Ten to fifteen years later, I have no such illusions. At 37, I spend the majority of my time hoping to keep myself in the cocoon of me, my fiance, our dog, and a couple of trusted family members and loved ones. Now, I'm often so exhausted that people actually ask me if I've taken something to make me sleepy because I'm obviously struggling to keep my eyes open in the middle of the day. And while my medication can make me a little more tired, it shouldn't make my eyelids turn to lead (at least not the one I take). These days, I sincerely sit there on Fridays hoping that we have no plans and can just relax at home. If I make it to 10PM it's a late night. If I manage to put on anything other than pajamas when I get home from work (even on the days when I get home from work at 2:30PM), I impress myself.
These days, I have so many triggers and anxieties and social fears that it borders on concerning. I feel bad for those around me, especially my fiance, who has to accommodate these on a weekly, and often daily, basis.
- If it's a group event (as in going with a group), I panic: I'll have to socialize, which often means small talk, superficial, surface level. It means people actually looking at me. If it's people I don't know (or don't know well), it's worse. What if nobody else likes me? What if I'm too quiet or awkward or different? What if I actually get comfortable and let go a bit, and then I'm too loud and talkative, as I do, and it annoys everyone. What if they're standing there thinking, "God would she stop talking?" I have this fear almost continually, even with those closest to me. What if they think that because I'm talkative that I'm anxious or stressed or high strung? This happens all the time. When everyone else is energetic and excited, they're friendly and happy. When I am, people think I'm stressed and tell me to calm down, or just think I'm too high strung. Even when I'm happy or joking around. It's SO FRUSTRATING - My anxiety finally eases in a situation and people tell me to calm down thinking I'm anxious. I've become so self-conscious of it that I constantly feel the need to clarify that I'm just joking. People thinking I'm anxious when I'm not actually makes me anxious. It's awful.
- If I can't control the schedule or transportation, anxiety is extreme. What if I have a flare up or an anxiety attack or a panic attack and can't leave? What will I do? What if my ME/CFS hits and I get so exhausted that I can barely stand up straight? And then I come off as no fun. I don't want to bring everyone down. I don't want the people I'm with to have to leave because of me.
- Does it involve a lot of drinking? These days I can't drink much because of how it affects my depression, among other things (fatigue, IBS, migraines, to name a few). And as I get older, drunk people annoy me to no end. I can't see why grown adults need to dedicate a whole days or even weekends to getting drunk. So by this point I'm worried I'll be too awkward or annoying, have a flare up, not be able to leave, and annoyed as shit, and it'll come out at everyone. Talk about a downer.
- Will I have to be out late? I know my anxiety over getting enough sleep will not let me sleep in, so then I'll just be lacking sleep which will make me cycle more. And then I won't sleep. And the cycle continues.
- The after-effects. Peopling and the anxiety and fear it causes can physically hurt at times. It can take me literally days to recover. The exhaustion, the anxiety, the anticipation even if I don't end up having anxiety when there, the worry over being too loud or quiet or awkward or whatever. It takes so much energy to put on the mask. To pretend I''m ok when I'm not, that I'm having fun when I just want to go home, that I'm not literally sweating from anxiety. It takes so much effort that it's draining. And I hate that my options are to either go through this or affect the plans and social lives of others.
I also used to be more able, more capable. 10 years ago, and this is going to sound super conceited but I don't mean it this way, I wouldn't have taken on projects and just not been successful at them. I wouldn't have done a charity walk for a cause so important to me and have to literally beg some of even my closest friends to give just $5. 10 years ago, I wouldn't have started a blog that I had to beg friends and family to follow (on the blog site, not just occasionally via Facebook posts) and share. I never would have had my advocacy efforts flop so spectacularly, when I put my heart and soul into them. I don't know how I did it, but I managed. It was like I was a different person. And while I'd tend to think that luck, it happened with almost everything from work to school to projects to social life (OK, not my first marriage, but that's a different story), so it must have been at least part me. Now, that probably sounds spoiled, but I worked my ass off for every single thing that I undertook. It was blood, sweat, and tears that got me those things. It was working through what I now know were cycles, and ME/CFS flareups, and IBS, and BDD, and eating troubles. It was going through that and accomplishing all that I did. And yet now, I work as hard as I can and it feels like so little works. It baffles me.