Today, I don’t have a hangover.
By which I mean… I do have a hangover. But not a normal hangover.
Today, I have a bit of a Social Hangover.
I like to think that I came up with the idea of The Social Hangover… because I like to think that I’m more original than I really am. But my extensive research shows that loads of other people talk about it (by “extensive research” I mean I typed “social hangover” into Google)
What is a Social Hangover?
This is what it means for me:
When you have a normal hangover, you have a sore head. You vow you will never ever in the history of the future drink alcohol again, a promise you will probably keep for at least another few hours. You feel sick and you think that – as any good doctor will tell you – the only cure is to eat food so greasy that looking at it would make a horse wobble with nausea.
A social hangover feels like that tense moment in a Western gunfight, where the two duelling Cowboys (Cowpeople? is that the more inclusive term? I feel like “two duelling Cowpeople” conjures up a slightly different mental image… of a pair of black and white Friesians struggling to hold pistols in their hooves)
In this social hangover gunfight, things could explode at any minute.
One moment, you’re contentedly going about your day. Maybe you’re walking to the shop to get some groceries (Shit! I need to go to the shop before it closes!… okay, you didn’t need to know that).
You’re thinking “Last night’s social interactions went pretty well. I feel like I did okay talking to new people, and I was okay at contributing to conversations, even though I was nervous.”
But somewhere in the back of your brain, the whistling theme tune to Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly starts to play quietly.
The next moment… BANG.
Your brain issues a barrage of abuse and anxious thoughts.
“When you said that thing to that person, that was a weird thing to say. They probably thought you’re a weirdo.”
“When you smiled at the person who you’d talked to earlier, they looked at you strangely. They must have hated talking to you and wanted to avoid you.”
“You were so boring at contributing to conversation topics. You’re really bad at talking to people. You should just never talk to people.”
The dust billows in the desert of your brain. The calm, tense silence has been replaced by explosions, screams, and the sound of an old man furiously playing the banjo for no apparent reason.
At this point, you’ve got a choice.
Do you let the gunfight go on to ridiculous lengths? Like a gunfight in a James Bond film where, realistically, Daniel Craig would be filled with holes like a Swiss cheese after just 2 minutes but instead he looks suave like he’s doing a perfume advert?
Or… do you unleash your inner John Wayne to calmly and firmly tell those thoughts to shut up?
Pick the second option…
… and all becomes silent again.
For a short while.
You remind yourself that you did well in the social interactions last night.
You spoke to people you wouldn’t have talked to otherwise.
You even enjoyed some conversations with people. There were times you forgot about your social anxiety.
But the tense Western gunfight in your brain hasn’t ended.
The shots aren’t firing right now. All is quiet in the desert of your brain.
The old swing door to the Saloon bar of your brain creaks in the wind.
The horse in your brain neighs and whinnies.
The piano player in your brain gets annoyed he has to stop playing Shostakóvich’s Walz No. 2 midway YET AGAIN because another bloody stranger has walked into the bar.
Do you think I’m stretching this metaphor further than it can go?
And, just when you think your social hangover is over. When you start to relax.
The thoughts begin again. And the whole gunfight restarts.
It’s a strange experience…
It’s not like a normal hangover, where to can say to people “I have a hangover” and they know what that feels like.
With a social hangover, you look fairly normal. Apart from the stetson hat and the spurs on your boots, you look like any other normal Cowperson.
But, there is a sensitivity in your mind.
Like a sore thumb that you trapped in the front door, any false social move and th discomfort will flare up again.
Someone looks at you strangely. You remember something you said the night before – or even something random you said 14 years ago. Or you find that your Facebook post from last week only got 2 👍s from your mum and sister, when you thought it would have got a dozen 😂s.
The smallest thing can trigger the gunfight back into action.
How can you overcome this Social Hangover?
Well… I don’t really know (sorry, this blog is about problems and challenges, not solutions)
But I have found it a bit helpful to give it a name. To say “I have a Social Hangover today.” To treat the gunfight and the thoughts that come with it as symptoms of the hangover.
Naming the hangover doesn’t get rid of it. But it does help… just a little bit.