July 13, 2012

Photo of patterned wallSo I'm at a party and I'm doing okay. I've managed to overcome (well, disguise) my social anxiety long enough to engage in a nice, normal conversation with someone.

Normal conversations are rare for me; usually, when I'm not forgetting to maintain eye contact and twitching like I'm on my eighteenth cup of coffee, I'm making uncomfortable jokes or babbling semi-incoherently or blurting out completely irrelevant and often inappropriate statements to try and cover up the fact that I actually have no idea what I am doing.

(Incidentally, I've found out that saying, 'Did you know that Victorians invented the first commercial disposable sanitary towel?' to cover up an awkward silence will actually make that silence even more awkward than it was before.)

I am actually very, very good at ending conversations abruptly. I wish it were a legitimate superpower so I could wear a cape and go around fighting crime. I would call myself Awkward Girl, or perhaps The Conversation Killer. Oh god, I'm doing it again. See, this is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.

... and then it happens. The Alcohol Question

Anyway. For these reasons, being able to convince someone else that I'm a normal, functioning human being who isn't obsessed with superheroes or the history of feminine hygiene is quite a novelty for me. So I'm standing there feeling quite proud of myself, happily chatting away with my new friend, and then it happens: The Alcohol Question.

It has several forms, much like some sort of terrifying Lovecraftian elder god. There's the “What are you drinking?” form, the “Can I get you a drink?” form, the “Have you tried the sangria?” form, but the most terrible form of all is also its most direct: “Why aren't you drinking?”

alcohol makes me depressed

Isn't it rude to be so blunt? I used to think so but, then again, I also used to think that just talking at someone about Star Trek for half an hour was a perfectly acceptable way to socialise with them. Ten years and a good dose of social ostracisation later, I just tend to assume that I know nothing about how to interact with another human being and go from there.

The question tends to dry me up like a slug on the wrong side of a salt pot. So what usually happens is I stand there for a second going “Er... er...” and then I make up something about alcohol not agreeing with me, which is technically true because it sometimes agitates my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).However, the main reason—and the very thing I don't want to say—is that alcohol makes me depressed.

the one thing that will always send my poor little brain into a five-day slump of enthusiastic self-hatred and irresponsible food choices is alcohol

My depression is a fickle thing. Lots of things can trigger it: the wrong food, too much food, too little food, too little exercise, thinking the wrong thoughts, reading the wrong books, days ending in “Y”. But none of these things are guaranteed to make me depressed every time. However, the one thing that will always send my poor little brain into a five-day slump of enthusiastic self-hatred and irresponsible food choices is alcohol.

I do not want to say this to my new friend, because the last thing I want to do is make them think I'm weird. And I am cagey about my mental health problems now. I used to be more open about them but that was before I experienced the bigotry of others first-hand. Now I stay quiet for the very reason that I should be talking.

instead of telling the truth... I avoid the issue

So I'm at a party and someone has just asked me why I'm not drinking. And instead of telling the truth—that alcohol is a depressive, that I suffer from depression and that the two things mix about as well as white cats and black leggings—I avoid the issue.

Then, of course, we get on to talking about my IBS. Let me point out that I never initiate this conversation. But people ask questions, and I answer them and my ability to change the subject becomes increasingly poor as I realise that we are actually talking about the activity of my bowels. I say this in an attempt to be funny. The conversation dries up. My new friend gives me that look. It is the look that says “that is a bit weird. You are weird”. It is the look that says “I am going to go soon”. And then they do. And I am left sipping my water looking awkward and wishing I were back at home with my cats.

Maybe it would be easier if I just told the truth.

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