I’m Not Ashamed to Admit I Have Hangxiety
I suffer from a peculiar, specific, and very temporary delusion. On occasion, with no external prompting from anyone, I will be fully and completely persuaded that all my friends hate me. I will be utterly convinced that every friend I know secretly finds me irritating, annoying, cloying, foolish.
It comes on suddenly, I spend the day in abject misery, and then the next day I’m back to normal.
This often happens to me after social gatherings. There will be a party, an event, a night out, an evening at the pub. I’ll have a great time with everyone, making people laugh. I won’t think twice about anything I say. People find me funny, clever, charming.
Then, the next morning, I’ll wake up and be consumed with the knowledge that everything I did and said was intolerable to literally everyone.
I force myself to relive endlessly, over and over again, what I did, what I said. Things that seemed funny or silly then were guaranteed to make me lose every friend I have, which was immediately obvious to me now in the cold light of day.
I don’t just go over the events of that night, but my interactions with people as far back as a decade ago. Why am I like this? How do I have any friends at all? It’s suddenly so apparent that I don’t actually know anyone who likes me. It’s all a ruse.
I’ll struggle throughout the day, and then, even though I’m exhausted, I’ll struggle to go to sleep, my mind still turning over ancient memories where I acted stupidly.
The next morning, I wake up and feel completely normal.
I thought I was losing my mind.
It was bizarre: I knew that these thoughts were ridiculous, that they would go away the next day. I knew, rationally, that they weren’t true. If nothing else, surely nobody cared or paid that much attention to what I did or said. And if I was so irritating, why did people still hang out with me at all?
But these thoughts still felt completely convincing. I genuinely felt that everyone I thought I could call a friend secretly despised me.
Eventually I realized, as you might have done already, that this always happened to me after heavy drinking. It was a manifestation of my hangover, which was why it came and left so precipitously.
With the clear vision that comes from hindsight, I find it incredible to believe I didn’t connect the dots sooner. Alcohol is of course a “downer,” a depressant. Medically and physiologically speaking, alcohol blocks your brain from receiving messages from nerve receptors. This affects your judgement, perceptions, emotions.
I googled “why do I feel like people hate me after drinking” and was rewarded with an answer: hangxiety.
Everything fell into place.
The more I read about hangxiety, the more I felt relieved. All the symptoms matched for me. I wasn’t alone. There were other people who had felt the weird see-saw of truly believing in something horrifying despite knowing deep down it was a temporary condition.
People wrote stories about how there was nothing they could do to feel better. If friends didn’t message them the next day, it was obviously because they were hated. If they did message them, it was a pity outreach.
They, like me, had been brought to tears, to considering self-harm, to cutting ties with people before they could cut ties with you.
I felt so validated. It’s one thing to know you’re being ridiculous and try to use that knowledge to pull yourself out of your funk. It’s another thing entirely to see other people struggling with the same problem you have, talking about how it’s affected them.
The next time I was struck down by hangxiety, I knew what it was. I knew I could handle it. I drank water, I took walks in the sunshine, I ate nourishing meals. I was mindful about my thoughts and tried to treat myself well and with love.
And there was even a cure: stop drinking. Stop drinking or else it can turn into something worse over time.
But…I kept drinking.
It was a cycle: I’d go to a party, feel a little nervous or stressed, have a drink (or two, or three) to calm down, have another because I was finally feeling great. I’d dance, I’d chat, I’d feel like a perfect social butterfly who could do no wrong.
Then I’d wake up. On top of the headache, exhaustion, and dry mouth, I’d once again be struck with the belief that all my friends found me intolerable.
Everything I remembered was horrible; the gaps that I didn’t remember were worse.
I’d struggle throughout the day, trying to distract myself with books, TV, social media, anything to get myself out of my own head.
Finally I’d go to bed, knowing that the worst was yet to come as I tossed and turned without being able to distract myself. But I knew if I could just fall asleep I’d be fine the next day. I would vow not to drink again.
Days, weeks, months later, I’d be invited to a party. I’d attend, saying to myself that this time, I wouldn’t drink. I knew I didn’t need alcohol to have fun — these were my friends, after all. I’d have fun sober and not lose my whole next day to an all-consuming, unreasonable, illogical and terrifying paranoia.
But I’d be nervous. What if I said something stupid? What if none of my friends would talk to me? What if I couldn’t think of anything to say? Milling around awkwardly, avoiding eye contact and fidgeting, I’d be seized with the thought that this is why I had no true friends.
I’d have a drink to calm down.
It helped me remember I’m not actually extroverted.
One thing didn’t fit in with my self-diagnosis:
“People who were “highly shy” experienced a “significant increase” in anxiety the day after drinking.” — Celia Morgan, psychopharmacology professor at the University of Exeter
I’m not highly shy.
You can ask anyone and they’ll tell you I’m the first to jump in to make new friends. I’ve always been able to talk to anyone. I find socialization easy. It’s something I’ve taken pride in for as long as I can remember.
Except, I suddenly remembered, I hadn’t always.
As a child I’d been incredibly shy. As a teenager I’d been very awkward and quiet, finding it difficult to talk to new people and relate with them. I remember trying to expand my circle of friends to outside the three or four I’d had since I was young, and failing.
When I was sixteen or seventeen, I started drinking — and suddenly making friends was easy.
Looking back, I don’t think all of my sudden extroversion was due to alcohol. But I do think it taught me how to loosen up. Most of my friendships started with alcohol. The only ones I’ve maintained were the ones who I could learn to like without drinking.
In my final year of university, when I was under more pressure than I’d ever been in my life, I drank like a fish and often felt like I had no real friends. I don’t think that’s a coincidence any longer.
And even now, even though I’ve thought of myself as extroverted for nearly a decade, the signs are all there. At a party, I use alcohol like a crutch, to help me become that social butterfly I so desperately want to be. I’m sure I could do without it — but I’ve never been brave enough to try.
I’m going to ask for help.
I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I have social anxiety.
I don’t know if the way I feel is normal for people or if it’s atypical. I’ve tried to google it, but to be frank I don’t know how reliable a “Find out if you have social anxiety disorder in 20 questions or less” quiz is.
I feel a little ashamed to ask for help. I feel like I’m nothing special, like everyone struggles with this and gets over it without making a big deal about it. I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m weak enough to believe the lies alcohol tells me the next morning.
But you know what? If I was feeling a little under the weather and I wasn’t sure why, I’d call a doctor.
If they told me I was fine, I’d feel relieved, not ashamed, and I’d move on with my day. If it turned out to be something more serious, I’d gratefully accept any advice and medication they were able to provide.
Mental health shouldn’t be any different.
People with anxiety who drink alcohol are more at risk for developing alcoholic dependencies. While I don’t feel at all at risk now, I don’t want to wait until it gets that bad.
I’ve always been ashamed of this secret weakness. I’ve always been afraid that feeling of universal hatred was the truth, and every other day was a lie. I’ve always been worried that everyone deals with this, but I’m the one who actually has no real friends.
But I’m not ashamed anymore.
Tomorrow, I’m going to pick up the phone and call a doctor. I’m going to describe my symptoms honestly with no embellishment or concealment. I don’t know what’s going to happen — maybe I’m fine and just have to learn not to drink as much. But maybe not. Either way, I’ll be better than I was before.