I have a lot of anxiety about many things. One of them is going by myself into situations where there are several unknowns. These unknowns can be: who will be there? Will I know anyone? Are they "safe" people who will not judge me for my "not so visible" disability? What will they talk about? (If it's at a restaurant) What should I order? and How loud will it be...music, voices in the restaurant, and will I be able to hear the others at my table because of the noise level? Another anxiety in these situations is the social nuances themselves...conversational turn taking (dialogue vs. monologue), when to share my opinions and when to keep them to myself, how controversial will or can the discussions be?
Last night, I had a Mom's night out with several other moms from our Homeschool Co-op...and I went through the processes of unknowns and social nuances. (One thing that helps me is silent role playing. Thinking through some possible situations, what I can say and how I should act or respond.) Still nervous, I went anyway. When I got there, I spent the first, maybe, hour just listening...not speaking. I assessed the situation and the atmosphere. I answered questions when asked, asked a couple of questions myself. I was aware of the length of my side of a conversation and payed close attention when someone else was talking to me. I worked hard at responding appropriately and trying to ask questions about the other person. It's a little easier when the other person and I have something in common, but it's harder when the other person seems aloof or too perfect. I tried to be very aware of my surroundings and tried to focus on only the people at my table. (It helped that I sat with my back to the rest of the restaurant.) Lots of heavy brain processing. I did well, but it was very hard.
Now...put me on a stage to speak in front of large crowds...no problem. Put me in a smaller group or one-on-one, and my anxiety goes through the roof. However, what you see on the outside doesn't reflect what is going on inside. I have worked hard to develop strategies and routines to help me cope and adjust when I need to. All too often, I have let this anxiety win and have stayed back out of fear, not wanting to face the situation. But, today, even though I still struggle, I fight through...heart pounding, body shaking, knees knocking. I say a prayer and just GO! A well-known tv preacher said, "Do it afraid!" Often, that is just how I do it. The key is...I DO IT!
I try hard not to let the anxiety rule. Do I always succeed? NO. Sometimes I am too exhausted to fight. I have to gauge my activities. If there is something I want to do but there are a bunch of other things scheduled, I have to prioritize what it is most important and decide what I want to reschedule or cancel. I need to be aware of my energy levels. I can't do too much or I'll crash. No matter what, after any stressful, high brain processing event, I need to take recovery time. Usually the next day, I have to do low stress activities and take some "down time". Otherwise, I overload and again, crash.
So, I struggle through my anxiety, working through it day by day. And those times when I am too tired to push through, it's okay...I rest. But, next time...watch out Anxiety...I'm barreling through! You're not going to stop me from living my life!