Monday, October 22, 2012

Social Anxiety

I've just had another weekend that could be filed under ‘Dull’. I didn't really go anywhere or do anything, barring Friday when I left work to meet Ed, and Large Northern (former) Flatmate, and chatted to his work colleague which was fine until she pointed out her boyfriend. He was sat in the corner observing us and the pair of them began miming across the pub while I could do nothing else but grin and blush, and go silent as I casually broke out in a sweat.

Otherwise my weekend was largely spent ‘in’, drinking alone and eating comfort shit. I ran a couple of errands in the day, such as buying a cat scratching post and a cat litter tray because a woman came round and proclaimed my apartment suitable to house a small furry mammal that meows... and now the truth is starting to dawn in my insecure, doubtful mind that this is a big commitment and I don't really know what I'm doing. I just liked the idea of having a pet again. I was surrounded by them as a child and my life seems kinda empty now, ergo: cat.

I asked my family, and Twitter, what they thought about me getting one (both said yes), and I solicited the opinion of a few friends (who said “'why?”) and now this just seems to be happening anyway, my life about to be turned upside down along with my flat, when I return home to a shredded sofa and the contents of my bin scattered all over the floor. A cat is going to curtail my exciting life - not that I have one - although spontaneous weekends away are likely never going to happen again - not that they ever did.

And then last night, as my health regime died a death while I sat in front of the internet feeding crisps into my face, I made a discovery - and it wasn't porn. I was reading about Daniel Tosh. He's an American stand-up who recently became persona non grata when he made some unpleasant comments about rape. I'd not heard of him even though I'm pretty knowledgeable about stand-ups, and have even entertained the notion of dabbling in stand-up myself were it not for my crippling shyness. And fear of public speaking. And crowded rooms full of people with their silent gaze and endless negative thoughts you can actually see being compiled behind their cold, narrowing eyes as they judge me all to fuckery. 

Anyway, I wiki'd Tosh. I was bored and playing for time as I didn't want to go to bed yet. and noticed he suffers from Social Anxiety. Marginally curious, I clicked on the link only to be floored.

That page had me described in eerie detail; all my foibles and issues under one broad canopy I would've first crept behind as a fat adolescent. Now I really don’t like self-diagnosis, particularly lazy internet browsing on a nascent Monday morning. It all seems like clutching at straws, just half-assed guesswork in place of considered professional opinion, yet the associated link on Social Rejection, bloody hell, it was like whoever’d written it had been thumbing through my childhood diary. 

There were common forms of anxieties; falling to pieces over people they fancy, peer rejection, fear of public speaking, blushing, near constant self-consciousness, overly critical of past behaviour, even being unable to 'go' in a public toilet because dammit!, someone's hovering nearby, I recognised practically every anxiety I read: Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, if it's socially awkward, I've done it, or I'm doing it right now. Or to put it another way; everything I read on those pages I've already blogged.

I still don't like to diagnose myself over the damn internet, but the whole thing fitted me too well. I've got loads of anxieties, and they've got a historical basis. I’ve mentioned before my crappy teenage years although I'd long stopped caring. I just see it as a shitty past that has no bearing on my present, although I'm starting to realise that perhaps it's more important than I thought.

From a social point of view, school was miserable. My home life was fine, but socially it wasn't much better. I grew up with a bad-tempered sister who refused to talk to me. She never wanted me around and even now, at 44, she never gets in touch and I can’t remember when she last phoned me about anything. My stepdad was nice enough but kept out of my way, and mum seemed more interested in the casino where the pair of them would go most nights. In fairness to my mother, she is disabled and when I'd complain about her constant excursions, she would counter that gambling was her only fun in life.

I would’ve been hanging out with friends at that crucial age, but I didn’t have any. I was ostracised at school, and punched or spat at. I admit this wasn’t a daily occurrence, but from what I can remember, it was rare to go a week without at least a passing insult from someone, such as being called a ‘son of a cripple’. Looking back, I liked to think I had friends (perhaps because I couldn't bear to think that I didn't), and I was hardly the fat, silent kid plotting in the corner. I was more jovial than that, and eager to please. The friends I did have were - what's the word? - Not really friendly - and didn't give me the time of day because I was fat and uncool, and hanging around me was bad for your status.

By my mid-teens when I left school, I had no-one. I was probably more desperate for friendship than ever before, and was now convinced that at my very core I was at least deeply flawed. My only sibling continued to yell at me when I approached her, and my parents still took off in the evenings which wasn't so bad actually, as I got to watch TV and eat crisps and hug the living shit out of our pet...OH MY GOD, IT ALL MAKES SENSE…

Anyway, good news was right around the corner when a couple of years later, I'd gone to University and formed genuine and sincere friendships with kind, decent people – and Jamie – who accepted me for who I am etc. Finally, I decided I was going to show those spineless, shallow, spiteful little fuckers from school that I'd be a great success doing 'something'. It would be financially fabulously successful - obviously - and live happily ever after.

Cut to no success whatsoever, just a weeded over non-karmic landscape of whatever.

Point is, my crappy past is clearly a bigger part of me than I've ever cared to admit. It's made me hypersensitive and aware of both how I interact with people, and how they react to me, which isn't great as I overthink everything. I live in constant fear of embarrassing or humiliating myself, which I realise now is one gigantic self-imposed limitation. For example, I won't go online and arrange dates (even though I work in a tiny, all-male office where all I'm guaranteed is a lifetime of lonely cynicism), just because I can't bear the blind date job interviews, the pre-meet fear, the awkward introductions, the judgemental free-for-alls from her and everyone around us, and the silences, all topped off with a general desperation because those formative years fucked me up so much.

Basically, I have Social Anxiety, that's what I'm saying. I think I do a bloody good job of deal with it though. Honestly. Don't look at me like that....


Z said...

It could have described me too, at one time. For example, for years and years, I never referred to anyone as a friend in case they would think 'who's she, believing I think of her as a friend?' But I came through it, though it's still an effort sometimes, and you've worked through a whole lot of it too. Don't dismiss what you've achieved - forming genuine friendships when you hadn't had much practice, for one thing.

It was a combination of learning to like myself and simultaneously recognising that I didn't matter much so it was okay to do something embarrassing as no one would care that much, and looking outward, focussing on other people rather than myself and how they were reacting to me, that has made the difference, I think.

Homer said...

I really feel for you because it sounds like the exquisite self-consciousness of the teenage years has never left you. I was like that, but only until I was 17 or so. It must be tiring.

I think it's good that you can recognise that how you react to things isn't "normal", but as for what you do about it... Sorry Fweng, I've got nothing. There must be seem sort of web-based CBT programme though?

"They fuck you up, your mum and [step]dad."

Anonymous said...

I think what Z said is quite useful -- I found it's a good idea to focus on other people rather than yourself, then you can bracket out the anxiety a bit. The most fascinating subject in anyone's life is themselves and if you can draw them out then they can do the talking about you can get your mind off how you're feeling. And bit by bit you can bring yourself back in.

As to going on dates, if you're reasonably prepared with a few questions about her interests, history and so on, it should be OK. You're bright enough to be able to develop her answers. (And who gives a shit what other people say in judgement?)

Or, what I've done a couple of times is say we'll put a time limit on it of an hour, and regardless of how we're getting on it'll end then. If it's going terribly then there's only another fifty minutes to grind through, and if it's giong well you'll be leaving each other wanting more.

Smidge said...

You know what? There are a lot more people out there like you (i.e) us that you realise. Not many of them can write about it with as much panache as you do tho. What you need is some of the snark to translate into real life. People like snark. Or you need to find people who like that snark.

I have battled with social anxiety and rejection issues my whole life. It stems from a different angle but bullying formed a massive part of it. It translates into my friendships and relationships - I push them away I am not good enough, people want to be friends with me - even when they have been my friend for 16 years.

I don't know how to treat it, but I do know how to deal with it. Confidence. Even if you have to fake it. 99.9999% of our world is about confidence, even if you are having to grit your teeth to get through it.

Anonymous said...

"friend's" huh...overated ruby old bean. i mean, yeah by all means have some but the reality is you only need 6 people to carry your coffin and some of those will be family, so thats about 4 really. if you have 4 friend's then your doing just fine. furthermore...have you considered being gay? it might get you laid more. albeit theres an obvious drawback, but you might grow to like it and women do love a gayer.

Empathy said...

Don't you ever feel angry about life dealing you a shitty hand? Don't you ask "Who the fuck are those cunts to judge me anyway?"

Don't you ever get so filled with blinding rage at the way life treats you that you just can't help but get to your feet and start pushing back at every piece of shit who dares stand in your way and tells you that you don't measure up?

If not, what's it going to take to get you there? How much more of this crap are you going to put up with?

It sounds to me like those little pricks you went to school with were a sorry bunch of half-arsed bullies, because they didn't make you anywhere near as angry as you should be.

Anonymous said...

I did a Google search of "I hate earth" and came across your blog. Self-reflection is hard, but transformation is possible. You're funny and have a great writing style.
We're all going to make it. You have friends :)


Anonymous said...

I really, really recommend psychotherapy (although I'm a therapist so.possibly biased!). There really is a life on the other side of this and recognising it is a massive step. There's lots of low cost therapy you can get through local counselling services where you pay what you can afford.

Have read your blog for a long time and you're funny and insightful. And I couldn't believe it when you put your holiday photo up - you're cute too despite everything you've said! Don't let your past ruin your life - you deserve more.

Julia said...

Dude. Google Eckhart Tolle and watch a few films of him on You Tube. Quieting the mind works wonders.

I think you sabotage yourself all the time cos you don't believe you're deserving of happiness.

Open your eyes. You're intelligent, witty, talented, sensitive and cute.

digressica said...

Friend of mine has this problem. I actually know a few people with this problem. It never seems to happen to stupid people. I think it's like... a surplus of self-awareness. Why don't you try being more stupid?

fwengebola said...

Z ~ I think you're right, but it also helps when you're settled and partnered up. I'm sure that's a massive part of it.
Homer ~ I'm well past the 17yo awkwardness, but as I say it's only recently I've realised I've got issues I've long ignored. More reading, I guess.
Loob ~ I hate to say it but I think I'm going to have to do a whole bunch of time-limited 'dates'. I still can't imagine I'd enter into that, but I was much the same about the cat. I didn't have a cat, I made some enquiries, now I have a cat. The only difference is that I don't care what the cat thought of me (past tense)
Smidge ~ Thank you. It's worrying how fucked up many of us are, and the current season isn't helping as a lot of my friends are out of town and I'm full of chocolate. I have a feeling that exercise will help, which is shit as I can only do that for a few weeks or months at a time before getting bored and going back to the Cadburys.
Anon ~ I will work out who you are and I will kill you
Empathy ~ And thank you. That's another issue as no, I don't think life's dealt me a shitty hand. I'm a white, middle class male and I have stupid anxieties I shouldn't be so wrapped up in. I could get angry and do something about it but it all seems so half-assed. On the other hand, if I don't, I'm just some average whinging machine that doesn't do anything productive or ineffectual.
Anon ~ Thank you very much. You as an Anon I prefer.
Anon ~ And you are lovely, thank you. I have thought about therapy, but then it'll mean I've been to a therapist, which is a stigma I don't want. On the other hand, it would only be good for me, but on yet another I do enough bitter introspection here. It'll be overegging the personal pudding paying for people to ponder my personality.
Julia ~ That's very nice. Thank you too. I've wiki'd Eckhart Tolle and his bio is quite fascinating. Then again I've watched this and, okay, context is everything, but I have no idea what the fuck is going on. I'll look into him though.
Dig ~ That's very kind too. I feel overwhelmed by people's kindness, and now I feel massively crappy. But back to reality, I will undertake stupidity now, and start watching Two and a Half Men until I start dribbling, or until I want to kill, whatever comes first.

digressica said...

Well that should get you past the opening credits of the pilot.