Dealing with parties when you don't like parties.
March 14, 2014 7:27 AM Subscribe
Every year, my work holds a big party to which we invite all our clients - the idea is we get to meet them and get to know them as people rather than voices on the phone. Every year, I end up having an anxiety attack and going home early, partly because I am rubbish at going out, partly because it is in an environment that I find difficult to cope with. We are expected to attend. What should I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Background for me: I have bipolar disorder, and coincidentally the party happens around the time I go through a low period. I find social gatherings very difficult - my industry is very middle class, I am not, and if I'm feeling less than sociable I feel like an outlier because I'm not a short skinny posh person who went to private school or had their parents help them buy a house - I know this is my issue and not theirs, but I feel acutely aware of it when I am on a work lunch or similar. (I don't think this makes me a better or worse person, it just makes me feel like it can be hard to relate.) The nature of our work means we can often have a difference of opinion with those with whom we are dealing, so we try and organise things like this or working lunches to build relationships - our job means we can be put under pressure, which is fine, but it's the social aspect which I can find tricky. (The clients of mine who happened to be coming last night had complained about me to a superior, so I was feeling nervous about seeing them and unsure whether to bring this up.)
I find social gatherings generally difficult, because I end up thinking 'what do I do now? What happens now? What should I be doing?' I went to pubs and clubs as a teenager and would end up stacking cups or peeling the labels off of bottles because I felt really awkward. When I socialise with friends, it tends to be at events (concerts, readings etc) or at each others' places. Being in a large room where it's hard to see and especially hard to hear does not suit me at all - if there are two conversations going on, and I don't know what I'm meant to be listening to, I start to get very antsy. One of these parties was held last night, and I ended up locking myself in a toilet cubicle for an hour as it meant I didn't have to go out or do anything or speak to anyone (as I said, I've been feeling low lately, and would possibly have felt the same in my house.) and I was having intrusive thoughts which I really didn't want to take any notice of. I'm really frustrated by this - eveyr year I dress up and try and get myself in the mood, and I know I'm a lot more sociable and confident than I used to be, but for some reason the environment or general medical issues get in the way. I used to drink to relax my nerves, but I can't with the medication I'm on. I feel a lot like when I was thirteen and always felt out of place at parties, and fuck that noise.
Background for the events: these are held in large nightclubs, with around 3000 people attending as well as the staff here. Rather than just using the nightclub as a venue, it's held as a regular night - last night there were DJs and acrobats performing. Basically, it's a club night with canapes. It was difficult to speak to someone without shouting in ears, and I couldn't see because the lighting was dark and lasery. I needed to make a phone-call and neither the smoking area nor toilets were quiet enough to allow me to do that - speaking to or finding people was impossible. The event takes a lot of time, effort and money to arrange, and I know some others at work don't like the nightclub environment as it's not to their taste or they find it difficult to chat to people. However, it means we can invite all the clients we have and they can have a good time and feel more positive about dealing with us as a company.
I know some will suggest therapy, and that's a good suggestion and one I will pursue for additional reasons. (Maybe CBT as it seems more practical for dealing with intrusive thoughts/feelings.) What I want to know is what I can do given this environment tends to exacerbate the anxiety that I can feel from time to time. Is there a way I can bring this up that doesn't make me sound like I'm making things difficult? (I am 'out' as bipolar at work.) I don't want to sound like a special snowflake, and I don't think asking to be excused each year would work - I have my own set of clients who I am expected to invite and if they come along and don't see me it could be detrimental to my working relationship with them. So I'm trying to think of a better way.