THE DREADED SCHOOL RUN

When my daughter started primary school, I had a master plan. Despite suffering from crippling social anxiety, I was going to shove my insecurities deep down where the sun didn’t shine, pull up my big girl pants, and be sociable. I was going to make an effort to introduce myself to other mums because I understood that I was the gateway to my daughter’s social life, and I wanted her to have positive experiences. I didn’t want people to see me as the awkward and antisocial person that seldom spoke and therefore, unfairly judge my daughter.

So in the first year of school, I tried getting to know people. I soon realised that there were many cliques and not all were welcoming, not everyone was friendly and some would outright ignore me. It surprised me to see strangers becoming fast friends within such a short space of time. People were enjoying family holidays together, picking up each other’s children and organising play dates.

All the while, I was struggling to get an invite to the end of term park gatherings and classroom parent dinners. Most of the time, I was invited as an afterthought or at least, that was my perception. I couldn’t even secure play dates successfully, bar one mum who took me under her wing.

I would watch with envy and disappointment as groups of mums would leave for coffee dates after the school runs. Why didn’t they invite me? These situations would evoke powerful emotional childhood memories of insecurities and inadequacies, making me feel like that outcast once more. Suffice to say, I spent a lot of those early days hidden in the car until the very last minute.

Fortunately, I did make a few good friends that year, and I’ve clung on to them since (You know who you are – thank you!). School runs can be intimidating, especially for someone who suffers from social anxiety. On days where I don’t find a friendly face, I feel anxious waiting around. Small talk is a mammoth task for me, especially with people I’m not comfortable with or know well.

My husband doesn’t understand my irrational fears with the dreaded school runs. How could he though? He doesn’t have social anxiety. He wasn’t an outcast as a child in school. He is confident in his own skin and has his tight-knit group of childhood friends. He has no problem with small talk or meeting new people, even though he is an introvert by nature.

I, however, allow this debilitating mental illness to dictate almost every social interaction that I have. It has become a stranglehold that keeps me from meeting new people, forming friendships and sometimes even keeping friendships. I’m plagued by insecurities and anxiety over forming connections but at the same time, I doubt why anyone would want to be my friend. I’m not interesting, I don’t have hobbies, I’m not well-travelled, and I’m not worldly or cultured.

My husband made an observation that gave me pause. “Why is it you think so little of yourself? Why wouldn’t people want to be your friend? Why don’t you ask to join them for coffee?”

Upon reflection, I surmised that I am simply scared. I’m scared to put myself out there, to allow myself to be vulnerable and be judged. What if I’m found to be wanting? What if people don’t like me? What if I let myself hope for friendship and be sorely disappointed? What if I’m rejected for being me?

Recently, I met a wonderful and kind school mum, by chance, at one of my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. It was only upon getting to know her that I realised I am not alone in my feelings and perhaps there are many of us with our own doubts and insecurities. She made me understand that having meaningful social connections and friendships are important, and is worth pursuing, particularly for people who suffer from social anxiety.

This year, I haven’t hidden in my car or pretended to be on the phone as much. I’ve continued to work on my small talk and forming connections with other people. I would like to think my social anxiety has lessened in intensity and my communication skills have improved.

But as we creep towards a new school year, where undoubtedly there will be new faces to meet and new connections to make, I know my anxiety levels will rise and there will be an overwhelming urge to hide in the car.

Does it get easier? Can someone overcome social anxiety? I really hope so because I don’t like the idea of hiding in the car for the next decade.

Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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EVERYONE NEEDS A TRIBE

Social connection is a fundamental human need. It is through this connectedness with family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues and the community, that helps form a person’s sense of self-identity and belonging. Without meaningful relationships and social interaction, our mental and physical health can suffer immensely.

This concept of social belonging and connectedness was a missing element in my childhood. You see, my parents were Vietnamese refugees. They didn’t understand the importance of social connectedness or fostering good mental health. My folks were constantly treading water and struggling to pull on their own life jackets. They grappled with the English language, laboured in menial and low-waged jobs, and moved from one rental property to another at such a frequency that no place was considered home. There were times we hadn’t even unpacked our boxes before we had to move again. I’ve slept in many one-bedroom flats where my ‘room’ was a partitioned off area in the lounge room. I’ve lived in caravans; slummed in garages where planks of wood shoved together was my makeshift bed; slept in a car at the back of a restaurant; lived off the scraps of others. I worked in sweatshops and farms to help my parents make ends meet. I was my younger brother’s surrogate parent by the age of eight.

I moved schools almost every year because of my parent’s vagabond lifestyle. No one wanted to make friends with the new loner kid that transferred mid-year, dressed in poor imitation clothing and was deathly quiet. As a result, kids avoided me and I was left alone at recess and lunchtime, usually feeling awkward and sad. I became proficient at building an impenetrable wall, cutting off all connections and choosing to live in the fantasy world of books. I never stayed anywhere long enough to form friendships, to interact on a deeper level with my peers, to find my sense of belonging and purpose within the school environment or community.

As a young adult, I found it difficult to trust people. I couldn’t commit a hundred percent to any connection. For doing so would mean breaking down my walls of vulnerability, letting go of my fears of rejection and opening myself up to the judgement of others. So I had one leg out of every relationship I formed; girlfriends, boyfriends, even in the early stages of my marriage. My inner child was forever yearning for friendship and crying for love, but my adult façade was impossibly stoic and impassive. No one knew how displaced I felt as a human being, as a person. I had basically accepted that I would always feel like an outlier in society.

People say that having children changes you; that the transformation is profound and life-altering; that your beliefs and values can shift and be redefined; that parenthood can have you questioning your sense of identity. People say that without conscious thought, your parenting style can be influenced by your own childhood history, your natural disposition and cultural background. I think there might be validity to these suggestions.

The arrival of my children had me reflecting on the driving factors that influenced my past decisions and actions. Their presence forced me to consider my childhood and lack of social connectedness. It had a massive impact on the person that I became.

What could I do to make sure my children wouldn’t suffer the same fate? I knew that I had fostered a strong attachment and parental bond with my children, and that I bathed them with feelings of love, value and respect. But part of building their sense of self and belonging also involved them having positive peer, school and community connectedness.

How could I encourage my children to engage with others when I was to scared to do so myself? I needed to lead by example. It meant that I had to re-evaluate my own levels of social and community connections. I had to work on building and maintaining positive connections with my family and friends. I needed to start engagement and volunteering with the school and community. I had to work on my sense of belonging. I had to find my tribe.

I discovered that I was already a part of many tribes. I have supportive and loving family. I have wonderful friends. I have engaging acquaintances, online and in person. I am part of the school family and the wider community. It was just a matter of me smashing down those walls and reaching out to connect with people. And I am truly grateful to everyone that has enriched my life by being a part of it.

My hope is that I will be a good role model and that my children will find their sense of self and belonging. And that it won’t take them almost forty years to find it.

Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

https://knj.home.blog/privacy-policy/