While squealing kids play and chattering women prepare a holiday feast, one exhausted mother stands quietly at the edge of the room. She knows she should be introducing herself to new faces, extending her hand first and making friends. But she’s frozen, paralyzed almost. Overwhelmed by the feeling that she’s sinking, her heart races and threatens to pulse out of her chest. Everything in her body wants to run out the door behind her, run until she can finally breathe again.
“Maybe I can blame it on my kids,” she wonders. “But they’re having the time of their lives; I can’t do that to them. If I could just get back home. I just need to catch my breath. I just need to get out of here!”
Her fight or flight instincts kick in, and she struggles to convince herself not to run. Determined to ride out this crashing wave discretely and politely, she forces a smile and tries to just keep breathing. But the mental fog has set in, stealing all clarity of thought and making the words for small-talk impossible to find.
Finally, the hostess calls everyone to the table and the tired momma focuses on feeding her kids. When the meal ends, she slips off to the bathroom. Alone at last, the tears spill over. But she can’t let herself break down. Not here, not now. Instead, she quickly dries her eyes and returns to attempt socializing, all the while wondering if it’s acceptable yet to leave.
That burnt-out momma? She’s more than just tired. She’s suffering from an anxiety disorder, and she is me.
The scene I’ve just described happened yesterday. Everyone at the dinner was friendly as could be, and the evening was set up to be a delightful time shared with friends.
But my anxiety had already been triggered before I ever stepped foot in the door and, despite all the logic in the world, my body was responding in crisis mode.