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Social anxiety: Lessons learnt from a weekend away.


It’s been a while since I wrote for Aunty Social World. I feel I need to give a haphazard apology to myself (and perhaps to anyone who reads us) for that. Following a long and heavy summer and what has felt like a very blurred transition into autumn-come-Christmas (or wherever we are now), we have both been living in a state of regiment and routine. That rigidity has not altogether been a bad thing. Sometimes when we are going through something painful, we just need to press play and automate for a little while. Sometimes we need humour. Sometimes we need to laugh or else we’d cry.


This weekend our tape of regiment was paused and we took some time away from home and routines. For the first time since our heavily blogged-about trip to the Highlands in the early part of the year, we left Pembrokeshire and took a trip down south to switch off, commemorate some stuff (including J’s birthday yesterday) and see new things. And my word, did we see it all. Sometimes, you have to step outside of your hometown to see this stuff.


So here we are, home from away and the lessons we learned along the way.





1. Christmas has come early


As I walked into a bright service station toilet on the 12th November, I was greeted by a cheery group sing-a-long of ‘deck-the-halls’. I checked my watch, thinking I’d perhaps zoned out an entire month. Not out of the question of late as I’ve been running on automated. I was right though, 12th November. 'Tis the season to be jolly, la-la-la-lah-lah…'


I quickly barricaded myself into a cubicle, had the quickest jingle-all-the-way wee known to mankind, and gave a polite smile as I ejected myself before being asked to join in. Toilet sing-a-longs are only one part of this story. Christmas has certainly come early this year.


I am by no means a Scrooge in this tale. I like Christmas. Me, my son, my dad and my brother all share Christmas birthdays (literally the same dates). It’s a special time personally, and I have great memories of years gone by (in addition to the stressful ones). But this year, for parents who are running a six-week Santa wait and shoppers wading through sprigs of holly and tinsel just to buy a loaf of bread, it raises the question of why so early?


Lesson learned:


I think we already know the answer here. It’s ok to enjoy Christmas, it’s also ok to think that Christmas in early November is overkill. We also know that in the society we live within it’s bigger than us as a nation of people or what we do with it. We are just the perfect targets for it.


2. Your boundaries are invisible


Sausage rolls! What a marvellous idea Charlie, we’ll have some of those shall we?!


The entire queue stopped in silence and stared as I quickly paid for my lunch. Thanks to the booming giant beside me, I now had an audience. Approximately fifty people were now basing their lunch decisions on my own. I was mortified.


For those of us with social anxiety, our boundaries are usually quite different to those who are more ‘out there’ in this world. The problem is that those boundaries are quite often invisible resulting in a world where how we behave is based on our own frame of what we think is ok. So, in this case, the giant wanted to announce his lunch choice through the tannoy but brought me along for the ride. We’re all having sausage rolls today! The thing is some of us might not want a sausage roll, and we might want to decide if we do in private.


Lesson learned:


I'll keep this one brief, boundaries are everywhere in life but we all too often avoid anything outside of our own boxes. Adding to this, not everyone's boundaries are equally respected hence why some are less visible than others.


So, perhaps we need to start thinking through a collection of boundaries rather than just our own.


3. You are a magnet


Oh lovely, we’ll sit there too!…


Said the two gentlemen walking into the cosy pub on a quiet weekday afternoon. You can guess where ‘there too’ was. That’s right. Next to us. This isn’t a new story for us. I’ve lost count of how often me and J have played musical chairs whilst eating out - hence why it doesn’t happen very often. This was the first time since our outdoor winter dining in Scotland earlier this year.


Lesson learned: You are a magnet.


We’ve all been bemused by ‘cosy parkers’ in empty car parks. It’s the same thing. People are magnets for other people. It’s how we decide what the best option is for ourselves. Be that in choosing who to follow on social media, where to go on holiday, or where to park our cars. If we follow other people who have already made their choice it makes it easier for us, right? Depends on the angle.


If you are the person with social anxiety who has already gone to great efforts to choose a quiet spot away from others during a quiet period, it can be baffling. Why anyone would want to sit right next to you? Surely they would want to sit alone too? Here's those invisible boundaries springing up again. As someone with severe social anxiety, I cannot for the life of me ever imagine wanting to sit right beside someone else when eating out, but other people are different. They don’t have my boundaries and I don’t have theirs. So, we’re back to musical chairs.


Tip and second lesson here:


When eating out, always, always, or whenever possible ask for a quiet spot away from people. Most staff in restaurants, pubs and/or cafes understand and will be happy to assist (we’ve only been turned down a few times over years gone by - usually during exceptionally busy periods which we don’t try to navigate any more).


However, the key thing (and this is really important) is that your quiet spot needs to be as far away from the ‘choosing point’ as possible. By that, I mean that it needs to be ideally out of view from the place where people stand waiting to be seated. Usually, this is where they will make their choice hence being the ‘choosing point’. It’s important to not be seen when fellow food hunters arrive, because if you are in a quiet spot, they will probably sit next to you as they want what you have. You are their magnet, not the table.


4. People are actually kind


Warning, this story starts grotesque but ends well.


We were shopping and both already completely head-fried with the noise of grunts, coughs and smells of sweaty feet. So when I finally found a box of shoes in my size and opened the box to find a pair of dirty mud covered loafers* that was it for me. The workings of a thief having left their dirty shoes in a box and making off with the pair I’d chosen. Passing the shoe box to a member of staff and explaining before someone assumed me to be the owner of this faux poo pair, she rolled her eyes and apologised, ‘Not again’. Then, right on cue, a man came wandering over exploding into a loud, handsfree phlegmy cough, pouring droplets all over the place. Having recently recovered from influenza, I was gone.


I ran outside to catch some clean air away from the questionable mud, sweat and other human fluids and quickly grabbed my water bottle from my bag. In my flustered rush, I dropped the cap which went straight onto the ground inner lid down (doesn’t it always?). J was still trapped in the middle of his own shoe battle, so I took a walk over to a street food stall in the hope of finding an uncontaminated drink. Coming from Pembrokeshire, these kinds of places don’t usually have a card machine and I literally only had my watch as payment (I mean the smart pay thing, not the watch itself). With little hope of a drink offering, I was filled with relief when the man running the stall said, ‘Of course, no problem. You can use card here’.


So, the man handed me a bottle of water and I thanked him before wandering off in a daze. It was halfway through the bottle that I realised that I hadn’t paid for it. Amidst my panic, now I’d become the thief. Seeing this as an omen that the poo shoes would shortly be finding their way back to me, I quickly ran back to the stall and apologised for my error. The man was completely chilled out though. He smiled calmly and said, ‘No problem, this time this is free for you. You can pay next time’. I promised I would.


Lesson learned:


Long and short, I didn’t manage to go back to the food stall as the shopping experience was a hellscape and we had to leave shortly after this. Of this entire grotesque story, however, I want to raise that even in the most stressful moments there are kind people to be found. And in this case, good food too. I’ve emailed the business owners of the stall today to thank them again personally.


(* I hope it was mud. I cannot verify this as I didn’t hang onto them for long enough.)


 

So, after a lengthy blog break, we hope you enjoyed this. They are just a few little takeaways from our own experiences of being away from home, with the end message being that of kindness. Because in a world of rampant rages and storms, there are moments of calm and kindness to be found too.


We may be different, but not everyone is our enemy.

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