It comes in many forms. Through the mail (though far less often that way in this day and age). Through a text (for the least formal occasions). Through a Facebook message or event invite (becoming more common). Or a phone call (provided that I answer the phone).
The invitation. An invite. An e-vite. A request for my presence at some sort of event.
It always seems like a good idea at first glance. A time to get together with friends, maybe eat some good food (though I humbly request those of you who culturally have spicy food consider having some non-spicy dishes for those of us who can't handle it!), and just hang out for a few hours.
And then "it" starts.
For most people, invitations to go to a party, to go to an iftar (a breaking of the fast meal during the holy month of Ramadan), to go out to dinner, or as one of my friends can tell you, go on a long planned camping trip, is something to look forward to. It's something that you want to do that breaks up the monotony of day to day life and is something out of the ordinary.
But then there's people like me, who anywhere from seconds to days after accepting the invitations start with the anxiety attacks. The deep pit in the stomach, the self doubt, the what ifs that don't usually happen (but sometimes do). That leads to the "fight or flight" argument in your head. "I want to go because I don't want people to be upset with me because I don't go, but I don't want to go, don't even want to leave my home, don't want to have anything to do with it, please don't make me go."
Usually, I end up going. Especially if I've told my kids that we're going because then they expect to go. With one exception (the aforementioned camping trip), I do not agree to big events because those are even worse in my head. I still feel guilty, years later, about backing out of that one. I don't agree to big things because the anxiety is so bad that it makes me physically ill. Which is what was happening right before I cancelled the camping trip.
These days, though, it's more community events. I've stopped accepting invitations to certain events because I know I will become so anxious that my only thoughts throughout the whole thing will be "when can I leave." Usually those events involve being stuck with a bunch of people who can speak English, but because they are the majority choose not to speak English knowing full well I (and usually one or two other people) cannot understand the language they are speaking. As the email invitations to these are "reply if you're coming, we need a head count", I just don't reply, which takes the anxiety out of the whole thing.
Recently, I have attended two different aqiqahs (a party within the Muslim community to welcome a new baby). The first, I kept busy because I was asked to do photographs, so I didn't have time to pay attention to the little voice in my head. The second, from the time I got there, I wanted to leave. I was grateful to one friend for sticking by me the entire party. If it hadn't been for her, I'm not sure what I'd have done.
But the worst thing for someone with social anxiety is when you go because you know certain people will be there and they give you a calming feeling and they end up having to back out. I have had this happen a couple of times, and I always understand - things happen. Usually I end up being fine, or the thing ends up being cancelled. However, one recent example of why I don't socialize still stands out. A "community fun night" ended up being cancelled on by half the people (and since there was a grand total of 4 families going, that left me and the boys, and one other family). I was ignored, questioned as to my work schedule, talked about in Urdu right in front of me, and had my children intentionally left out of the games. Fortunately, the boys didn't notice as they were having too much fun throwing a giant ball at each other (seriously - the ball was the same size as Declan). But for me, with my anxiety, it was too much. As this person has done this to me before, going to any activity that is small group with this person involved sends my anxiety to an even high level than it does before. So yes, your anxiety can be sent through the roof not just by the event itself, but by having to interact with rude people.
So why is this coming up now? Why, after not having blogged since 2013, is this suddenly something that would send me back to blogging? Well, not blogging is not something that I wanted to do, but because every time I had something I wanted to blog about, my first thought was "I don't want to offend anyone, so I probably shouldn't discuss my feelings on (this)." And why now? Well, because Ramadan is fast approaching.
For many in the west or who are Christians, you'd understand this as the weeks around Christmas or the days around Easter where your family (be it your family-family or your faith-family) get together and have large meals and enjoy each other's company. For Muslims, that's Ramadan. And Ramadan lasts for 30 days, please three days of Eid afterwards. Imagine 30 nights and 3 days of socializing with social anxiety. The thought, to me, is terrifying.
My one saving grace is this - I live in a small town. And our community is small. And many people leave town to go to the city for Ramadan. So my socializing is cut down considerably more than it would be if I were part of a Muslim family, or living in a bigger community. I also work evenings, and don't get off until 1:15am Monday to Friday, so that cuts it back even further.
I'm of two minds about that. My brain is thankful that I don't have to do it (or rather, can't). But I'm also sad about that. I'm sad that my kids don't have that experience. That I can't take them to taraweeh prayers (the special prayers held each night of Ramadan). That they don't have those special iftars. So when I do receive the invitations when I'm able to attend, I do. Especially if I have the boys. But not being able to go makes me feel somewhat guilty because of this:
As Muslims, one of the hadiths (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wa salaam) is that we are to accept invitations -
It was narrated in Saheeh al-Bukhaari (1164) and Saheeh Muslim (4022) that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: ‘The rights of a Muslim over his fellow Muslim are five: returning greetings, visiting the sick, attending funerals, accepting invitations, and saying Yarhamuk Allaah (may Allaah have mercy on you) when he sneezes.’”
Now, scholars differ as to what this means, but basically, it comes down to "unless you have a good reason, etiquette dictates you accept the invitation." And honestly, it is in my own mental health's best interest to accept the invitation (if it's at a time I'm not working). What I have learned is that when I don't accept the invitations, when I burrow myself into my house (as I did last summer) my mental health suffers dramatically. Things get bad. They can get really bad, as I have a decades long history of depression. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand.
So why did I write this? Because I run up against people that just don't get it. They either don't understand because they've never been there and just can't seem to wrap their head around people that would rather have someone say "hey, want to meet me for coffee?" and have that be fine, but yet can't handle "hey, I'm having a party with a bunch of people and want you to come" and then don't understand the difference; or people that think that I should just "get over it and pray about it." (What I want to say to that one is - don't you think I've been trying that method for years?) I have a few friends that, while I haven't explained that this is the problem, do know that I'd much prefer small than anything group.
I have very, very few friends. I have many "people I know and will stop and have a conversation with" but for friends I can count on, I count about two. I know part of it is the anxiety about having to actually go out and socialize. So what it comes down to is this - if I'm at an event and I don't seem like I do when you're with me one on one, this is why. My body is there, the two sides of my brain may be arguing with each other on whether it is time to go (even if I've just gotten there). I love my friends, I love seeing people I haven't seen in awhile. And if I decline an invitation, please be patient with me. (And if it's a Monday to Friday, please understand I have to work. Unfortunately, I also run up against people that don't understand that it's up to me, myself and I to pay the bills and if I don't work, they don't get paid.)
For most, an invitation is a happy thing to get. But please remember - some of us receive those invitations and have very different reactions. It's not because we don't want to help you celebrate, it's not because we don't love you, and it's not always something we can express. So please, don't automatically jump to the conclusion that we just don't want to be there. Sometimes, the being there is painful.