This is a story about the day anxiety won. Sometimes, it wins despite my best efforts.
Unless you know me very (very, very, very well) you probably don't know I have anxiety and you probably don't know I'm a total introvert. I'm not necessarily great at masking my introverted personality but I have always held jobs and positions where I have to talk to people and be assertive, so what you don't see or know (unless I tell you) is that I have to really psych myself up and prepare for social interactions or large group gatherings.
This post is 100 percent from my heart and it exposes my (metaphorical) soft little underbelly. If you want to see my literal soft (not-so-little) underbelly, I'll send you a picture. Bahah…not really. But, if this resonates with you – even a little – I am with you all the way.
My anxiety is a separate thing. Sometimes it dances along with my introvertedness…introversion? However you're supposed to say it, being anxious and being an introvert are the perfect partners, and they're always in perfect step. Most of the time, I fool people into thinking I've got it all together, than I'm confident, sure of myself. That I like myself. I don't say that in the intentionally deceitful, “Ha, ha, I've fooled them all” kind of way but for me, everyday interactions that involve people and “putting myself out there” (I hate that phrase, but it fits here) require a lot of prep work, overthinking and second guessing. Sometimes, I do okay. Sometimes, the “Girl, you got this” pep talk I give myself while looking in the review mirror is effective. Sometimes, my anxiety and insecurities get the best of me, allowing anxiety to win.
Sometimes anxiety sneaks up on me and sabotages a situation I thought I had in hand. Sometimes, I'm able to take a minute, catch my breath and let my positive thoughts talk louder than the self-doubt. Sometimes, anxiety wins. Like today.
Today, anxiety got the best of me. I sort of saw it coming. Now that the day is ending and I'm taking my time to reflect on the minutia of the today and yesterday, there are signs pointing to this. But, anxiety is clever. Sneaky. I either did not or chose not to see the signs that anxiety and her sidekicks insecurity and doubt were laying their plans to take over. If I'd have fully realized, I tell myself, I could have done some deep breathing and some positive affirmations out loud – those are sort of hokey, but they do work for me, most of the time. I could have talked to someone. I could have reached out and talked about how I was feeling. I'm an introvert but I'm not friendless. I'm even friends with other introverts who would have understood, who would have “got it.”
I didn't do any of those things and today, anxiety won.
I was supposed to go to a conference for other writers, bloggers, and influencers. I bought a ticket a year in advance. I reserved a hotel room seven months in advance. I never make plans that far in advance for anything, unless its Disney-something. I didn't make an airline reservation because the conference was practically in my backyard…an hour or so by car. I looked at the schedule and picked out what sessions I'd attend. I picked my outfits and put them in a suitcase. I got a mani-pedi in a “special occasion color I wouldn't have otherwise chosen. I charged my laptop and my camera and put my bags by the door. I cleaned out the fridge, did the laundry and had a discussion with my husband about the things we had on hand that would make good, easy dinners.
The morning I was getting ready to leave, two things happened. Severe thunderstorms hit my town and my little case of the sniffles that had been annoying for the past few days developed into full-blown sneezy-snotty-itis. I told myself it was probably allergies. I'd been to two outdoor parties the weekend before and spent about two hours in my garden and I told myself it was allergies and took some medicine. I looked at the weather report and then decided to delay my departure by a couple of hours. Then it was a couple more. Then, my allergies were really kicking in and I decided to go the next day.
I'd just be missing the welcome icebreaker that I didn't want to go to anyway. The meat of the conference started the next day, so it wasn't like I'd be missing anything, other than a party. And, introverts don't like parties. I was saving one night's hotel stay, so it was a win-win all the way around. When the the weather lifted around dinner time and I was feeling a little better, I chided myself a little for being so quick on the draw to cancel my room for that night.
I laid my clothes out, I set my alarm and I went to bed early. If I got on the road by 7:00, I'd be at the conference while everyone was still at breakfast or in their rooms getting ready. No one would even know I'd skipped out on the first night of the conference and if anyone would have missed me, I'd have just said “allergies.” It's spring in Texas. Enough said.
I woke up at 2:03 a.m. (my alarm was set for 6:00 a.m.) wide awake. I hate nights like that and I have them more than I care to admit. Like anxiety and introversion, anxiety and and insomnia are the Ying to one another's Yang. I scrolled through social media, like I often do when I can't sleep. I saw posts from people I know on social media who were attending the conference, having fun at the welcome party I'd dreaded going to. They were laughing, smiling, confidently posing for pictures and taking selfies using hashtags like #TheseAreMyPeople and #Tribe.
I started telling myself I would never fit in. Sure, these were people I knew. They'd smile and be glad to see me. We'd hug and exchange “You look wonderfuls.” Maybe I'd be asked to jump in a picture or two. I picture myself standing awkwardly on the end of the back row, because I'm tall and because I never feel like I fit in any group enough to jump in the middle of the picture.
I had visions of arriving in the ballroom of the five-star hotel where the conference was being held just before the morning keynote was to begin. I'd scan the room trying to find a friendly face, an open seat, or a spot I might fit in. Then I'd picture being told every seat I tried to sit in was being reserved for someone else. I've been to these kinds of conferences before, and while I've rarely felt like I was part of a tribe, no one has ever pulled a Regina George on me, either. Hashtag Irrational Fears.
Despite being anxious and tightly wound, I'm pretty comfortable in my introverted skin. I told myself it didn't matter if I found “My people”, my tribe or my “Ride or Dies.” I'm not an unfriendly person but I'm awkward and terrible at small talk. I'm used to being the one standing at the corner table stirring the ice in her drink simultaneously rehearsing ways to start a conversation with someone…anyone, and trying to avoid eye contact.
I spent the early morning convincing myself that I didn't fit in and that no one would talk to me or want to sit next to me. This negative self-talk continued for four hours. When the alarm went off, I told my husband I'd been up all night and that I didn't feel well. I called the hotel and cancelled my reservation. I made my peace with eating the $200 or so bucks I'd spent on the conference fee and I went back to bed. Sleep was a long time coming.
I stayed in bed all day and let my husband do for my kids, as he'd been planning to do, since I was supposed to be out of town. I got up the next day and unpacked my suitcase. I hung up my pretty outfits I'd planned to wear at the parties I didn't want to go to. I put away my power clothes I'd planned to wear at keynote and breakout sessions. I put the five pairs of shoes I'd packed for a two-day conference back on the shoe rack. I took the business cards I'd ordered for networking out of my bag and I cried. I wiped my sparkly silver nail polish off with a cotton ball and I cried some more.
I spent a little – not a lot – time beating myself up for chickening out. For letting anxiety and insecurity get the best of me. I looked at the conference pictures online and waffled back and forth between FOMO and “I made the right call…I never would have fit in.”
I felt relieved and defeated at the same time. Relieved because I'd avoided the situation that would provoke anxiety. Defeated because I know I could have conquered it, if I'd only tried a little bit harder. But, this was the day anxiety won.
Sometimes, anxiety wins. Sometimes it doesn't. When it wins, we pick ourselves up and promise ourselves we'll do better next time. We unpack that suitcase and hang up the pretty clothes and promise ourselves that one day soon, we'll wear them on a day where anxiety doesn't win.
Anxiety and insecurity got the best of me for one day. It won't be the last time, I'm sure. But the day anxiety won is going to also go down as the day where I decided anxiety isn't going to always win.
I don't know if I'll ever have a tribe or a group of people I call my ride or dies. I might always be one of those people who likes her own company the best. But, I do know I need to call out my anxiety and give it a name so I can garner support. So I can validate my feelings and my doubts. So that next time I'm having a case of the “not good enough's” that I can have someone to hold me accountable.
So that someone else out there who feels and thinks the way I do will know they're not alone.
You got me today, anxiety. Today, you won. But you won't win tomorrow.