Social anxiety not only makes me lonely, it makes me a bad friend.

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“Dude you suck.” Those three words sent me into a full body sob. I was standing by my bed in my underwear, new dress laid out before me. I’d blow-dried exactly one side of my hair.

I was attempting to force myself to get ready and go out. To see friends and colleagues I adore and who I hadn’t seen in some time. But as is often the case, I couldn’t do it. I had every intention of going. I believed I could, I really did. Yet somewhere between jovially purchasing a birthday gift, ordering a new dress and slapping my make up on, I had lost the nerve to got out in public.

This happens to me a lot. In fact, it happens most of the time. Enough to make me a perpetual disappointment to certain people in my life.

I texted a friend at the party and told them I wasn’t up to it. The friend texted back to tell me I sucked. It was a blow, but I already felt terrible. I already felt the crushing guilt of letting people I care about down for the hundredth time.

But I also felt something bigger and all encompassing – an impenetrable wall of anxiety that stopped me from moving, from leaving the house. I once described it best as: “Like trying to force myself to wade through wet cement into a fire.”

 But it’s hard for many people who know me to reconcile that immense wall of “no” with who I am day to day. Some would go so far as to describe me as an extrovert. I can be pushy and loud and funny and aggressive. I can be a leader, I can be charismatic, I can be rude.

I can also shrink to the size of a dust particle, eyes full of Bambi tears and shaking like a leaf. Friends who have been with me at social gatherings have seen it in action – the terrified eyes, the hiding in the bathroom, the sneaking from the room when no one is watching, the blind panic. It’s humiliating.

And difficult a paradox arises – not being invited at all hurts, too. The number one thing that you need to maintain a friendship is love, and the second thing is time. And if I do not have time for the people I love, their love for me tends to wane.

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It’s doubly painful dealing with the social pressure of letting people down. And so for years I handled in the worst way possible – I made myself out to be someone who didn’t care. A proud flake who didn’t give a sh*t about anyone’s party.

I mistakenly thought it gave me control over a situation that in reality I have very little control over. Really, that attitude made me look like an asshole. And because it made my absences harder to forgive, it saw friendships I cherished disintegrate or whittle down to bare-bones social media interactions.

I acted like I didn’t care. I acted like I didn’t need people. I acted like I didn’t want people. But it hurt. And it made me angry, too. Why didn’t my friends understand, have empathy, love me anyway, on the only terms available?

I know what arguments my friends and acquaintances must make in their minds – that I’m selfish, that if I really wanted to go, I would. But it’s not that simple. Does weeks, or even months, of mental preparation make the outing tenable in the end? Do I love you enough to walk through wet cement into a fire just to have a beer with you?

And do you love me enough to only see me under the conditions in which I’m comfortable, and can cope, knowing those will be few and far in between? Do you love me enough to accept that I will be a shitty friend?

I know not everyone can bear it, and I understand that. I forgive that, because it’s my behaviour that deviates from social norms, not theirs. But it makes that handful who do stick around, who do see me, all of me – even when they hardly see me at all – doubly special, doubly vital, and all the more a lifeline when things get dark.

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