‘Tis the Season…

…To be piling on the anxiety, it seems.

I’m like it every year – every season, really, but particularly Christmas it seems, because there’s so much to worry about. Gifts to buy, and to wrap, cards to write and send, and now school events to remember, attend, send cakes/money for, and friends to consider.

And as someone who dislikes crowds due to social anxiety, even popping to the shops for a pint of milk can become a little daunting. I get home and want to curl up on the kitchen floor with a cup of tea, reassuring myself that I don’t have to go out again. Or I would, except that I do have to go out, because if there’s one thing I can rely on at Christmas, it’s that the stress of trying to be on top of things and remember everything will lead to me in fact forgetting more than usual.

So far, I have written half of my Christmas cards and posted none. And as I type this, I realise I went shopping earlier (with the Girl in tow) and despite writing “stamps” on the list, forgot to buy any. So that will be another trip out. Tomorrow, it can be tomorrow, and I’ll suck up the price of a first class stamp, sighing with relief that due to a bit of travelling around, I only actually have to post three or four cards this year. Or five. Could be five. Either way, hooray for not having a lot of casual friends, eh?

I’m riding the adrenaline rush at the moment and hoping the seizures don’t happen at the wrong time. I had two yesterday, and both fortuitously managed to be when my children were at school/pre-school and then asleep. I gloss over the note of fear which whispers into the back of my mind that one day, surely, the law of averages will spring one on me at a bad time. It’s a chiming worry which I never listen to, apart from late on those nights when sleep eludes me, and if I were a child again I’d want to turn to the comfort of a parent to reassure me that all is well.

That’s the thing about adulthood. I have to smile and reassure my children; all the while I’m fighting the urge to call my own parents and ask them the same thing. The single-parenting aspect gives me so much freedom – I went into town today straight from school and stayed there until I wanted to come home instead of rushing back, feeling as though time were ticking away – but the counter to that freedom is the anxiety that I’m an army of one. Help is on hand, but it’s a hand several miles away, to be summoned by a phone I can’t always use.

And for every person who helps me, I feel the nagging tug of an obligation to be repaid. A debt I owe, one which mounts with each and every favour I offer to repay in kind but never quite settle to my own satisfaction. Then looms Christmas, and I settle it on myself to repay at least a little with gifts and cards. Gifts and cards which must be bought, prepared, and given. All added stresses which I balance on my scales, adding and subtracting what I can do and what I have to let go. And for the let-gos, do I rush to catch up later, or call for help? My cycle of anxiety grows and multiplies.

Yes, ‘Tis the Season. To be Merry, to be Festive, and to smile brightly, all the while I am masking wishes for it to all be over so that I can try and find some time to catch up on the things I have not done, the things I forgot, and the favours I am sure to owe in the New Year.

Christmas concerts have changed.

So, today was my son’s Christmas Carol Concert. Now that he’s in year 1, and no longer in the semi-partitioned world of Foundation, he gets to participate with the rest of the school. I’m writing this, feeling like I’ve crossed over the threshold into the mythical world of the “School mum”. As though last year and the weeks of this one so far didn’t count.

Still, this is the first time I have felt compelled to write about something specifically and only relating to my children on here. So maybe that is a rite of passage of sorts.

You see, I was a little sceptical about the children having only a “carol concert”, and no nativity once they were out of Foundation. I’m no practising Christian – I’m thoroughly agnostic with a logical leaning for much of the time, but I guess I can be pretty traditional about some things. And there’s something nice, isn’t there, about trotting out to see your precious child say nothing at all in the school play while the children of the more prominent PTA members get to be Mary and Joseph. (The highlight of my Nativity experience was being a rag doll in Santa’s workshop, captured for milliseconds on gloriously blurry VHS.)

That was how it was done, right? When I was at school, costumes were home-made and nigh unrecognisable. You sang Away in a Manger tonelessly and raggedly, while the teacher who could play the piano trotted out her repertoire on an upright which was only a little out of tune. And there was a good chance the parents could understand at least one word in three of Silent Night.

This year, I sat near the back of a hall at the neighbouring secondary school, watching my son stand with his year group singing a song about Christmas crackers, after which they marched off the stage to let the next year on. There was no piano – instead, a very polished CD was played which the children sang along to, and tried to be as loud as the rather more in-tune children’s choir it featured. It was a lot more slick and jazzy, but somehow, I couldn’t help feeling as though something had been missed.

The only year group which do a Nativity at my son’s school are Foundation. Well, last year the Boy was sick on the day we were to go and see it, so I was unable to see his performance as a “Non-talking Shepherd”, and it looks as though that was my only shot. maybe it’s just my bitterness at missing his one and only Nativity, but I can’t help feeling that sitting children in rows so they can sing along to a bunch of other (no doubt older) children singing better than they can is slightly missing the point.

I don’t go to a primary school carol concert looking for polish and quality. I go to see my son, and as much as it might make me a bad person, I don’t care about the other five years, all singing in turn. Or even watching 360 children standing in a group singing a song I have heard a rather more flat version of at home for the last fortnight. Especially when I know that I’m not hearing him anyway. I’m listening to a CD, played out on speakers because 360 children means a whole lot of parents and the borrowing of a secondary school’s hall to accomodate them.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think I would have preferred what my parents got. An out of tune piano and a rag-tag of children who sing their off-key hearts out, missing or forgetting words and generally sounding like what they are. Children. Our children.

When did it become the done thing to replace their (let’s be honest, not very good) singing with the singing of some other people’s children?

Problems with being Socially Anxious

I don’t do people. I don’t have a massive problem with them or anything, although large crowds tend to set shivers down my back and have me watching over my shoulder every now and then as though someone is about to run up behind me and plant some sort of: “I look really stupid, please laugh at me” sign on my back. 
Pictured: My trusty shield, defending me from imaginary “kick me” notes for a good decade or so.
It was once an indispensable part of my wardrobe. 
But largely. I can manage. I can walk next to people without freaking out. I might even make small talk with other parents outside the school gates after I’ve “known” them for six months or so. Heck. After the Girl had separation anxiety and used to go, screaming, into pre-school every day, I perfected the: “Oh well, it’s just a phase,” line as I forced a smile onto my face while walking past all the other parents with their not-screaming children, hoping that they weren’t judging me, mocking me, or despising me for being responsible for such a noisy child. (And thankfully the Girl has gotten over her own anxiety and is quite happy in the mornings now.)
I will readily admit that as much as I try not to label myself, the terms “shy”, “social anxiety” and “people phobia” spring readily to my mind when I think of my personality, along with somewhat more stigmatising terms such as “recluse”, and “social pariah”.
For the most part, I live my somewhat solitary life more vicariously through the internet. Here, at last, I am free, cut loose from my anxieties because no one can see how my forehead contorts with nerves as I post on forums. No one knows that I sit for five, ten, fifteen minutes with my mouse hovering over “reply” – all they see is TottWriter, a name on a screen, sounding confident, opinionated, bold. Even if the name does post somewhat infrequently.
Parenting puts a bit of a dampener of that shield, however. There’s the school run, for starters, And while it’s less daunting in reality than lots of forum topics would make it out to be (I’ve yet to see the parents actually divide into tribal formations, taking out the weaker specimens for sport), it still involves a degree of social interaction which I flounder on at times. Left to my own devices I would walk alone, stand alone, collect my children and flee, feeling pangs of longing for the parents who natter and gossip with ease, but knowing it’s not for me.
Then, the Boy went and made friends, and suddenly we have a group of people to walk to and from school with each day. I’ve taken to calling bedtime “The Gauntlet” due to its somewhat challenging nature, but my true gauntlet runs twice a day, at starting times of 8:20am and 3:00pm. Here is when I am tested – when I smile and make small talk, all the while noticing every pause before someone replies to me, every time people don’t hear my remark and talk over me, every time I am three paces behind the main group instead of one or two. Every occasion where the other parents are meeting up outside of school and I am not, when a grudge or conversation is discussed in which I had no part. 
In short, every time I feel that little bit more invisible than the others, when I start to worry that my mask of confidence has slipped and people can see me for what I am – an outsider, desperately clinging to the pack for my children’s sake and out of loneliness.
I know I don’t belong there, in conversations about nights out, fashion, and men. I’m none of those things. I stay in, I have never been fashionable, and I am currently coming to a full realisation that I am far closer to asexual than allosexual. I don’t fit, and I never have. 
The problem with being socially anxious is that, even though I know that no one “fits” a group perfectly, instead of finding the common ground and building friendships. I falter at the first hurdle, and spend years berating myself for that failure, for “getting it wrong”, for standing wrong, dressing wrong, staying quiet when I should have talked, or babbling when I should have been quiet. It’s that I over-analyse every mistake I make and let it cloud my social interactions in the future, and although I no longer wear a rucksack and a mid-length coat to defend myself from other people, I still feel like I need to don armour every time I walk out of the house.