It can be hard to make friends but throw in anxiety and it is like trying to put a cork back into a wine bottle; it is a bad fit.
I’ve had social anxiety for five years now and in that time, I have spent most of it avoiding the people around me.
Last year I moved to a new area and I have been trying to make new friends because as reluctant as I am, I know I should socialise. Being thirty, approaching someone at a gathering is like handing them a business card. It’s time-consuming, you get odd looks and you feel awkwardly uncomfortable. I have found it near impossible to build a group of new friends.
Is it me? Am I a bad friend? Am I doing this all wrong? All these questions roam my mind until any effort is futile.
The thing is, my anxiety makes me a difficult person to get along with. When I am having a good day, I will message everyone on my phone arranging meet-ups but when things inevitably turn sour, there I am cancelling everything last minute for no reason aside from my unpredictable mood.
The minutest of things can create the never-ending list of possible disasters should I socialise. Perhaps I won’t like my drink, perhaps I will spill it, it might be expensive, they might want to share a platter and split the bill, I might get lost or take too long in the bathroom, but the worst is my perpetuating fear that I will have a panic attack in public. It can be pretty much anything my brain can think of and circulate in my head like a sprawling migraine until I relent and cancel.
Of course, we shouldn’t shy away from the ugly side of mental illness and I do have some coping mechanisms that can help me get out and about, but I cannot help but think even these are adding to the problem.
I dictate where we go because I need to see the menu beforehand, plan my route to the counter, toilets and fire exits. I cannot handle spur of the moment decisions, so pub crawls and shopping trips are out of the question. I can’t drink because although it puts my anxiety at ease it heightens depression. Being the only sober one at a gathering means my patience wears thin, especially when everyone reaches that merry stage. When I hit my daily limit of pretending to be friendly, I simply get up and leave. Halfway through a conversation, a drink or a meal? I don’t care. Once my limit is reached I am out of there. The problem with that is, aside from the obvious rudeness, I forget that I am not the only one with mental health problems. I forget that my actions may negatively impact those I am with but at that moment in time I simply cannot see it.
So, you see, it is no wonder making friends that stick around is hard. Finding friends who will willingly stand by me during my bad days is even harder. I know I let people down at the last minute and I see why they are reluctant to make plans with a person who may drop them with less than an hour’s notice, but bear with me, I am trying.
Until the time comes when my anxiety doesn’t rule my every action, please approach with caution.