I hate parties.
Dancing the forced social tango with friends, new and old, is literally an introvert’s worst nightmare. And yet, if I wasn’t invited to begin with that might be the hardest thing to grapple with of all.
It’s not that I don’t like people. I actually love being around people, but inevitably I reach a point where I find myself not talking enough and feeling out of place, scanning the room for the easiest exit.
In early May, my husband and I attended the birthday event of one of his best friends. I knew going into it I wasn’t going to know most of the attendees, but I’ve opted out of so many celebrations recently that I felt almost obligated to make an appearance. Things started out fine enough, with food being had and 2-for-1 cocktails being consumed, but about an hour into it I felt that familiar feeling. Almost like I was viewing myself from outside my body.
‘You’re sitting there swirling your drink while all these conversations carry on around you. SAY SOMETHING! They think you hate them. SAY SOMETHING! They think you’re a bitch. SAY SOMETHING! Stop pretending to look at your phone. SAY SOMETHING!'
But I couldn’t think of a good interjection, and none of the pauses seemed opportune, and if I did speak they surely would’ve just judged me for opening my mouth. I politely excused myself and went outside to catch my breath. Unfortunately for me, this particular pub was on a busy street so finding a secluded spot to practice breathing exercises in was impossible. I turned toward a wall, closed my eyes, and tried to breathe as evenly as I could manage, but before long I was silently crying. Why are you like this? Why can’t you just be normal?
‘Christine?’ A friend who was just arriving to the party recognised me on her way in and called out to me. ‘Are you okay?’ She asked as she approached me.
‘Not really,’ I replied evenly.
‘You wanna go for a walk?’
And walk we did. We settled into a nearby coffee shop and mutually unloaded about the myriad of things that were causing us grief or panic in our lives. It was unspeakably comforting to know someone else understood the same difficulties as me on some level, and yet surprising at the same time. This woman was outgoing and vibrant. She was the last person that I expected to understand my hardships on a personal level.
One month later, I found myself in a similar position, except this time the party was at our own home. What started out as a small gathering of five people grew into a party of over 20 people. Not quite a rave, but definitely more people than I was probably prepared to be around. I pushed myself to get more and more intoxicated hoping that with lower inhibitions I’d allow myself to relax more amongst everyone. These people were so cool and beautiful and confident. I desperately wanted to feel like I fit in with them.
After hiding in an upstairs office for well over an hour, I decided to make my way downstairs and rejoin everyone. I found about eight ladies assembled in one of our living rooms and decided to sit in on their conversation. The subject matter was a lot heavier than I anticipated. Stories of abuse, assault, and anxiety bounced back and forth around the room like a tennis match. One woman admitted she cried multiple times before she found the courage to leave the house that night. Another revealed that her lively persona was all a front to disguise exactly just how insecure she feels in a group of people. Crying, bursts of anger, laughter. There were so many emotions swirling around the room. It felt akin to a group therapy session.
So often you feel like you’re the only one in the world feeling your feelings. Like everyone around you has their shit together except you. And then a moment happens when you realise that all the cute pictures on social media and extroverted personalities at parties are a projection of what people want you to see of them. They’re not always an accurate portrayal of what people are grappling with internally. Some, like me, experience their anxiety quite physically; rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, shaky hands. But others mask it much better. The old adage goes, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, which is true, because you genuinely never know what one’s hiding inside.