Two Women Talking on the Beach

Why Anxious Introverts Are the Worst (and Best) Friends You'll Ever Have

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I did not make many close friends during my five years at university. Friendly acquaintances, sure, but very few who I actively spent time with. It turns out, making friends is hard. I kept thinking things would fall into place and I’d find my group, but it never really happened. Why? Because making real friends takes hard work in areas I am terrible in.

I am an introvert living with anxiety. Individually, either of these can make making friends difficult. But combined, they make it a nightmare.

As an introvert I’m at a disadvantage from step one.

We’re awful at small talk, you see. No, that’s a lie. We can make small talk. We just hate doing it. Small talk is exhausting and such a waste of time. It sounds terrible, but I really don’t care what your plans are for the weekend. For people like me, small talk is what you do to avoid awkward silences with strangers when you make the mistake of going out into the world alone without headphones. It is shallow and pointless, but it fills the silence.

But when I’m trying to make friends I want to find out what you’re passionate about. I want to talk about your favorite books and why you related so strongly to a particular character. I want to know what your dreams are and what you are most afraid of. Basically, I prefer to skip the tedious polite acquaintance phase and jump right to the deep existential conversation phase. It’s an introvert thing, and it can be off putting for some and that’s fine. But the real problem is that when you pair this with an anxiety-ridden mind that constantly tells me I’m annoying everyone around me, I end up being too scared to start up any of the conversations I actually want to have. Which means I get bored. And I also come off as really boring.

On the odd chance I survive phase one, you might think things would get easier from there. If only.

I rarely make the effort to reach out to people, which probably makes a lot of people think I don’t care enough about our friendship to be bothered. Most of the time I badly want to talk to someone more, but I avoid reaching out because I worry I’m bothering them. Then (and here’s the real hypocritical kicker), when people don’t reach out to me, I assume I was right and they don’t actually care about me or like me. If they had any interest in me, they would have texted, right? Obviously.

On some level I of course realize this goes both ways. I cannot expect others to make an effort when I won’t, but the voice in my mind insists that no, they just don’t like me. They are just being polite when we’re together. I did them a favor by never trying to talk or hang out.

If I am too anxious to text someone, it maybe goes without saying I’m also terrible about making plans. I probably come off as either a boring introvert who never leaves her house or someone who can’t be bothered to try and therefore isn’t worth the time. The truth is  I avoid making plans with people because I’m terrified that if I try, nobody will show up and I’ll look like an idiot. For someone without anxiety it might just be a bit disappointing, but for someone like me it is utterly humiliating. And it has happened before (file under: reasons I no longer do anything for my birthday). It might sound ridiculous, but trying to make plans with people has a high risk factor in my mind. Best not to bother, the voice insists.

People like me are terrible friends. When we’re first getting to know each other we will want you to reach out to us and make an effort to invite us places, while rarely doing the same for you. We will sometimes back out on plans because we’re having a bad anxiety day. We’re the worst for spontaneous nights out because we get overwhelmed when our plans suddenly change, and we’re probably already in bed with our sweats on anyway. We will need constant reassurance you actually like having us around, and it will take you months to convince us to stop apologizing for literally everything.

But if you are patient with us…

 …we are also the best friends you could ever ask for. The more time we spend with you, the less high-maintenance we’ll become. We will realize you don’t secretly hate us, and we will start reaching out to you. We’ll send you pictures and videos we know will make you laugh and tag you in every adorable puppy picture we find on Instagram when you’re having a bad day.

Our introversion and our anxiety means we are always tuned into to our environments and the people around us, so we will always know when something is bothering you. We will let you vent for hours while we just sit and listen. We will trust you with our deepest secrets, and we will never share yours. We will never be angry with you when you wake us up in the middle of the night, because we know better than anyone how terrible it is to be hurting and alone.

We will never judge you for what you love. We’ll watch your favorite shows with you even if we think they’re silly, because we know how important they are. We will remember every single inside joke, partially because we are so embarrassingly excited to have inside jokes with someone. We will value you more than you could ever possibly know, because we know exactly how difficult we are to be friends with. And because we will never forget how much you made our day the first time you asked us if we wanted to hang out.

I am working hard to become a better friend.

I am trying to make a point to reach out to people, to try making plans, to let them know I would actually really like to have them in my life. But it’s a process. And even knowing how much I have to improve on, it is really discouraging to feel like no one cares enough to shoot me a text, and that gives my anxiety just that much more fuel when it is trying to convince me not to say hi to someone.

I know I am not the only one who feels like this. So, if you were kind enough to take the time to read this whole post, I encourage you to reach out to someone today. You never know; you might make their whole day with just one quick text. And if you know you have introverted friends with anxiety (or any friends with anxiety, really), be patient with them. Take the time to reassure them they are valued. Remember that it is highly unlikely they are ignoring you or blowing you off. In reality, they are probably terrified of annoying you, and are hoping you’ll decide to text them.

And when you do, it really will mean more than you could ever possibly know.

Follow this journey on Katsyxo.

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How a 'Game of Thrones' Character Helps Me Cope With Anxiety

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There have been two constants in my life: anxiety and a love for fiction. They’ve been among my defining characteristics for as long as I can remember. So, I suppose it’s only fitting that as my anxiety has grown over time, so has the intensity of my connection to books, television and film to the point that the latter has often served as a coping mechanism for the former.

One character in particular has developed into an invaluable (albeit improbable) source of strength: Theon Greyjoy from “A Song of Ice and Fire” (ASOIAF) and “Game of Thrones.”

theon greyjoy
Actor Alfie Allen portraying Theon Greyjoy on “Game of Thrones.”

A little over a year ago, I was struggling to get through my last semester of college. Three and a half years of unprecedented anxiety had deteriorated my mental and physical health, and I was struggling to function. By sheer coincidence, it was during that time that I listened to the latest installment of ASOIAF, “A Dance With Dragons,” on audiobook and binged season 4 of “Game of Thrones.” Theon’s arc stood out to me.

To succinctly summarize several thousand pages and over 60 hours’ worth of character development, Theon Greyjoy was the salty ward/hostage of house Stark who, after making a series of supremely bad decisions, was taken prisoner by the sadist, Ramsay Bolton, and tortured. In both “A Dance With Dragons” and season 4, Theon emerges from the Bolton dungeons as Reek, a docile slave, conditioned though pain to serve his master. The further into Reek’s arc I got, the more I related to him.

To be very clear, I am not conflating anxiety with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nor am I claiming insight into the experiences of torture victims (though, for what it’s worth, a domestic abuse survivor thanked Theon’s actor, Alfie Allen, for his portrayal of trauma).

The truth is, however, I do identify strongly with Theon Greyjoy, and I’m writing this in the hope that my experiences might prove instructive to someone else. Because for those struggling to cope with reality or feeling disconnected from those around them, fiction can offer much more than just entertainment or escapism.

In my case, Theon offers me a much-needed sense of connection, validation and hope. His desperation to avoid pain and his disproportionate fear of what seem like minor concerns to other characters reflects my own thought process with eerie accuracy and, in the show, Alfie Allen’s stooped posture and uncontrollable shaking resembles my physicality during intense anxiety.

It’s easier for me to describe my mental state or explain anxiety to others by using Theon as a reference i.e “You know how Theon can’t just snap back to his season 1 self? He can’t just press a reset button and function the way he once did? Well, neither can I.”

More importantly, Theon has become an integral part of my mental and emotional fortification, that is, the internal life I draw from to keep functioning in a world I find overwhelming.

When most people around me (with a few blessed exceptions) conflate anxiety with stress and I must earn empathy and understanding through lengthy explanation, it’s comforting to feel validated, to see elements of my own mental state reflected in someone else.

Moreover, Theon’s story has taken a darkly optimistic turn, and the significance of this can’t help but resonate with me. He’s escaped Ramsay Bolton and, in the show, he’s joined forces with his sister. He continues to struggle with the psychological and physical damage he’s sustained, yet he is still functioning. He hasn’t fully recovered (and probably never can), but he hasn’t given up or been “put out of his misery” (as many fans wanted). The narrative is allowing him to remain altered by his mental illness and still move forward.

I realize some may find it strange or childish to fixate on a fictional character so intensely, but the reality is doing so helps me get by. I have stopped myself from crying at work by focusing on this character. I’ve knelt behind shelves (I work in retail) and eased myself through panic attacks by thinking, “It’s OK. You’re Theon. You’re not dying. You’re not weak. You’re Theon.” I’ve resisted the urge to barricade myself in the bathroom by telling myself it’s OK if my shoulders hunch and I shake because … well, that’s how Theon moves.

game of thrones book with locket over it

Fictional characters may not be real, but their impact on those moved by their story is. Theon is a figment of fantasy, but those who created him, author George R.R. Martin, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff and actor Alfie Allen, had to have drawn from some truth within themselves to fully realize him.

My emotional connection to fiction may be inextricably linked to my anxiety, but for the comfort and strength it has offered me, I am grateful for it.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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In the Mind of a Mom With Anxiety

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Sports, I love and hate them. My kids love sports. On game days, I would rather hide out and hope for something, Armageddon, zombie apocalypse or a flat. I get them ready. We are always late. I’m a failure. My anxiety is kicking me square in the teeth, as I desperately search for whichever item I’ve lost this time.

I’m gonna puke. Yep, there it goes. Damn, it’s on my shirt, gotta change.  What a screw up! We don’t have time for this! I’m going to loose it.

I’m screaming, “Get in the car!”

Crap! Why is my voice so mean?

“Guys, please we have to go!”

We get to the car and I am making small talk to avoid the fear. The crowd, it’s coming. They’ll all look and see I can’t keep it together. Is that a stain on my sons shirt? Yep, great I can’t even get that right. Oh we are getting close. My chest hurts. Smile. Don’t forget you are supposed to smile.

Did everyone get their medicine? Do we have everything? It’s too late. Oh, there are so many cars. Why are there so many people? It’s so loud. Everyone is so loud! It’s bright, all the freaking lights. Why can’t I get it together? I’m messing my kids up for life.

Oh no! I forgot to bring headache pills, always with the headache. It hurts! Crap, I’m screaming again. They are just kids. They are going to run and touch. Why can’t I let them be little kids? Are my sons OK? One has autism. He doesn’t like crowds either. He is pulling his hair. No!

I can’t be a good mom. I can’t even keep everything stable enough to keep him calm. Oh, the other one is running, and he is down. Oh poor baby! Stop acting out son! I’m going to watch this game. Undivided attention, oh the lady behind me touched me! No, don’t touch me!

My hands are shaking. Everyone knows. They know I’m going to lose it. She is touching me again. I cut my eyes to see. She is pointing at my little one. He is climbing. Babe, go get him please! Oh no I’m alone. Why is everyone staring? Stop. Ugh they see it. They see me edging.

Yes, all these things go through my mind. It’s a quick succession I cannot control. It is awful. I often wish I could spew these words at the people around me. Maybe then they’d understand. They won’t. They can’t. You either have this and get it, or you don’t. Empathy is only a reaction taught with care. You cannot understand, yet maybe you will judge every word I’ve written.

The Mighty is asking the following: Are you a mother with a disability, disease or mental illness? What would you tell a new mother in your position? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I Do When I’m Consumed by Anxiety

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Overthink everything.

Sweat.

Suffocate.

Cry.

Let it take over.

Have a panic attack.

Lie down.

Stand up.

Hold an ice cube till it melts.

Kind of breathe.

Take a walk.

Feel anxious on the walk.

Go back inside.

Write.

Sit and stare at a fixed point.

Call a friend.

Hang up before they answer.

Cry a little more.

Try the walk again.

Walk for longer.

Break into a jog.

Tire after four blocks.

Walk back inside.

Take a shower.

Feel a little better.

Get on with the day.

Wait for it to come back.

This post originally appeared on Medium. You can follow Amanda Rosenberg on Twitter @AmandaRosenberg.

The Mighty is asking the following: Imagine someone Googling how to help you cope with your (or a loved one’s) diagnosis. Write the article you’d want them to find.  Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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6 Reminders for My Future Anxious Self, From Your Calm Self

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Dear Shelly,

Today I had a panic attack. It was a real rocker. You know the type. I sweated, felt like I would puke, worried I would kill myself, worried I would hurt someone else, worried about work, worried it would never end — all in the span of 20 minutes. It wasn’t fun. It sucked. I know it sucks. I know it’s hard, but I want you to know you do not understand anything right now. Your thoughts are lies anxiety tells you. Even when there is some truth, it is always a catastrophic version of what might be. Sure, the shit might hit the fan, but you cannot predict the future.

I know you’re hurting right now. You might feel like you’re not good enough. You have a lot of fears. I’m sorry you have to go through that. It makes me sad to think of you going through this anxiety, whether it’s for a few minutes or a few months. I love you, though. We’ve done all of this before. I know all the thoughts you have, and I love you! You should know that.

I want to address the things you might be thinking. I know you overthink shit big time. I’m not sure addressing your fears will help, but we try everything else, why not this?

1. The moment you need your meds to get calm, you are going to start thinking you’re an addict. It’s not true, but it’s what you do. Even if you think “I haven’t had them in forever. I don’t crave them,” you will follow it up with, “Yeah, but this could be the time.” Listen honey, this is the thought you have every time. Remember when you couldn’t sleep with your medication near you? You have anxiety about medicine, kid. So what if this is the time? Are you struggling with anxiety right now? Take care of yourself with the tools you have. Let me take care of what’s left of you when you’re done. I can handle it. I swear. I’m way stronger than you think I am.

2. You’re going to think the anxiety is never going away, or at least stick around long enough to mess up your work. The first is impossible. The second is rare, but it could happen. So what? The reputation you think you need — you’re imagining it. Even if all of your clients cut you off because you were out of work for a month, you would bounce back up, but I’m not here to reassure you. I’m here to tell it like it is. This shit will happen to you. You are sick. You’re also fine.

3. You’re going to worry about taking your life because you have intrusive thoughts about it. I’m not going to bother telling you they are just intrusive thoughts. I know what it feels like. You wouldn’t listen to me anyway. I will say this, though. I really want a chance to come back to my life. I would appreciate it if you would take care of us and just endure this until you get back to me, OK? If you have to cling to a book for a month, drinking Ensure and playing video games, do it please. I need you. No pressure, though, eh?

4. You’re going to worry about puking. I’m baffled we’re so scared of being sick, but it happens. So what if you puke? Which brings me to . . .

5. You’re going to worry your meds will stop working. I know why you worry about this. Sometimes, our meds are not as effective as they can be. It’s because sometimes we have really prominent symptoms. A pill may not knock a panic attack on its ass (though one just did). They will help make your anxiety manageable enough so you can knock back an Ensure, read a book and walk until you find me again. It might take time, Shell, but you will find me. I promise. It’s OK to cry and be sad that I’m gone right now.

6. Do what you would have done anyway. If you sit still and cater to the horrible sensations of your anxiety, it is all you will feel. You might as well feel like shit and do something at the same time. You might enjoy the walk less or zone out during family time, but at least you won’t just be sitting there feeling like shit, right? Live your life. When it’s going rough, it’s going to suck whether you lay around or get up and risk puking in the grocery store, which still has yet to happen. I can just imagine us if it ever does. “OMG, I was right!” Ugh. Whatever.

My point is, get through it. Do what you have to do. I promise you that I, your calm self, will be happily waiting for you on the other side. I always am. Even if it’s just for a minute that slowly grows over time to be hours, I am always waiting for anxious me to get to the other side of anxiety. This is not reassurance. This is just a fact. I can’t wait to see you again. It feels so good to be alive. I can’t wait to tell you that.

Love, Shelly

Follow this journey on Living With Intrusive Thoughts.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How to Stop Avoiding Because of Anxiety: The 24-Hour Challenge

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Anxiety is tricky. It likes to lie to us, play games with our heads and most of all finds ways to stick around. So for example, when it’s time to answer a stressful school related email — and oh my gosh thinking about it makes me feel stressed, and now my thoughts are racing. Is it getting warm in here? And ah, I don’t want to look at it, because this is making me feel anxious, so really what I should do is just…

Click. Close the page. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it. Don’t do it. Ah, now don’t I feel better?

Avoiding: one of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder’s most well-mastered tricks. Sure we feel better for a few seconds, maybe even a few minutes if we are lucky, but all too soon the anxiety comes back stronger and we still haven’t done or addressed what is stressing us out. So what do we do to stop avoiding? How do we stop this spiral of continuing to avoid and the anxiety just growing larger?

It’s time for: The 24-Hour Challenge!

What you need: you (a brave person), a stressful thing you are avoiding, and a clock/watch/sundial (some way of knowing what time it is). Have your stressful thing picked out? It can be making a phone call, doing an exposure you discussed with your therapist, taking to that cute boy in class, or for me, answering school related emails.

Now, look at what time it is. Got it memorized? Great. OK — now make a commitment to yourself. Starting right now you have 24 hours to do the stressful thing. And now you have 23 hours, 59 minutes, 30 seconds… (This is a strict deadline!) This is my absolute favorite technique to use when I have been avoiding something. It definitely requires self-discipline (or you can ask someone else to hold you accountable) but for me it almost always works. In fact, just before starting writing this blog post I finally answered a stressful school email because the clock was ticking and it had almost been 24 hours since I committed to answering the email. But it’s done now. I did it and I feel much better!

Here are some final tips for the 24-Hour Challenge:

1. Pick your strategy. There are two ways to go about doing this. You can either just get it over with so you don’t have to think about it anymore. Or, you can keep stalling and feel stressed about it for almost the full 24 hours, finally doing your task toward the end of the deadline. I don’t always succeed at doing this myself, but I highly recommend the first option. Much more pleasant!

2. Give yourself a reward! This can be candy, getting to watch your favorite show, getting to write, etc. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool and provides great incentive to stop avoiding. You are reteaching your brain to stop avoiding, after all.

3. Choose your own time limit. Some tasks work well with 24 hours, but other tasks work well with a 10-minute challenge or a one week challenge. Adjust the time limit to your specific task, but the main idea stays the same.

I hope this has been helpful. I’d love to hear if anyone tries the 24-Hour Challenge and how it goes!

Click here for more information about avoidance.

Follow this journey on My OCD Voice.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

 

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