leaving the house is hard: social anxiety and other stories.


if you don’t know any people who are/have bipolar, you might not be familiar with the intensity of bipolar extroversion. i don’t know if that’s the technical term for it. it’s how i tend to tag it in my mind.

when my disease manifested, i became extremely extroverted. i would go out most nights, drink until i was ill, and make a million and one new friends everywhere i went. clubs and bars and coffeeshops, stupid adventures and those sorts of things. i made friends instantly, and didn’t care or think about how dumb i might be acting. i was INTERESTING! i was FUN. i was RARELY SOBER. etc. this is what bipolar does.

my effective medication for bipolar coincided with the start of The Nausea. this was 2012. The Nausea started as a small creeping irritation. the cat litter made me gag. seeing mouldy food made me gag. a few smells made me gag. but i was more tired. i assumed that was the medication. the Nausea got far, far worse over the next years. so did the tiredness. yeah. cancer, bro.

but the other problem with having my bipolar remiss is that my capacity to Leave The House and feel confident is completely eroded. most of the time, i feel like my presence is an imposition – that the people i came with would rather be talking to other, cooler people. i watch every thing i say, waiting for something grossly inappropriate to slip out, self conscious because of my broad accent (for those of you following at home who’ve never met me off the internet, i have a really prominent, slap in the face Queensland accent). i am always waiting, always waiting for someone to pull me aside and say what i said was wrong, or stupid. i say words wrong sometimes. i forget words.

i feel weird about contacting people to ask if they want to hang out. i always feel like there are better people for them to be spending time with. better things for them to be doing. i’m probably going to say something stupid, or lower the mood with my dumb conversation. that, now, is even worse, because CANCER. *neon lights*.

but, as much as people probably don’t pick it, i have a fairly pronounced anxiety disorder. in the scheme of my co-morbidities, it probably is the least of an issue, after years of therapy to manage it. it’s easier for me to control than mania, depression, epilepsy, or cancer. but it’s there. it’s big and bad and ugly, and it tells me to stay home because everything outside is terrifying and you will just say something stupid and no one wants you there anyway.

cancer compounded this more than i can say, as did the year or so leading up to diagnosis when i got sicker and sicker. my desire to go out, and leave the house at all diminished. i would cancel things at the last minute, or put things off, because i was so tired, and felt so sick, all of the time. i just thought that was normal.

canberra is hard. canberra is a place where people move away, all the time. i have some dear, close friends here. i am very lucky. but most of my close friends are not here. i end up relying on the few friends i regularly spend time with in canberra, and i feel like a pain in the arse burden. and now that more people have again left, or are about to leave, i’m stuck in this awkward position of needing to make new friends, somehow. this is hard enough for me, now the mania is tamed, let alone with a death sentence hanging on my quickly ticking time.

all those niggles of ‘why would someone even want to be friends with you, you messy, messy, socially inappropriate dull conversationalist ugly weirdo’ compound with ‘and you’re only going to be around for another 5-10 years in the best case scenario: why would they BOTHER’. and building new friendships, on top of all this, feels horrendously difficult. i feel stripped of all the things i could do to start conversations and be entertaining and fun. i am facing down a few months in the repair shop, trying to scrape as much of those errant cells out of me.

i go places sometimes, and i feel like everything is swirling around me. there are all these people, all these things, all this stuff happening at once and i don’t know where to look. i try and say something, and i worry i am interrupting, or that what i have to say is self involved or ignorant or not the point. i wonder why i am even bothering, and i don’t even know how to build friendships that aren’t almost entirely conducted on keyboards anymore. keyboards are safe. no one has to see my spotty acne covered face, or my scruffy useless hair, or the fact that i constantly freak out that i am making too much, or not enough eye contact. i just want to go home. i just want to get out of there. sometimes i find someone i can talk to, and then i worry i am monopolising their time.

when i am manic, none of this happens. when i am manic, i am on fire, in the middle of everything, untouchable, vibrant, vivid, and so, so alive. i am this beast, this creature, this monster that sucks everything in. people seem to gravitate towards me, and me towards them, and i get bigger and bigger and bigger. and now i don’t get that. or when i do, i stay home because that way lies disaster. and then it passes and i am left as me, little old me, without the charisma.

when the mania first got controlled i worried so much about every friendship i had made since the onset of my bipolar. i had a few close friends from before that period, but not lots. it started in 2007. every friend i made since then, i worried that now i was dull and not shining like the thousand egotistical suns of a blazing manic episode. i was quiet and wanted to hide in corners. any magic i thought i had was nothing, nothing, just words and actions and LOUD shut UP elizabeth shrink down, stop it.

i had an ex once tell me that when i was in a room, i took up so much space that people couldn’t help look at me. that somehow, people would just see me; not because i am beautiful – but because i just… am. i think that was the bipolar, taking up space. i don’t take up space anymore. i feel tiny.

(nb. i have really strong feelings about the idea of being beautiful. for me, it’s not important. at all. i like clothes, but mostly as objects, and i rarely really think too much about how i look, other than hating the acne. i am not beautiful, i am, like most people, attractive to those who love me, invisible to those who don’t know me, and probably hideous to a few. but if feeling beautiful is important to you, that is also really awesome!)

i went to a house party a long time ago, and got into a conversation with a friend of several of my friends – a dear close friend and lover of one of my most loved people. he pretty much spat at me with contempt, and shot down everything i said, and halfway through a conversation, stopped talking to me and started checking his phone. the next time i saw him, he blanked me out, and talked to the guy i was with, ignoring me, and not even looking at me. i can’t help but feel that this is my fault: when two of the best people i know care about this person deeply, why does he make me feel so threatened and scared and like complete and utter trash? i feel like he views me as some sort of middle class snot. and he makes me feel invisible. that is how i always feel at parties, and having someone back that up – someone who, surely, must be a good person, because why would other people like him so much – has actually made me go out even less since then. i avoided a going away party because this guy makes me feel so uncomfortable. and he’s an activist, which is why i never do anything political, or say anything political because i hear his voice in my ears, mocking me and making me feel small. i don’t know what i said to make him loathe me so much, but i’m too embarrassed to even bring it up with my two dear friends who are friends of his. the other friend of mine who was there when he blanked me apologised for his rudeness. i explained that he was why i didn’t go to protests, or rallies, because i am scared of men making me feel like i’ll never be a good enough activist because i once dated a soldier, and my tattoos are done in a shop, and i don’t smoke TOBACCO FROM MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS SMASHING IT TO THE MAN, and stop JUDGING ME because i have a job for the government. i work in a library.

how do people do it? how do you go out to a Place and make friends? or how do you even feel brave enough to ask the people you do have in your life if you could spend time together, without feeling like you are wasting their time? how do you stand in a room full of strangers and know what to do or what to say? how do you even stand there? holding a drink in one hand, the other crossed across your torso?

i can’t help but feel all this is really foolish of me. that i should just go out, do it, talk to people, make FRIENDS, contact my friends more often. i feel ignorant and invisible in rooms, in spaces. i feel safe online, where all my friends are just a few keys away, just a few words next to me, and i am not afraid, and that guy isn’t going to sneer at me and walk off. i won’t get drunk and feel unsafe. no one’s going to sexually assault me if i end up in an unsafe situation. here it is words and i feel ok about that, i feel ok here. but i am also lonely a lot of the time, because i spend so many hours at home, i’ve spend so much time alone in the last 9 months. sometimes twitter is hard too, because there are ‘cool groups’ there but it’s easy to ignore them, you know, because their feeds don’t cross with mine much.

there reached a point where i realised i felt safer in hospital. i didn’t need to worry about saying anything wrong because these people were paid to care about me. that is their job! it’s similar with cafe staff. i got to know and be friends with almost all of the staff at Cupping Room in civic. they have to be nice! hospitals? the smell familiar. they smell like people kindly listening to me, and checking my vital signs to know that i am safe, and giving me medication when i feel sick, and bringing me hot chocolate when i cry. i never feel like an imposition there. i never feel anxious there. god, even in terrifying things, like PET scans – the worst scan for scanxiety i have ever had – i had a wonderful nurse talk me through it, and tell me comforting stories, and share wise words about living and dying and how death comes for all of us. when you have cancer, you know, that becomes almost comforting. the scan technician remembered me from last time, and gently took me through. another nurse wrapped me in warm blankets. when i went to the hospital in an ambulance, the ambo in the back just gentle stroked my arm while i tried not to cry because i had to go to the hospital on new years eve and for FUCKS SAKE body, can’t you just do one thing right? i was hooked up to a 12 lead and we all knew what my heart was doing, and nothing i said would be embarrassing there because i have cancer and i am dying and everyone knows that and no one is frightened.

this, this anxiety is harder than cancer a lot of the time. and the end result is this: i sit at home alone while my partner spends time with her friends because i don’t even know how to call people and i freak out about answering the phone and i just think no one wants to talk to me, like that guy at that party, sneering at me for not being a real person. i don’t feel like a real person and now i have to leave the house to get food and i feel so alone.


About elizabeth

various things.
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9 Responses to leaving the house is hard: social anxiety and other stories.

  1. Mani says:

    OMG. I have this, but I don’t tell anybody. A couple of months ago, I went from being the life of the party and (apparently) extrovert (with people I knew and felt comfortable with OR when I was drunk and therefore comfortable), to being afraid to go anywhere, afraid to be seen doing “fun crazy things” that might seem “stupid and immature” for someone my age. Afraid constantly of being judged. I feel like I’m letting all my friends down. They really liked the other me. I don’t know if that person will ever come back, Or even if they should. Don’t want to stand out. Don’t want anyone to see me. People certainly liked me better when I was a dick who didn’t care what anyone thought. But maybe I was their entertainment. I’m sorry you are going through this. You ARE interesting and intelligent and likeable, and I’ve never thought anything you’ve said is inappropriate. You’re just NOT BORING, like most people. And I never thought you had an extreme Qld accent either. Thought you were really well-spoken. Do you think your social anxiety gets triggered by any type of event? I suspect that mine coincided with a woman berating me very loudly (a long tirade) in public, in front of the mothers of children my daughter goes to school with. I’ve been too scared to go to the shopping centre as well.

    • veritas says:

      my social anxiety has always been there – i was a chronically anxious child who got less anxious as i got older and shut off. the shutting off made me severely depressed, i think? for me, it comes and goes, and comes out in weird ways. ((hugs)) i am sorry to hear you’re going through the same thing. it’s weirdly common.

  2. lisa says:

    i think the majority of us have some form of social anxiety, it’s just that some people have developed strategies to hide them, while the rest of us just choose to stay at home by ourselves.when you work out how to do the friendship thing, without the nagging voice telling you that others can’t stand you, can you let me in on the secret please? i suffer from exactly the same issues as you elizbeth and i’m writing this as i sit at home alone, again.i read a wonderful book last year called shy by sian prior that looks at social anxiety, its well worth a read.i cannot tell you how many parties and social functions/events i have avoided because of that stupid voice in my head.thank you for putting into words what many of us feel.xx

    • veritas says:

      ((hugs)) it’s weird – i wonder why it hits some people and not others – and what it even IS that makes us think we’ll hate things we like, and will be disliked when it’s likely we won’t be. /shrugs/

  3. greenspace01 says:

    ‘Kay, firstly, that guy who verbally abused you then shunned you, with all due respect to your friends who like him – he was being a dick. That would be clear to you if he treated a friend of yours like that; it’s your self-doubt that cons you into thinking it’s not dickish just because he did it to you.
    Secondly, you remember when we were having a great time talking in the café and I said I’d hesitated to contact you about meeting up, cos I didn’t want to waste your time? That was my self-doubt. Once we got talking, though, it was fine – I think we’re both interesting people, because we find other people and things interesting, and like learning, and ideas, and conversation, and the world in general (except the horrible bits, which we dislike, but still find interesting). Sorry for speaking on your behalf, there.
    Also, I don’t think you have a particularly strong Queensland accent, and even if you did, regional accents are cool.
    Going shopping for food can be impossible, if you’re in the grip of bad anxiety or depression. Yay for you if you make it.

  4. Kate says:

    Social anxiety disorder and a broad Queensland accent over here, too. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and you have this way of describing things like this so perfectly!

  5. Kathryn Favelle says:

    I completely get how you feel about hospitals. When I’m in them, even in emergency, I feel completely safe – which is odd as the scariest times of my life have happened in hospitals. And although I’m completely disorganised at the moment, I really would love to get to together and talk books and writing – there aren’t many folk around you can do that with.

    • elizabeth says:

      i would very much love a book talk – sorry i didn’t get back to you — this week ended up being crazy, and i didn’t get half of what i wanted done. :/

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