As an introvert with anxiety, going out to social gatherings can be a challenge. If it’s a low-key affair and predictable, then I can generally manage. If it’s with a small group of close friends, then I can convince myself it will be OK. When New Year’s invitations start to come, however, it’s enough to bring me to a cold sweat.
Here are five things that usually go through my mind as New Year’s Eve celebrations loom:
1. Limited down time.
Right now, I feel I’ve only just crawled out of the social nightmare that is December and Christmas. I survived in one piece (only just), but with a few days to recuperate, the thought of New Year’s Eve seems incredibly daunting.
2. The constant question, “What are you doing?”
There is not a night in the year when more people ask you this than New Year’s Eve. People don’t seem to understand why you’d prefer not to go out, and unfortunately, this has led to many lies told on my part. If you admit to doing nothing, then you quickly feel judged and shamed for it. Yes, I could just tell people I have anxiety, but that’s a topic for another day.
3. The pressure to have the best night.
Going out to New Year’s Eve events brings with it the pressure to have a good time (when secretly you just want to be home crafting and watching “New Girl.”) For someone who finds the simplest social encounters challenging, you feel defeated before you’ve even begun with the knowledge that it definitely won’t live up to such expectations. You also feel more pressure to keep your anxiety in check because you don’t want to put a damper on the evening for others. You can see the vicious circle begin.
4. The expectation that you should stay out until midnight.
The only thing that normally gets me to social outings is the thought that I can leave when I’ve had enough or when things go pear-shaped. On New Year’s Eve, everyone expects you to stay out until midnight. If you don’t, then you can expect 101 questions and comments about your choice. I don’t often wish I had young children at home, but when I see new mothers sneak off at 10 p.m., I can’t help but feel jealous!
5. To be with or not to be with, that is the question.
New Year’s Eve brings with it tough decisions. For me, it’s not just deciding if I go out or not. The hardest part is making the decision to be with or without my partner. Of course, I want to be with him, but I’d never expect him to stay home with me. So the choice becomes whether to go out and struggle through my anxiety to be with him or stay in the comfort of my home alone. Of course, there is no right answer. I know whichever I choose, there will be an element of regret regarding my decision.
As I write this, I am aware of the generalizations I make. I know not everyone goes out. I know not everyone stays out until midnight. I know not everyone enjoys the celebrations. It’s just when it comes to New Year’s Eve, with the publicity, the hype and the flurry of people’s excitement, it’s easy to forget the reality. I think sometimes all you need to know is other people are right there in the same boat as you.
This year, I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with someone who feels similarly anxious about social gatherings. I’m looking forward to spending the evening with her. In my 30-odd years, this is the first time I’ve felt excited about my plans and felt OK about doing something different than most people. After all, starting the year on the right foot is what it’s all about, and my right foot just happens to be crafting with a friend who understands.
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