MailBag: Social Anxiety Causes Me To Miss Family Events

 

Hi, Gabe. I need some advice. I have bipolar depression and high anxiety. I say yes to doing things and back out at the last minute. I just let my Goddaughter down last night, backing out of her singing concert. She is 12. Her mom and I have a rocky friendship. But she messaged me this morning on how I let her little girl down again. I know I did, many times. But I don’t know how to get over this last-minute panic feeling. And I also don’t know how to explain how I feel when this happens. I try very hard not to make it about my illness, but she also doesn’t even try to understand me, either. Her child gets hurt by me and nothing else matters to her, and I understand that. One thing is her mom makes me a nervous wreck when I am around her. What do I do? Thank you, A Fan

Dear Fan:

There are hundreds of ways to manage anxiety and different methods work for different people. This very site, PsychCentral.com, has a thriving anxiety community, and this article, Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment, offers some quick tips to managing the social anxiety you wrote about. I have no doubt you will find these resources to be very helpful.

Taking Responsibility for Anxiety Disorders

However, what I want to focus on in your letter is not how to manage your anxiety, but how to manage the expectations of those around you. And, for that matter, how to manage your own expectations.

You have a basic understanding that your actions are hurting that little girl’s feelings. You even indicate that you understand your friend’s anger about this. First, if you haven’t already, apologize. Typically, people give the half-hearted, “I’m sorry, but my anxiety . . .” apology. Make sure your apology is in absolute terms – no excuses. While it may not be exactly your fault that you let them down, it’s by no means their fault. Let them know you are truly sorry. Don’t be afraid to express it.

Second, you need to have more realistic expectations of what you can and cannot accomplish. As someone who also lives with an anxiety disorder, I only commit 100% to things that I’m reasonably certain I can do. Otherwise, I ask if it is okay to make a “game time decision.” If they need an answer immediately, I politely decline, knowing that I might not be able to make it. If they say yes, then I do my best to make it, knowing that if I am unable to do so, I prepared them for the possibility in advance.

Discuss Anxiety Disorders Before it’s an Issue

Third, you need to talk about how anxiety affects your life before it affects someone else’s. I have a tendency to believe that my issues won’t affect people, so I don’t talk to them about it until after it does. But this is the worst time to clue them in. By this point, the person is already upset, or at least confused. You’ve also implied that you don’t trust them with this information, since you were hiding it. Finally, you didn’t give them an opportunity to assist you.

So, in addition to explaining your anxiety issues, you also have to repair the relationship. Separately, each of those conversations can be challenging, and now you’ve put yourself in the position of having to do both at the same time – and probably while emotions are already high.

Simply put, anxiety is going to cause issues and those issues are ours to manage. We must do our best to educate those around us on what we need in order to have the best odds of success. If we aren’t willing to be honest with ourselves and our loved ones, then we can’t very well expect things to improve.

It’s not too late to have a conversation. Don’t let anxiety prevent you from building the best relationships you can with people.  It’s going to be difficult, but often will pay huge dividends in terms of both managing anxiety and in building stronger and more fulfilling connections with those around you.

Gabe Howard is a popular speaker, writer, and advocate who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is an award-winning writer and the creator of the official bipolar shirt. (Get yours now!) Gabe can be reached on Facebook, via email, or via his website, www.GabeHoward.com.  Don’t be shy — he’s not. 🙂