My general avoidance of all social situations hasn't always been a personality trait of mine. In fact, growing up, I was quite the opposite. I took part in local amateur dramatic groups, I was always the loud, funny friend and when I was 18 I packed my bags and moved as far away from my small home town as I possibly could, to Australia, where I started working in a backpacker bar, danced all night to club tunes and shacked up with my boss (we did end up getting married and having two kids so that isn't as bad as it sounds!)
I've always had anxiety, but it shapes and moulds itself around my current situation so that it's hard to pin down and tackle. When I was younger, it was anxiety about doing well in exams and being the best in class. As I got older, it was about meeting new people and making friends, worrying over whether or not people would like me for who I was. For a brief and scary time, it was about my weight and my personal appearance, although I'm thankful this never developed into anything more sinister. Through most of my adult life, that anxiety attached itself to my career and new jobs, making me doubt my own abilities and meaning I was a truly terrible employee through my first 6 months in any new role because I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts. Looking back now, it's a wonder anyone employer ever stuck with me long term because my first impression was always less than flattering.
But since becoming a Mum, all my anxiety has been channelled into adjusting to this new, alien life, and therefore basically using it as an excuse not to put myself into any new or unknown situations, which, as it turns out, you're expected to do, all the time.
I'm a pretty cool headed Mum under pressure. My two kids can simultaneously be screaming blue murder whilst tightly strapped into the pram and with me being chased around the local duckpond by some terrifyingly large and aggressive geese, and it doesn't phase me at all. I'll let them scream it out until they're quite finished, and keep on swerving the wheels of the pram to avoid the snapping beaks. That isn't a euphemism by the way, that actually did happen just a few days ago and I got some pretty appalling looks from passers by, but when my 2 year old decides to meltdown, there's not a lot anyone can do about it. And when we do venture out places, I am always more than prepared. I'll never leave the house with anything less that what I would need to survive just about any kind of disaster (natural, poo related or otherwise). So it's not these things that cause me the anxiety. It's quite simply the thought of mixing with other Mums and having to make conversation with them, which I am honestly and truly just absolutely horrible at doing. Because of my anxiety, I'm not good at small talk. I never ask the right questions, I never have interesting responses and I'm one of these annoying people who will forget your name almost immediately after you have told it to me. But it isn't because I'm not listening, or because I don't care, it's simply because I'm channeling all of my energy into not letting my anxiety levels spill over and to go running out the room without so much as a backwards glance. But I totally get why this often means I come across as unfriendly and aloof.
It isn't that I don't want to meet and mix with other Mums. On an almost daily basis I'll head into my local coffee shop and sit opposite a group of Mums with their babies enjoying a catchup and a coffee over boob or bottle feeds and babycinos. I always wonder how this particular group of women met; maybe it was an NCT class, maybe they're old school friends, or maybe they're sisters or cousins. But whatever the dynamic, I long to be a part of it. I find myself staring, in quite a creepy way if I'm honest, for long periods, willing one of them to walk over and strike up a chat. It never happens of course, nor would I expect it to. But I often wish life was a little more like that, for people like me who are afraid to take the first step.
Of course, these days, social anxiety? There's an app for that. The clever people behind Mush have helped bring local Mum's together on a platform which initially avoids that face to face contact I dread so much. It's actually been nicknamed "Tinder for Mums". I've met some great Mums through the app, all of whom live only a stones throw away from me and have kids of a similar age, and it's been great messaging, chatting and getting to know each other. As yet, I haven't actually been able to bring myself to meet any of them in person (which is ultimately the point of Mush, really), but one step at a time guys.
Through my online business, I've also been extremely lucky to have met a community of supportive and friendly Mums who are always just a tap on a phone screen away should I ever need anything. Nothing makes up for real life interactions, but at least these Mums are there with a friendly ear or some sound advice when I need it most and truly, I've been amazed by the fact that women whom I have never met have come to mean so much to me.
In a most uncharacteristic moment of optimism (no doubt brought on by the new year and all the promises of change and fresh starts) I booked myself and my youngest onto a 3 month Baby Sensory course. I cannot even begin to emphasise how much of a big deal that was for me who, after almost 2 and a half years of having children, has never once been to a single meeting, group or class of any kind. It just goes to show that you never what people are going through, and as I walked into the class for the first time I did wonder what other Mums in the room were dealing with in the quiet of their own minds. And, I got lucky. The girl who sat next to me was bubbly and led the conversation, and it turned out, we share the same name, so I can hardly forget that in a hurry! Learning to sing and sign though? I'm not sure I'm going to graduate from that class any time soon.
I've learned to feel comfortable with the way I am. I may long for more social experiences, but my whole life of dealing with anxiety in its many forms has taught me I have to take things at my own pace. I hope that, as my kids grow older, I have more opportunities to meet other Mums, maybe at the school gates, weekend birthday parties or Saturday morning swimming classes. But I can't force it, because that just isn't me.
So for now, I shall persevere with the Baby Sensory classes, and as the term goes on perhaps I'll find the confidence to strike up a conversation with someone first before they do so with me. And if you're ever with a group of Mums in a coffee shop and see a woman with a pram staring at your from across the room, don't be alarmed, it's probably just me, so do feel free to come and say hi!
Check out the amazing Mush app and connect with Mums local to you www.letsmush.com
Find your local Baby Sensory Class and learn to sing and sign