Okay, so I don’t mean exposure in the sense of ‘please do all this work for us for free, you’ll get exposure!‘ – though that’s definitely also awful. What I mean in this case is exposing yourself to your triggers. Diving headfirst into situations that you know are difficult for you, whether that’s because of your mental health or otherwise.
Here’s the thing: too much is too much.
I went to a roleplaying event last weekend, which for me is always – well, a lot. If I’m playing, it’s not so bad. I have the capacity to pick my character according to what I’m comfortable doing on any given weekend. The ability to control whether I hang around or walk off for a bit when it’s getting too much.
When I’m monstering/crewing – which means being NPCs, the people that those players meet or fight – I don’t have those luxuries. I have to play the parts I’m given, when they’re needed. The times when we’re not playing parts, I have to sit ready with the rest of the crew.
I always know the vast majority of people at events, and they’re generally all my friends. But it’s still exhausting being around them. Yes, I find strangers a lot more tiring to exist near. But it still happens even with people I know incredibly well.
So I’m going through things and kinda enjoying it but also getting very, very tired.
On the way home to sleep after the second night, I was so exhausted and strung out that I spent the entire journey home complaining. I was grouchy, grumpy and awful. This was interspersed with me wailing “I’m sorry I’m so grumpy”, followed by a pause, followed by me complaining again.
Nothing I was complaining about was catastrophically terrible, nor necessarily in need of fixing. But I was so anxious that I had gotten into this state of only seeing the negative in everything. I couldn’t remember the good things anymore and could only focus on how things hadn’t gone right.
I didn’t have a panic attack in the end, but I spent that entire drive feeling like I was going to. Ultimately, fortunately, I think my body was too exhausted to go through with it.
It’s this inability to see the situation clearly that makes this exposure too much.
If I want to challenge myself and come out of it better, I need to be able to see clearly what’s happened.
I’m not going to benefit from putting myself through something difficult if all I can think of when I get out of it is that a hundred things went wrong. I need to be able to think: hey, it was tough but I really enjoyed this part! Not: it was hideous and also I forgot these key bits of information, screwed up this accent, and also said this embarrassing thing.
I’m already scared of people. If I’m going to expose myself to being around people then I need to get something positive out of it. That positivity is what will challenge my anxiety. Negative thoughts will only serve to exacerbate it.
The difficulty is – I don’t know when something is going to be too much.
Because I’ve been on roleplaying events with a lot of exposure to other people, including people I don’t know as well, where I’ve had incredibly positive experiences. But I can’t always control or predict when an event is going to be like that rather than like this.
This event was good. People really enjoyed it, engaged with it, there was a general feeling that it had all gone well. They were complimentary, though I found this difficult because in several cases the compliments were about things that I was and remain 100% certain I did badly. But I felt so anxious coming out of it that I can’t tell you if I had a good time or not. All I can remember is the bad things.
Does that mean I’m going to stop going to events like this? No, but at the same time I am kind of glad that I’ve got a few months without one. Maybe I just wasn’t quite ready for this sort of exposure after the terrible start to the year. If that’s the case, a couple of extra months between then and taking a risk will really help.
For now, it’s just a case of being kind to myself until I can shake the feeling of failure.
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