It couldn't have been a prettier day. Harriet's garden is magical. The guests were all like-minded, friendly people. The food was delicious. There was some gentle live music. I enjoyed a conversation with another woman from the neighborhood.
Yet I freaked out and had to leave after less than an hour.
It used to be bigger parties and stranger strangers. Now, it's any gathering. Pressure builds inside me. The strain of finding things to say is enormous. My desire to escape overwhelms me. I flee.
And afterwards! Oh my god, the toxicity. I'm filled with feelings of shame and stupidity, a certainty that I've behaved badly or talked too much or done wrong. The feelings continue to taint my awareness for hours afterwards. Nothing feels right, nothing is fun, everything loses its allure.
It's a trauma symptom: inappropriate activation of the sympathetic nervous system. A situation viewed with pleasant anticipation by more well-balanced people is apparently a scene of combat to my nerves: enemies in every chair, danger in every dish, hazards everywhere.
The simple solution, of course, is Never Accept Another Party Invitation As Long As I Live. And it wouldn't break my heart. But the problem closes in, year by year, and I wonder how long it will be before I can't stand to be in the same room with another human being.