No Simple Conundrum
I read recently, with fascination, that people who are empathetic can suffer severe social anxiety. This explains volumes about me, to me. Certain gatherings have always caused me such tremendous amounts of anxiety that I have felt paralyzed in the anticipation of the event. The event always ends up going far better than my fertile imagination thinks it will, yet the next looming social occasion gets me just as worked up, despite how easily the prior gathering turned out.
Some of the anxiety is born out of history. The track record of people’s past behaviors with me, each other, or what I know of their history, are all part of the recipe. My concern for how certain guests at a gathering feel towards other guests causes tremendous stress (holiday gatherings and family politics suck, but you know that), and the social obliviousness of some of the gathered congregation make me want to become the family recluse. Since my father died, there is stress surrounding my mom in social situations.
I have always known how mom is feeling at any given time. She doesn’t have to tell me. I can feel it around the corner without having to see or hear her. She herself is anxious. She is also querulous, snappy, quick to temper, and can drink too much in social settings.
My mom has become the source of my deepest social anxiety. In social situations: how next is she going to insult my son-in-law’s (perfect) handling of the baby? How many more times will she get shit-faced drunk at Thanksgiving at the in-laws? How many times a year will we go out to dinner where she’ll complain about the delicious meal, while sweeping piles of rice onto the restaurant floor? How often will she share to the collective company that my uncle is the most vicious anti-Semite the world has ever seen? I can handle all the repetitiveness and forgetfulness her illness causes, privately and in public. It’s when she gets ugly about things that she is 110% incorrect about, and yet will fight to the figurative death to defend her ill-conceived position, that I have the hardest time seeing a disease, and, rather, see my mom as being loony-bins, or like a radical complainer. This is what I have the hardest time with. How do I handle this? How do I find a centered place and shed the social anxiety?
The answer, as prescribed by my children, is to take a holiday far away. Fiji, Ireland, the Airstream… They are brilliant! I knew I raised them particularly well. But what if the one holiday we take away from home is the last Turkey day, Christmas, or Solstice that mom is here? I find myself unable to spend a quiet holiday away, due to the deep guilt of knowing she won’t understand why she’s spending it without us, and the potential regret of missing the last chance to spend that holiday with her.