Tomorrow Hubz and I have a holiday party. A couple with whom we’ve been friends for years has an annual holiday party for grown-ups only…and it is a great night out. Except that the few days leading up to said event gives me the worst social anxiety. Like, I already have butterflies in my stomach, and I can hear my heartbeat in my ears when I think too much about going to said party. I know that once I am there I will get more comfortable, and that we’ll enjoy catching up with our friends…but it’s the waiting…where all of the what-ifs and insecurities play out in my head…that is almost painful, sometimes.
I am, to my knowledge, neuro-typical. I know that I am experiencing anxiety, and that the anxiety is actually worse than the act of attending the party. To keep the anxiety at bay, I focus on how I feel when I’m at the party…how it is enjoyable to see old friends, how it is always interesting to hear about what is going on with others’ lives. I can separate the two…the anxiety and the party. I talk myself down from the ledge. I focus on the positives. I try not to dwell on the pit in my stomach. I practice my party scripts in my head. (We all have scripts, you know.)
This year, said party has an “Ugly Sweater” theme. I have to go to Goodwill and Walmart today to see if I can find some hideousness for the party. I get another pit in my stomach. I know Goodwill will likely be cheaper..and who wants to spend a lot of money on something that is a gimmick. But my sensory disorder starts to give me some anxiety… what if the sweater is itchy? What if it makes me too hot? What if it smells funny? What if I can’t find anything and have to go to the party in the current trendy non-tacky sweaters I have, but I win anyway…what if I’m tacky?! (See, the anxiety creeps back in…)
Again, I know that I’ll be able to make a rough attempt at humor over my attire…and that my friends will laugh. And no one will care. We’ll talk about work, about our kids, about the chaos that is the holiday season. We’ll eat, we’ll drink, and we’ll laugh. There’s always loads of laughter at this party…and that is good for the soul. And with that, I start to look forward to the party again.
As I grapple with my social anxiety, and my sensory disorder, and the anxiety that the sensory disorder brings, too (such as the loudness of the party, the temperature…too hot..too cold, the amount of people crammed into one space (and the fact that I’m at armpit level), the smells, the perfume and cologne that people insist upon wearing but is a huge assault to my sense of smell), I am smacked upside the head by the realization that my boys, in particular, Tate, deal with this stuff every.single.day. And he isn’t always able to rationalize his anxiety away…he hasn’t totally pinpointed the causes for his anxiety…yet. He gets bombarded every day…no wonder the kid is on high-alert and has a melt-down. I know that when I get into the car after the party, I need that hour drive home to just totally decompress.
I can’t imagine having this feeling all of the time. It would be debilitating. It would be overwhelming…and again, I am reminded of how amazing my kids are, too. They struggle with these disorders daily. They have to work through the anxiety, the social awkwardness, the sensory disorders, just to make it through a day. Not a once-a-year party…but every day of the year. I have such respect for my kids…because they do handle it. Not always perfectly, but they are able to function. They get out of bed. They go through a routine. They use the scripts they have been provided…and they make it through.
Pretty impressive for a couple of kids who are developmentally behind peers, don’t you think? I say it so often, but Tate and Jake…they are my heroes. They teach me how to be a better person. How to be a better mom. Being their parent has given me such a deep perspective that I never used to have…and I am grateful.