Happy winter solstice! A time where we try to hibernate as much as possible, stay in and do less. But ironically also a time where we don’t get to hibernate at all, go out a lot (‘ARE YOU COMING TO THE CHRISTMAS PARTY?’) and do more. A lot more. Travel, work ‘do’s’, family stuff, events…
Typically around now I will probably experience some sort of social based anxiety meltdown. And in my typical way, it won’t be visible to anyone, except the elves who look after the cortisol levels in my adrenal glands, some burgeoning stomach ulcers, the festive fairies who take care of the microbiome in my gut, and Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo who heads up the Anxious Expulsion Team.
So I recently learned the term ‘post-event processing’. And all of a sudden the WHOLE stress around my social life has made more sense. It’s a relief! Post-event processing is a term that describes ‘prolonged rumination and repetitive negative thinking following a social anxiety-provoking event.’ Or for me, literally any social event – doesn’t have to be especially anxiety provoking. Sometimes it happens with those super close to me like good friends, and on occasion, even family.
And guess what. You’re more likely to do this if you have social anxiety (tick). And in doing so focus on the ‘negatives’ of said social interaction (tick). Treating the experience as some kind of personal learning and development situation that it clearly is NOT (tick).
I thought everyone did this. Until a good friend a few years ago said to me, ‘wait you do what? That sounds exhausting.’ And I thought. Yeah. But that’s just life isn’t it? He said, ‘not for me, no.’ And from that point 6 years ago onwards, I learned that many, many, many other people have nights out, meetings, brief moments of social interaction and simply go home afterwards and sleep. They do NOT dissect them for days (weeks, months, years).
Oh to have that brain! And only now have I found a name for it. I knew anxious folk ruminated. But the time I spend unpicking conversations is just too much. It’s sandpaper to my soul.
I do get excited for certain social interactions. But then I am so depleted by the relentless unpicking I do afterwards, I’ve often wondered if it’s worth it. Which is kinda sad. As rationally I think I’m pretty decent company. Sometimes I catch myself mid conversation and tell myself to be ‘more boring,’ as if I think to be more anodyne will mean I’ll have less to dissect later as I’ll have been more ‘acceptable.’ Blah! There’s also less likelihood of someone disagreeing or disliking my views/humour/me as a person (yo, rejection!) It’s active preempting of the post-event processing. And not only is it shite, it’s some next level mental juggling that takes you out of the present moment (a real actual dick move).
Self awareness and kindness and empathy are hugely wonderful in social settings and conversation. Don’t hog air time. Don’t be rude. Don’t insult anyone. It’s what I aspire to. But if you choose your company well, they’re most likely going to be a given. So why the self censorship? And heck, I enjoy being myself. I love making people laugh. I don’t want to be less me, because I don’t think I am that terrible to hang out with really. But post-production me, really is a b*tch.
There’s much of my brain I am working on in therapy currently (great whatever state you decide your head is in). And the further we go into that surreal Dali painting masquerading as Grey matter, the more I find out. It’s both good and bad, and just interesting. But honestly the best bit is finding a name for that weird thing you thought only you did. Well in my case that I thought, a) Happened to everyone, b) Found out it doesn’t c) Made me feel like a weirdo. Why? I think because it ticks that, ‘you’re not alone’ box. And really at the heart of everything, we just want some solidarity. So to all you ruminators, over thinkers and post-event processors – I’ve got your back. I can guarantee I won’t be thinking about your social performance after we meet. I’ll be too busy thinking about mine! Lol. So let’s just say we don’t think about it. Because they cancel one another out. Shake on it? Shake on it.
Yes, but did I shake on it right...