As a self-professed anxious ball of anxiety, I know firsthand all the things every mom with social anxiety appreciates because, well, I've lived it. I've been there and I've done that and I have the shirt to prove it. The funny/weird/awful thing about social anxiety is, it literally doesn't give a single care as to what you want or need. Instead, it'll strike at the worst possible moment. I liken my social anxiety to annoying neighbors that let themselves inside my house just as I'm getting out of the shower (and I'm obviously dancing and singing some'90s tune). As a mom who is required to be social, that annoying neighbor visits a helluva lot more often than I would like (and usually sticks around for dinner and drinks).
I've talked openly about my battles with depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) but I think the most relatable for of my disorders is that of the social kind. We live in a ridiculously social word where all it takes is an internet connection or a child in school and you're suddenly shoved into some kind of social obligation where it's unheard of not to be involved.
As a mother of two children at different stages (ages 10 and 5), I'm often put into frustrating situations and conversations I don't want to be part of. My mental state goes through a bit of a tantrum when I'm not feeling social but am forced to be (and I apologize to anyone on the receiving end of it), but it's a huge misconception that I can simply control any part of it. If you've experienced social anxiety you know you can't tame this beast even when you desperately want to.
Having said all of that, there are definitely things I appreciate as a mother dealing with the all-consuming anxiety that should be highlighted, and not just because I think more people should be doing the following things (although that would be nice, so please and thank you in advance).
When They're Given A Lot Of Space
Let us not discount the importance of personal space. As a mother of two, my boundaries are constantly crossed and trampled. For the most part, I deal with it because they're my kids. However, once we're out of the house I make no promises as to how I'll deal with other people stepping inside my personal perimeter. This could be on an elevator, at the store, or anywhere other children are. The less space I have to myself, the more likely it is I'm going full panic mode. So please, take a step (or six) back.
When Someone Chooses Email Over Any Other For Of Communication
Here's a quick run-down of the best ways to reach me for any reason, in order of getting my attention: email, text, postal mail, carrier pigeon, message in a bottle, paper airplane, phone, show up on my doorstep unannounced. I much prefer thinking on my words so I can edit and delete as I please, as opposed to speaking out loud. I'm incredibly awkward and often say the wrong things at the wrong times, stumbling over what it means to be a human.
So please, if you must contact me, work down the list and for the love of all things, if you're going to "drop by" give me ample time to prep my brain (a few weeks should do the trick).
When People Don't Continually Invite Them (Or Their Kids) To Places
Yes, my kids want to be invited to parties and play dates and to an extent, I want them to be invited as well. However, there came a point this past year when my 10-year-old had five invites to respond to. That's a lot. Maybe I'd feel differently if my 5-year-old had the same popularity problem, but he's always moping around wondering why no one wants to play with him. I realize the level of craziness increases with age so for now, I enjoy only dealing with one child's constant invitations to things.
Social anxiety is selfish as it really just wants me to turn away every event they're invited to. I know as a mother who cares about her children's well-being, I can't do that. However, I'll probably turn down 90% of them. Because, stress.
When People Pretend Not To See Them In Public
For me, being in public is the absolute worst. I work from home so having to venture out for any reason other than my daily latte generally proves to be an unnecessary amount of stress. There have been a few times I've been at the grocery store doing my best to speed through and get out only to run into someone from town. I, of course, will chat but what you can't see (or hear) are the agonizing screams echoing from the inside of me.
I don't want to be rude in any way and trust me — it's not personal. I just don't want to talk. At all. About anything. I will undoubtedly freeze up and say something really stupid, then spend the rest of my life re-living it in my memory. Could you just email me instead?
When People Bypass Small Talk
The thing I love most about those who really know me is that they don't waste time with small talk like "how's the weather?" I'm an Aquarius (not that this has to mean much) and if I'm going to invest time speaking to someone, I want to discuss hopes, dreams, and fears. I don't care about surface chit-chat and can't force myself to invest.
So if we're stuck in a social setting and you're tempted to talk about last night's game (that I didn't watch), next week's episode of the show everyone's talking about (that I slo probably don't watch), or whatever "funny" thing happened in your dream (that I really don't want to hear about), please stop and go straight to something in the vein of "tell me what it's like to be rejected so many times before finally selling your books." I promise you, I'll feel a lot more "relaxed" (of there is such a state) if you choose the latter.
When They Can Enjoy Quiet Time
One of the most underrated gifts a person with social anxiety can receive is not the gift of gab but, instead, the gift of complete and total silence. The world is a loud, busy place to be that having any sort of anxiety amplifies all of that. Being the introvert I am, I also cannot center myself or find any kind of internal peace without some solid quiet. My kids are pretty loud by nature (as most of them are) so I reserve the right to say "shh" whenever my brain is bursting with alerts. If you feel generous, give someone with social anxiety a little quiet time today. It could be the difference between a panic attack and blissful freedom.
When They Receive Understanding And Compassion Over Judgement
I get that social anxiety is confusing and weird sometimes. Being someone who deals with it, I find it hard to explain why I can't be in crowded rooms or why parties aren't actually fun for me. I really appreciate when someone goes out of their way to hold back judgements and, instead, offers sympathy, compassion, and understanding. Even if they've never experienced the feelings I have, I calm down a lot faster if whoever is with me at least tries to get it. There have been times my body freezes up and I can't move from a spot until my partner guides me away from whatever triggered it. Having someone recognize the internal struggle and attempt to intervene is everything.
The worst parts of having anxiety, especially social anxiety, aren't just that my brain ends up in a knotted state but that others might perceive me as defective. I want to be able to be in social settings without issue but it's simply not in me. The silver lining here is, without all the worry, I wouldn't be me, and aside from all the awkward, I'm pretty OK. For now, my kids agree.