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Trouble in Mind

Harriet, the woman who runs Preserve, had an Indian-style pot luck this afternoon. I'd promised to attend, so I baked naan and headed up the street.

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.

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( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
lamentables
Sep. 7th, 2008 07:27 am (UTC)
Eeeep!

Say NO to simple solutions.
I can imagine your stressful, long hours would make anything like this especially bad at the moment.
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 08:59 am (UTC)
Very true. The ice gets thinner under stress, and I haven't been my best self for a week or so now.

All it took to get me through the evening was a couple of DVDs' worth of escapist television. This is a vast improvement over former times, when I would have acted to realize the visions of single malt and large blocks of chocolate that were dancing through my head on the way home from today's party.

So, paradoxically, while my sensitivity to stimuli increases, it seems that I'm also becoming more resilient.

The human mind, she is verreh strange, no?
roxymissrose
Sep. 7th, 2008 08:49 am (UTC)
*HUGHUG*
I know--it stinks on ice.
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 09:00 am (UTC)
Do you? I've been surprised to learn how many other people feel this way.

Makes me wonder how the hell anyone ever throws a party. SRSLY.
tehomet
Sep. 7th, 2008 11:30 am (UTC)
My first reaction was "But you're cool!" and just the kind of person I would love to have at any future party I might have.

My second reaction was a bit of embarrassed relief that I'm not the only one who finds parties a challenge to cope with.

I think it's brave of you to go, even for a short space.

You baked naan! You showed up! You enjoyed the garden, the conversation, the refreshments! Apart from being dissatisfied with the length of time you spent there, did you mess anything up?

I think not.

Give yourself some credit -- showing up at the party is the hardest part, in my opinion.

*continues to admire you*
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
Ha! Well, thank you! I appreciate the vote of confidence, and I suspect that any party you might throw would be a party I'd relax at.

No, I didn't break any social rules apart from the gracious leavetaking one. The bad feelings arise strictly from exposure to the combat zone, and have very little to do with how well or poorly I fought.

Put another way, they aren't reasonable feelings. Just nervous system reactions.
roseambr
Sep. 7th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
I agree completely with tehomet. You went, you helped Harriet set up for the evening, you conversed, you extended yourself on a day when you really just wanted to crawl under the covers and hibernate. Personally, I congratulate you for moving outside of the house at all after the work weeks you have been enduring. I think that often we are our worst critics and hardest on ourselves. Lighten up! We all hate social events where we know no one and the conversations are "social talk". Why do you think school events always consisted of circles of friends? No one wanted to step outside of that comfort zone. Only the most extroverted individuals actually look forward to these events. And often they are the ones hosting!

So, count your wins and let the rest go. I really think the entire trauma is around self-image and not at all the image you project to others. It is for me anyway! I recommend the Paraliminal CD I have for you to recover and for future events. I'll be returning it soon, I'm sorry I have it when you need it. "Self-esteem Supercharger", it's very effective for what you have described.
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I'd forgotten about that paraliminal. I could really use that one! Lack of self-esteem is certainly in the mix somewhere--cause or effect, I'm not sure which.

And you're right--apart from rabbiting out without a word to my host, I don't think my actual outward behavior was bad.

Why on earth do parties exist if everyone feels this way? It's very bizarre.
roseambr
Sep. 7th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Because the extroverts of the world love to feel like they are getting people together. AND, we all hope we can overcome out dislike and discomfort of these kinds of social events. I think that's why, as we get older, we care less and less and go to fewer of them.

PS: I sent an email about our train reservations. Give it a look and let me know if it's ok.
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
Extraverts. Damn.

And I got your note. Sounds great, can't wait, and THANK YOU for taking care of these details. Very much appreciated.
(Deleted comment)
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
Ah yes.

Weddings.

Remind me when the big event is again?
(Deleted comment)
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
Got valium?
(Deleted comment)
emeraldsedai
Sep. 8th, 2008 04:35 pm (UTC)
Om manui padme hum.
mcauliflower
Sep. 7th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you we struck up our random conversation- I got such a kick out of meeting you. I don't think I was able to adequately convey that you are famous in our household- your house is a favorite on our evening walks. It's such a perfect size and lot.

My trick that evening was to have the camera as a distraction to fiddle with. Though I discovered that drinking beer and using a dslr don't go hand in hand...

cheers
emeraldsedai
Sep. 7th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
*waves to mcauliflower of the clever LJ username!

I was admiring your camera, by the way. Meant to ask if you were the gathering's official visual chronicler.

Next time you're out wandering the neighborhood, stop by and say hi.
decemberleaf
Sep. 7th, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
Parties seldom "work" for me, but once in a very great while they do. What you wrote makes me think, once again, that parties fall into one of two categories: one where you HAPPEN, early on, to get into a conversation that turns you on (pretty rare), and the other where you don't. When the first kind happens, you feel just great. Otherwise: NOT great--and wanting acutely to be somewhere else. A friend-of-a-friend and I had an impromptu party on a subway (no food), when the two of us happened to get going talking about Book-Faramir and Movie-Faramir, a subject of huge mutual interest. It FELT like a party, and I wished there were more parties like it. (Most parties: nothing really gets said.) Maybe a good party needs something like square-dancing or maypole-dancing or just silly-dancing--if you move about and dance with people (even if "none of you can dance"), you end up "laughing over nothing"--just laughing, and loosening up, although not because of alcohol. At first I wasn't sure, but I saw this "dancing-video" and ended up liking it a lot--and yes, as they say on it, just TRY watching it without smiling (--by the end of the video, if not well before the end): http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap080722.html. I think I get along fine without parties, because I don't much like them, then something comes along like what you wrote that makes me realize that I miss them when there aren't a few good ones now and then.
emeraldsedai
Sep. 8th, 2008 12:08 am (UTC)
You're so right! For me--for many people, I suppose--a good party and a good conversation are almost indistinguishable. I think maybe we have a semantic problem with "party" being a term used for a huge range of gatherings, from "elegant dinner" to "cocktail" to "toga".

And you're also quite right about missing them if they were entirely absent. There have been some wonderful gatherings in my life, and all of them involved friends, good, and conversation.

I think yesterday's only missing ingredient was "friends"--as distinct from "like-minded folks would could become friends. The latter category take more courage, and I don't have a lot of that to spare right now.

Thanks for the excellent insights.
roseambr
Sep. 8th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
decemberleaf has such a good point. We are friends with a couple that are pretty extroverted and they throw parties all the time, mixing people who have never met. Their key is to have a theme in the party. It could be playing Win, Lose or Draw, or some other game type thing or wine sampling. It gives people something to "do" like playing with a camera did for mcauliflower. At the same time you loosen up a little and find those common interests without it being that tense small talk that most parties require. It can be fun and a great way to meet new people without the stress.

Thanks for the reminder that parties can be a good thing.
emeraldsedai
Sep. 8th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
I remember a party at D'Norgia's once, years ago, where we played one of those games. I can't remember which, but it involved a great deal of shouting, cheating, and laughing. I remember it as being fun--but of course...D'Norgia. What's not fun about her?

Generally, games freak me out more than regular parties. Wine-tasting, now that is relaxing!
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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