Social anxiety

My teachers failed me

Me at eleven

Me nowWe learn throughout our lives, but most of our learning is done in childhood. In eighteen years, we’re supposed to advance from knowing absolutely nothing to knowing enough to manage on our own in this complicated world. What we need to learn isn’t just how to calculate the area of a triangle, or the difference between “its” and “it’s” [sorry – forget the second one: it’s apparently not important these days and probably not PC to even mention it].

We also have to learn how to get on with other people, how to communicate with them, because we’re all in this world together and we need each other to get anywhere. Besides, it’s pretty boring with only yourself for company.

Most children get sent to school to learn these things. This seems a good idea because, not only do you learn academic subjects, but you also have to interact with a lot of people. What happens if it goes wrong? – pear-shaped, I believe, is the current term.

I didn’t learn how to communicate with others at school. Instead, I learnt not to communicate, because anything I said could be remembered and used to bully me. And my teachers, who knew how to communicate and should have seen what was going on, didn’t think of communicating anything to me or finding anyone else to communicate with me. Reports complaining that I didn’t take enough part in lessons, and monologues after years of my non-communication telling me to change my attitude weren’t exactly the right approach.

Someone should have delved deeper and made me understand how I felt when I was teased or ostracised, or when my only friend suddenly vanished. But no one did.

I’d like to think that things have changed in all the years that have passed since I was at school. I’d like to think that teachers now care about the emotional well-being of their pupils and know how to handle problems. I fear that this is not true. That, just like then, they act when children are disruptive and fail to act when they’re not.



Feeling Lucky

 Me and my backpackThis post is going to be different from its predecessors. I’m going to ramble on and see where it takes me.

I’m back from a three-week trip that was interesting and mostly enjoyable. It was enjoyable because I met a lot of people and, despite all the difficulties, I like to be with people. It was interesting because I made it so. Because I asked questions and also partially opened the blinds to let others see into my world – the good parts and the bad parts. And it brought home something I discovered before: that most people have problems, and it’s only when you’re open about yours that you get to hear about theirs. So, opening up has at least two advantages. It lightens the burden on you, and it helps you to realise that you’re not as strange and different as you thought. You look for similarities, you share your own experiences. You feel better yourself and you hope that you’ve helped in some way.

This probably all sounds obvious to you. But it doesn’t to me, because I’ve spent too many years locked inside my walls with the blinds fastened. Opening up still feels unnatural and therefore difficult. But it’s worth it.

I’m feeling lucky. Lucky to have some wonderful, understanding friends. Lucky to have a lovely, loving family. And lucky to have won a book: Tania Hershman’s The White Road and Other Stories. I hope my luck continues. Maybe I’ll win a short story competition, or find a literary agent, or both….

Social anxiety

Coming Out


I’m not gay, but I’m coming out. The process has taken about seven years so far and I still don’t feel comfortable saying, “I have social anxiety.”

“What’s that?” is the typical response. No one asks that about being gay. Once the statement is made, it’s understood. Gayness … gaiety… homosexuality has become an accepted state. Similarly, depression is mostly understood. No one has to ask what depression is.

So what is it with SA? Why don’t people know about it? The definition of SA provides the answer. SA is a fear of people and particularly of what those people think of the sufferer. People with SA tend to avoid talking to others and often avoid social contact altogether. So other people don’t know they exist, or they don’t know what they’re thinking, why they’re so quiet.

That’s why SA doesn’t get the recognition it needs – we need – to fight it, destroy it, prevent it from starting even.

Why has it been so hard to come out? Because I’m afraid of the response. Afraid of the thoughts, even if they’re not spoken. Afraid of being thought strange, weird. It goes against my unwritten, unplanned life policy: to pretend to be the same as everyone else. It’s an impossible quest. You can’t miss out on so many basics of growing up and still behave in the accepted way in every situation. And yet, I still try to do it. And I imagine that by keeping quiet I’m not “found out,” although I know that this is untrue.


I’m going away and might not be able to post again this month. I’ll be back. In the meantime,


Social anxiety


My friend Gill is a very special person. She has given me a lot of advice and helped me immensely in many ways. I am honoured to include her among my small circle of friends, and know that I can always count on her to be at the other end of an Internet connection when I need help or advice.

And yet, when I say how wonderful she has been to me, she finds it hard to accept my praise. She can’t bring herself to take the credit for helping me with my problems because she feels she caused those problems. I say, “You were only a child then. You didn’t have the maturity to understand what you were doing to me.” She sees the logic in that but can’t shake off her feeling of guilt. I think that’s a pity. I think it comes between us, especially when we meet in person.

You see, when we were at school together, Gill wasn’t so nice to me. In fact, the truth is that she bullied me. (She calls it victimisation.) She certainly wasn’t the only one, or the worst, but, about forty years later, she still lives with that guilt, which unfortunately wasn’t eased when we got to know each other again and she discovered how my school experiences have affected my life ever since.

Anyway, I couldn’t go any further into my blog without mentioning Gill, without whom this blog certainly wouldn’t exist.  And, of course, the beautiful fractal images that she now produces. One of them appears above and many others are on her website:

Thank you, Gill.

And thank you, everyone, for coming here.


Books Social anxiety

Sorry, Writing Group: an open letter

Open Letter to Writing Group

Dear Writing Group,

I’m so sorry I had to put you though the ordeal of listening to me during what was otherwise a very pleasant meeting, yesterday. I’m torn between trying and often failing to convey my opinions, and keeping them to myself. Explaining eloquently isn’t an option, I’m afraid.

There was a time – many years – most of my life, in fact – when I thought I didn’t have opinions. The habit of keeping them to myself had made them not worth remembering, and caused me to be unaware of their existence.

Now, they’ve returned to my consciousness because I’m making the effort. Unfortunately, because you’re all kind and polite and patient, that means you have to listen to my struggles, and for that I apologise. But I don’t want to return to those empty years, because they were … well, empty. Sorry.



When did you know you wanted to write?

Books Are Boring

“I’ve always been fascinated by books; always loved to read; always knew I wanted to be a writer.”

How many times have you heard that? How many times have you heard this from a writer:

“Most books bored me. I understood how to put language together, but I had nothing to say.”

The latter quote was true of my childhood and young adulthood. I’m only beginning to understand why: I took a long time to grow up. I wasn’t emotionally ready for the books considered suitable for my age. When children say they’re bored by books, it’s often because they’re not ready to read those books; not yet able to understand them.

If I’d been born two weeks later, I’d have been in the year below. Probably, I would have been better at English, at comprehension in other languages and at interacting socially with my peers.

Of course I had nothing to write about. I’ve had nothing to write about for most of my life. Because I didn’t understand myself. I think you have to understand yourself before you can write about anything. Do you agree?

It was only when I had something to write, when I knew that I wanted to tell the world about social anxiety, that I began to realise how enjoyable writing is. And so my desire to publicise a specific topic has grown into a need to express myself in the way I know best, and a wish to inform and give pleasure to others.

When did you know you wanted to write? Or haven’t you discovered that yet?



The Trouble with Blogs

World Viewing Blog

The trouble with blogs is that everyone can read them. I know that’s the whole point of writing a blog. Before I started this blog, I thought long and hard about the fact that I was exposing myself to the whole world – to anyone who might stumble across what I write and, even more daunting, to people I know. Although I know that this is what I want to do, I’m still frightened by the possible consequences.

During the past few days, I discovered another problem. Something happened between me and one other person. I wanted to write about it on my blog, because my reactions to it were partly what most people would consider “normal” and partly due to my lack of self-esteem. In fact, I wrote the article but decided not to post it, because that one person might have read it and might have been hurt by it, and I have no way of knowing.

So that’s all I can say. My lips are sealed.

Tune in again, keep in touch and don’t suffer in silence.

Social anxiety

Hands Up Normals

Well? Are you normal? How do you rate yourself on the normalcy scale?

What did you say? There’s no such thing as “normal”?

Strange, that. Probably most people would say that. It’s the normal answer. And yet, most people have a pretty good idea of who is normal and who isn’t. Normal people dress in certain ways, act in certain ways, talk in certain ways.

Talk in certain ways. When I’m not sure whether I’ve made a faux pas, I only have to look at my listeners’ eyebrows to have my fears confirmed. When you’ve seen as many raised ones as I have, you know that the things you say are often socially abnormal. Or that the way that you say them is not acceptable amongst normal people.

That’s why it’s nice to meet others with similar problems. Suddenly, it becomes all right to hesitate, stumble or even to keep mum. You know that the other person understands. And in such company, your behaviour becomes normal.

The people I meet in my daily life don’t have these problems. And because I, like most people, don’t want to be the ugly duckling, I have always tried to pretend to be what they see as normal. Tried and failed.

Enough! Pretending means keeping quiet in order to hide deficiencies, and I want to talk. But the imagined necessity of pretending is ingrained and therefore hard to change.

From now on, I’m going to try. I shall keep my hands firmly down and try to announce, albeit hesitantly, that I’m not normal.

Tune in again, keep in touch and don’t suffer in silence.



I love my writing group. I love its members, each with their personal outlook on life (and on my writing), and our mentor, David, who brings a wealth of knowledge to each meeting. I love the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the meetings. I love the structured format, which enables even me to express my opinions, fairly confident that they’ll be accepted. I love the fact that the members are not afraid to say whatever they think about my writing, even when their views are not so favourable – something that others have been afraid to do. And, of course, I love it when they praise my work.

This group has taught me so much about writing. It has given me the confidence to say, “I am a writer.” It gives me the impetus to write regularly. I look forward to our fortnightly (bi-weekly) meetings very much and enjoy them immensely.

So, when a meeting is cancelled at the last minute, as it was this week, because some of the members are less committed than I am, I feel frustrated. I know I’ll get over it – the group is not the only thing that happens in my life – but right now I am saddened by this fact. A little less so now that I’ve written it here. Commiserations will be greatfully accepted.

Tune in again, keep in touch and don’t suffer in silence.

Social anxiety

I Am Not Shy


For most of my life, people told me that I was shy. They didn’t ask if I was shy. They didn’t suggest that I might be shy. They were sure. It was obvious. And I didn’t have a way of telling them that it wasn’t true, so, outwardly, I agreed with them, even though inwardly I disagreed.

Now, finally, I know how to explain, so now I can say what I always thought.

I am not shy.

If you met me and told me I was shy, the conversation might go like this:

I’m not shy; I suffer from social anxiety.

What’s social anxiety?

Basically, it’s a fear of other people and especially of their thoughts.

Isn’t that the same as shyness?

No. Shyness is a characteristic that people are born with. Most people grow out of it at some stage in their lives; others don’t. Social anxiety appears later on, usually in adolescence. It envelopes the sufferer, masking their real personality.

So they’re two completely different animals.

No. Because most people with social anxiety have always been shy, and their social anxiety developed out of their shyness.

And you’re saying that you’re different?

Yes. I’ve never been shy. As a child, I was anything but. And if you’d met me first on the dance floor or performing on a stage in front of you, you wouldn’t have suspected me of being shy – unless you tried to talk to me.

Once, I participated in a course that included giving a short presentation. The course instructor couldn’t make me out. I’d hardly said anything during the group discussions, and yet I gave my presentation with no sign of nerves. He called me an enigma. I was an enigma to myself until I discovered the term social anxiety.

In fact, the conversation wouldn’t go like that, because I wouldn’t be able to say that. And so you would go away “knowing” that I’m shy. But I’m not. Really I’m not.

Tune in again, keep in touch and don’t suffer in silence.