister and that is what sister's do. Now move."
And the most amazing thing happened. My feet moved. They propelled me to the entrance of the bridal shower. My vision cleared and I could see everything again. The muffled noises of dishes and forks and small talk from other diners came back. My heart was still beating too fast but it was now in my chest instead of my throat. The shaking stopped and my breathing became normal again.
I walked in nervous but not crying or wailing or throwing myself on the floor in over dramatic form. She hadn't arrived yet but once I introduced myself all of her friends knew who I was and called me the sister. I was floored that they all knew about me. Lol. I guess I sometimes forget that I am as equally important in her life as she is in mine. Mental illness sometimes makes us feel less important or worthy than we actually are. That is why I say we are worthy and valid and magnificent, because we are. Even thought mental illness tries to steal that away form us as well. Sly little devil that it is.
I was nervous until she arrived but it didn't get the best of me. I was secretly afraid that her friends would think I was weird or off. That my anxiety disorder was somehow visible to others by just looking at me. That they would think I was strange or judge me. She is such a wonderful person and although, I knew that meant her friends would be wonderful too, I just couldn't shake the fear of being judged less than. I guess stigma is just as much in our own self judgments as it is in others.
Her friends were cool. They were nice and funny. They didn't seem to think of me as weird or strange. They asked me tons of questions about my kids and how my friend was growing up. They were a lot like her, personable and outgoing. I needn't have worried about being judged at all.
So, I had a wonderful time. I got to spend time with my sister and her fiance, whom I equally love. He is so perfect for her. I got to meet her "newer" friends and coworkers. I had good food and cake with butter-cream...yum. I had a blast and she did to.
It just goes to show, that although I can't predict when these anxiety flare ups will occur, I can battle them. I can put my foot down and talk myself into doing what I want. I can demand that I stop allowing this to define everything I do. Because in reality, this is my life not my mental illness's life and I want to live it fully and as happily as possible.