People often mistake my relative silence in groups as aloofness, but I'm quiet because I'm weighing every word before I utter it, considering how my contribution to the conversation will be received, terrified it will expose me as the fraud I convince myself that I am. Even if I seem at ease during an interaction, I will spend days afterward, weeks even, dissecting it, fixating on what I've convinced myself were social gaffes ― basically, torturing myself. It's exhausting.
Like many people with anxiety, I am high-functioning, and my unease isn't usually obvious to others (my teaching colleagues used to remark on how calm and serene I always appeared, even though inside I was a roiling mess of angst). I will attend events or enter situations that make me uncomfortable, either for professional reasons, wanting to see friends, or the overwhelming desire to not disappoint or offend others. But I do it at a cost.
You see, social anxiety can trigger and feed more generalised anxiety for me. I've 'managed' this by forcing myself to ignore it as much as possible and just get on with things. Not a good strategy.
Over the past several years, a lot of 'life' happened, with lots of unexpected challenges. Eventually, anxiety consumed me to a point where I couldn't ignore it anymore and I found myself peering into a dark abyss that chilled me to my soul. I don't ever, EVER, want to find myself on that precipice again. This experience has taught me that my mental health has to be a priority. It's not a cost I'm prepared to pay any longer.
I don't shun all get-togethers and social interaction. When I'm feeling good, I enjoy connecting with others. I cherish my friendships and appreciate the possibility of new ones. It's just that some types of interactions are more stressful for me and sometimes, depending on other factors in my life at the time, I need to avoid them in order to continue feeling good. 99% of the time it has nothing to do with the person whose invitation I decline - a real honest-to-goodness case of, "It's not you, it's me." So, why the guilt? I don't feel guilty for declining invitations if I'm physically sick or injured. So why do I feel ashamed to admit that I'm feeling mentally fragile? When I visited my doctor last year, blubbering out apologies for my uncontrollable panic and weepiness and the fact that I wanted to try anti-anxiety meds, she asked if I would feel bad asking for help with an injured leg. Of course not!