wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

A Mini-Break or a Break Down?

Mini breaks…. A time to relax, unwind and do fun activities. Or if you’re me, it’s a time to feel anxious, pack a ridiculous amount of clothes and drink too much. As someone who appreciates structure and routine I sometimes find myself lost when they’re removed. That’s not to say that I schedule every minute of my day (including toilet and coffee breaks,) no of course not. But I do like having ‘a constant’ to keep my mind occupied and my hands from becoming idle.

On Friday I went on a mini break with my boyfriend and his friend’s for a birthday thing. Four days in a cottage by the beach with people I hardly knew:

Red flag one: Romley is in the middle of nowhere (seriously, my only escape route was the sea as I can’t drive my boyfriend’s car!)
Red flag two: I would need to act ‘normal’ for 96 hours so that his friends wouldn’t think I was an oddball/moody cow/mad woman in the attic
Red flag three: I knew they wanted to play games in the evenings like charades…… So yeah, lots of booze needed.

Just to clarify, no I’m not a recluse. I love a good natter and enjoy going out for drinks or dinner. Dancing in particular is one of my favourites, (killer moves.) However, I tend to feel more comfortable in smaller groups rather than large ones. According to Susan Cain this is a classic characteristic of an introvert (Quiet by Susan Cain – good book.) My ideal amount of people to go out with is four, any more than that and I tend to withdraw into myself. Not in a shy or negative way, I just get slightly overwhelmed by the magnitude of personalities present and devote all my attention to listening rather than speaking. The loop hole for this is… being a small group within a big group. E.g. If I’m at a party with thirty people, I’m happy to mingle if I have a secure base of ‘inner circle people’ – it gets rather complicated!
According to Cain, the other classic introvert trait which I possess is; needing time alone. I struggle to be an active participant in a group for extended periods of time (more than 2-3 hours.) Work is different as you’re not expected or paid to talk for seven hours straight.  As much as I enjoy socialising and spending time with others, I still need time by myself. It isn’t unusual for me to sit in the living room and say nothing for twenty minutes or spend an entire car journey day dreaming.
In the past others have thought this to be strange; Isn’t Claire quiet? She looked really miserable earlier. I wonder if something’s wrong. – To be honest, I can completely understand. It must seem odd to someone who doesn’t know me. Then again, they didn’t see me an hour ago talking someone’s ear off! It’s just part of my personality I guess. I need time to process things.
Anyway, the idea of going away with eight people who I didn’t know well (apart from conversations on nights out) was daunting.

Ok, so now that I’ve made a holiday with friends sound like a visit to a torture chamber let me put a positive spin on things. Most importantly, how do we deal with the anxiety?

  1. A useful tactic employed during the week before the mini break was; ‘distraction.’ I knew that the dreaded ‘what if’ thoughts would desperately try and blow things out of proportion, so I wouldn’t let myself think about it for more than five minutes at a time. When I did think about it I made a mental list of all fun things that we had planned and how nice it would be to get out of London.
  2. Second of all was ‘acceptance.’ I knew that I couldn’t be around everyone 24/7 – so I gave myself permission in advance to slip away for half an hour whenever I needed to. I also brought a book to relax with. To put it into context, I didn’t walk off during dinner or half way through a conversation! It was at points during the day when people were chilling outside or watching TV together. ‘Down time’ is important and I made a conscious effort to accept this and not criticise myself for needing it. Remember: Wanting to be alone does not make you a freak, so don’t punish yourself just accept it. You don’t even need to make an excuse for your absence, people probably won’t notice and if they do just say that you’re addicted to a book or needed to make a phone call. If you’re comfortable enough to admit that you need some time alone then that’s even better.
  3. Finally, I decided to expose myself to what made me uncomfortable (no, not naked limbo or anything extreme.) In general, I don’t enjoy having all eyes on me, so the idea of playing a high speed game of charades in front of 9 people made me nervous.
    Anyway, I decided that the only way to tackle this problem was to face it. So despite my discomfort I volunteered to go first. I didn’t even give myself the chance to think about it, I just got up there and started playing. And you know what…? It was so much fun! (I know that sounds really cheesy and naff) but it was. After sixty seconds I wasn’t even aware of my nerves anymore, I just got on with it. Btw, it turns out that I’m actually bloody good at charades!

I actually had a lovely time and used the opportunity to get to know my boyfriend’s friends better, (they’re lovely and completely non scary!)
For the first time in a long time I went away as myself rather than a caricature of someone I imagined to be fun and desirable…. As a result I came back feeling happy/slightly hung over rather than exhausted.

It takes balls to be yourself…. Maybe one day I’ll feel comfortable enough to ‘be me’ all the time? Until then, I have wine…. and The Beatles.

Ps – apologies, this was quite a self-indulgent one!

Categories: Anxiety

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6 replies

  1. This made me smile. I’m like this!

  2. That Susan Cain book is very illuminating – sounds like your mini-break went well!
    What a lovely post and congratulations on really taking some of the insights from Quiet and applying them directly!

  3. I think it was the psychologist Carl Rogers who said that what is most personal is also most universal, so don’t think writing as you did is self indulgent. You have probably pressed innumerable buttons, and half the battle is knowing we are not alone !

  4. Congrats! You seem to be getting along really well. I suffered from anxiety for years, but it got better with time and since i stopped drinking altogether and started exercising and doing Chi Gung instead, I have not had a panic incident since 2001.”Down time” is SO important. Keep up the good work.

  5. Thanks! You sound just like me… it is very comforting to know I’m not alone. Just back from a week’s holiday with my family and your story is so familiar.

  6. This post rang so true for me in many ways: large groups of people and over-bearing personalities and the extended period of socialising, in particular. So true! I’m always itching to get away after a few hours. I think I’m a bona fide introvert. It doesn’t feel so strange when I read about a fellow ‘sufferer’! Great post.

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