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....