Coping with Social Anxiety and Depression During the Holidays
We spent Halloween at my sister's house this year. Every year, most of the houses on the block she lives on decorate their garages as one of the locations in the Harry Potter books. The crowd that comes is by now completely insane. You can barely move through the street (which is blocked off). Whenever we go there for Halloween, we help to pass out candy as the crowds move through their garage.
My son, who is almost seven, wanted to help pass out candy. While my interaction was limited to saying, "Hi, cutie," to some of the tinier Trick-or-Treaters, Lawrence kept up a running commentary. "Wow, great costume." "Oh look, the good and bad Spidermans together" and, after he was released from the bathroom (he accidentally locked himself in with the quirky antique lock), confiding to visitors that the night had been great except for his "bad bathroom experience." I'm sure they assumed he had had a bout of diarrhea after eating too much candy or something.
Events like this are why we call him our "little cruise director." The kid was born with the gift of gab, almost unshakable self-confidence and a need to interact with other people. He gets that from my husband, the ultimate extrovert, not from me. I'm the opposite of both of them in anything to do with interacting with other people. Although I'm articulate in general, I freeze up in certain situations and am perfectly happy with a minimum amount of social interaction.
As you might have guessed, parties and similar social occasions are torture for me. For some reason, my normally healthy self-confidence takes a hit. Everyone seems to be in little cliques and I start getting flashbacks to birthday parties that I was invited to when I was younger. I think in most cases the child's parents made them invite me because the whole class (at least the girls) was invited or because they were friends with my parents or something. I was painfully shy and somehow ended up being the butt of jokes. I don't know if my shyness was a result of my depression or a part of it, but either way it meant that most social gatherings were something I endured instead of enjoyed.
Of course, this is the time of the year for parties and gatherings. If you're like me, you're anticipating them with the same pleasure that you would a root canal. But there is something you can do to make the experience easier - volunteer to help out.
If your employer's holiday party (which, in many companies, is essentially mandatory) is usually on your most-dreaded list, volunteer for the party committee. You'll get to know your co-workers during the meetings and you'll have something to do during the party. I was on the holiday party committee during my first year at my current job, and was happily ensconced at the crafts table helping people make Christmas ornaments during most of the party.
If you're at someone's house for a party, volunteer to come early to help set up, and/or help with cooking and serving during the party. You'll have won the goodwill of the host/hostess, who you very possibly don't know that well, you will have something to do instead of sitting in a corner feeling awkward, and you will have some handy conversation openers, "Some cheese-puffs? They're made with seven different kinds of cheese and they're yummy."
If you have the same kind of wonderful childhood memories that I do, remember that things are different. Grownups are not as openly cruel as children and less inclined to try to kill the weak or sick member of the herd (don't ask me why, but that's what children en masse taunting one child reminds me of). Definitely less Lord of the Flies and more Martha Stewart. During the holidays, most people are enjoying themselves at social functions, and want you to also.