Saturday, July 12, 2008

Outside the Circle

I went to a big party on Thursday. First, I hate big gatherings. Something about them always send me into a dissociative state. Actually I know exactly what it is about them that sends me both metaphorically, and in my mind, literally, out of the room during these occasions: Social Anxiety.

If you met me one on one, in person, your first reaction would be that I am outgoing and social, you may even find me interesting, because I keep up on day to day issues, am well read, educated, talkative, a good conversationalist, caring, kind and interested in your stories. You would believe I had the ability to talk to anyone, because I am usually really good at projecting that persona and, to tell you the truth, I usually can talk to anyone for brief periods of time.

I say usually, because often I approach a social gathering and I feel like I am not really there. It feels like I am sitting on the outside looking in. At these times, even when I am talking to someone I get the impression that the conversation could be carried on without me, and that others are being dismissive, or rejecting me, or that I am brutally uninteresting and my conversation skills have disappeared.

At the party the other day the whole time I felt like an outsider looking in. Some of it may have been the people at the party, but most of it was me. It was a birthday party for one of our friends, who happens to be one of the wealthiest people in this city. His house is a 13000 (yes thousand) square foot heritage home on an acre and a half lot in the exclusive area of the city. Our friends are beautiful people. They are involved in tons of charitable work and do so much for so many organizations here. I really care for them and when I am at there house for a small dinner party I always enjoy their company.

Thursday was different. The guest list was filled with some of the most elite, powerful and wealthiest people in the city. And there I was, no job, no money and a chronic mental illness; feeling like the prospects for my future were slim. It is not the lack of money that made me feel like an outsider, but the lack of a life that felt worthy of being there.

I tried to make conversations with numerous people, and of course the first question out of people's mouths is always, "what do you do"? I decided before the party that I was going to say I taught art classes, which is sort of true. I do volunteer to do that 3 hours a week.

So a party goer would start talking to me, ask me what I did. I would say I teach drawing classes. They would then ask where. I was stupidly unprepared for this question, but impulsively decided to tell the truth. "I teach art at a clubhouse for people with mental illnesses". I may as well have said I have a mental illness. The conversations became stilted and always ended abruptly.

One person asked me where I taught classes and I told them. They said "oh I do work for the Boys and Girls club in that area. I asked him what kind of work he did for the club. He looked at me like I was out of my mind to not know who he was and haughtily said, "I don't WORK there, I am on the board of Directors". He then promptly turned away from me and began talking to someone else. After sitting there staring at their backs while they exclude me from their conversation I finally got up and left the area. I felt like a pariah.

So I spent the rest of the party sitting by myself, having anxiety attacks and just waiting until it felt like I had put in a reasonable amount of "face" time. At 10:00 I excused myself, thanked the hosts and got in my car. I burst out into tears. All I ever want is to feel accepted for who I am.

I can't tell you how many times at that party I just got up and went and sat in the bathroom to get away from the feeling that I was a complete outsider; to feel some relief from an intense, shameful shyness and sensitivity that was making it impossible to interact. The more scared and alone I felt, the more I began having dissociation and feelings of depersonalization.


jcat said...

Hey sweetie, just been catching up on the last week or so of posts.

So, first off, what happened with the scan?
Next, you have to remember one thing: me and most of the people who read and/or comment here, don't know you when you are truly well. I'd guess it's the same for many of us? We have this picture in our minds of how awesome we could be, how awesome we used to be before our brains attacked us. And because we know how much more we could or should be, we place no value on who we are now. You teach art, you paint, you write, you play guitar....and in between you still have times when you are an amazing friend / family member / spouse...

I think you are an amazing person now. You know all sorts of things, you can do all sorts of things. The Aqua you are now is someone that is interesting and funny and wise. I'm not sure that the A you were in the past could possibly be a nicer person to meet than the one you are now, warts and all.

Oh and I know exactly how you felt at that's how I end up at every family gathering. Between my folks and my sister and her in-laws - they'd all feel right at home at that party. Best thing I ever did tho was to get some wildlife involved - being an unpaid volunteer with little animals gets you far more points than doing the same with people. And as a bonus, you can always leave early saying that the wolf needs its bottle.....

Aqua said...

Hi Jcat,
You are sweet and a good friend. Thank you.

I went for the scan on Wednesday and they said Dr. X would receive the results in a week, so I will let you know if anything comes of it. I suspect all my symptoms are either medication or depression induced, but I guess it is better to ere on the side of caution.

Thanks for the pep talk. I'm not very "peppy" lately and I really needed it.

Aqua said...

Oh yeah, I meant to say we are sort of thinking alike in terms of the animals, except I am actively on the hunt for either a youngish white boxer rescue dog, or a new white boxer puppy. Dogs are great excuses for leaving anywhere early and they love you unconditionally.

The Silent Voices in my Mind said...

Wow, that party sounds like the very definition of uncomfortable. I despise social gatherings, even where I am very familiar with the people there. While I can fake it around one or two unknown people, I can't do parties with lots of strangers unless medicated and even then it's all I can do to stay in the room. If my Hubby walks away from me, I have a panic attack. Being with people like that? Huh-uh. No how, no way.

YOU did great! I am so impressed. That "what do you do" question is a killer. And among people like that? I can't imagine. I think you acted and reacted impressively. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I hope you can see how well you did under fire and take something good away from it. You are such a great person, truly remarkable.

That guy on the board for the Boys and Girls Club? You are better than him. Wanna know why? You are actively *trying* to help others, giving them everything you've got, even when it taps you to the core. What is he doing? Sitting on a board of directors? As in throwing his money at the problem and talking about it... from a distance.

{{{Supportive cyber-hugs}}}

Michelle S. said...

I love your comment about a dog being a great excuse "for leaving anywhere early and they love you unconditionally." I have an eight year old lab who knows just when to curl up next to me and when to demand a walk (to get me outside?). I am very much like you - I actaully enjoy people and talking to them but not in large groups - nope. not me. no way. Sounds like you did a great job though.

Aqua said...

Thank you SV and Michelle. I am much better in situations with a couple other people than when there are groups. My pdoc said (in the nicest way possible) that sometimes my social anxiety brings on feelings of paranoia). I think to some degree maybe he's right. I'm not sure.

Yes...I do need a dog. When I had Bert I always was able to say, "It's been a lovely time, but my dog is locked up at home and needs to go out". Then I'd race home and hug my dog for all he was worth. If I was crying all 100lbs of him would try to climb up into my lap to comfort me. He was incredible.

Annie said...

Aqua, I totally relate to the anxiety at parties. I'm sorry it was so painful. There is something wrong when we as humans are defined by what we do rather than who we are!Take care, Annie

Aqua said...

Hi Annie,
Thanks, I agree. I remember when I was young and rebellious I would answer the question of what do you do with, " I dance and sing, and love to go see bands. I hangout with my best friend. I play the quitar, love my family and love to create things". I may have to start saying that again.

Polar Bear said...

I can relate to your social anxiety. I often think of myself as on the outside too.

I hope you do get a dog. Isn't it an essential requirement of living on a farm??

I wish i could have a dog. But I don't have the space for one. That's just an excuse though - I actually don't trust myself to be a dog owner. Far too much responsibility, and I don't have a good track record for owning pets.

I had a goldfish once when I was young and he ran away (hee hee).

Jazz said...

Hey, Aqua, sounds like you did just fine at that party. I don't know if I could have even gone! I have a really hard time with large groups, especially if they are mostly strangers, but even family gatherings are taxing.

Dogs are awesome pals! I adore mine...they always love me, and you are right--they are a great excuse for a quick getaway!