It’s the weekend and I am stuck in hell. Hell, to me anyway, is a crowded bar or club. I can’t see past my hand and I’m bathed in a very unflattering neon-light. It might be dark, but I know I am surrounded by other people because I both smell and feel their sweaty bodies brush against me. I try and wade my way through a sea of men and woman. Men and woman that are all willing to pay double the prices they’d pay during the week for a drink, just to convince themselves that they are having a good time. I stand there festering at the bar, as though I am under a heat lamp, waiting to hatch into the sort of person that doesn’t need to go to bars or clubs anymore. I get a drink and walk over to my friends and take a seat on the one of the couches. I sink into it and think of the comforts of being at home on my own couch, one that hasn’t seen nearly as much gyration and vomiting as the one I am currently sat on.
I have THEE worst social anxiety. It’s the kind of anxiety that sees me chatting to myself in the bathroom mirror, giving a pep talk to my reflection. It’s so bad in fact that I require certain levels of alcohol to function in bars and clubs. If the place is empty then it’s all good, I am golden. But as soon as it busies up my heartbeat quickens and I start to sweat. Snaking my way through that big a mass of people is only fun in my fantasy world, one where I was Harry Potter and they are Death Eaters and I could cast a Patronus charm on them. Now I am back here again, remembering how bad I am socialising, dating and dancing.
I enter the club confidently, with a triumphant air around me as I’ve been asked for ID upon reaching the door. Plowing my way through these other people like some sort of drunk hurricane whose designation is the bar – whose salvation is at the bar – I get a drink and catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror. I look like a deflated balloon. My fringe has gone limp. I go and find my friends and say my hellos and give heartfelt hugs. During the first hour of conversation I am saying to myself ‘keep calm, deep breaths, pace yourself with the booze. PACE. YOURSELF.’ I struggle with this because all I want is for the feeling in my gut to subside, the one that makes me feel like I’m going hurl and causes my palms to sweat profusely. I need to mute that voice in my head that’s telling me to lobotomise myself with a spoon.
Drunkenly I nod at friends from across the table because I can’t hear them and don’t want to make them repeat themselves. I wonder how much conversation has been lost the buzz and chatter you’re surrounded by in a busy club? How many times may a friend have misheard you, but was (like you) too polite to say? I mean, I could have missed some vital bit of information. They could have been spilling the secrets of the universe to me, and I’d never have known. All because I couldn’t focus on anything other than was the cackling and high-pitched squeals whizzing past my ears.
To try and regain focus I close my eyes for five seconds and then daringly re-open them. Now I have a pee. Four drinks in and I have the bladder of an 80-year-old wet sponge. I stand in the queue that snakes around corner. Sandwiched between people that are ultra-critical and ultra-suspicious of me, for no apparent reason other than follow me on Twitter. I just stand there clenching and taking out my phone, flashing an exaggerated smile as though I’ve just read something funny – even though nobody has text me.After peeing I wonder back through the hellscape. I take comfort in the knowledge that I won’t have to pee for another twenty minutes, by which time I’ll be drunk enough not to notice the side-eyes and elbows I am getting.
The worst part of having social anxiety is that you think EVERYONE is either talking about you, glaring at you or plotting your demise. It’s not narcissism, it’s relentless paranoia. And that paranoia chases you around the smelly pits of this club, which at your current level of drunk is the shittest place in the world. After doing my Go Sober challenge I realised that the positives for not drinking far outweigh the bad. I’m trying to implement this new rule where I pace myself and stop when I am decent level of drunk. I am doing this not just for the blatant reasons of saving money and avoiding the crippling hangover, but because I need to tackle this anxiety head on. Attempting to drown it with alcohol doesn’t work; it’s only submerged slightly and pretty soon it’ll pop up the surface again and taunt me; like a Mermaid trying to lure a sailor to his watery death.
My task now is to teach myself to endure situations that would often trigger panic-attacks unless soothed with alcohol. It’s to attend nights out and force myself to chat to new or newish people and try to make friends with them. This issue stems not only from my depression and anxiety, but also my major lack of self-esteem. The general feeling of worthlessness I feel on a night out is sometimes so overbearing I must make quick-escapes to the bathroom intermittently just to make sure my face hasn’t melted off, or that I’ve not got something in my teeth or to give myself a shake. I can do this, I can!
Social anxiety isn’t understood by most; its sufferers sometimes come across as rude or shy. When it isn’t either of them. It’s a mixture of things – for me, anyway. But it is something I am working on. If you see meet someone and they are frantically looking around, then go say hey or compliment them. Something as simple as praising their top could make their night.