Social anxiety


The other day, I tweeted the following:

You don’t have to remember how. You only have to remember what.

It was in reply to this, from @jamesgarside_:

People: How do I [do thing] on computer?
Me: *googles how to [do thing] and shows them*
People: Well, I could have just googled that!
Me: But you didn’t. You asked me.
People: YOU should know how to do it without searching for it first.
Me: You didn’t know how to do it at all!!!

The tweet contained an appropriate head-banging GIF.

I could definitely relate that to Microsoft Word. I think most authors use it, even though there is sophisticated software dedicated to writing novels. And most authors have no idea what Word can do – features that would help them immensely if only they knew about them. What, not how. Once you know that a thing is possible, you can find out how to make it happen. But if you don’t know it’s possible, you won’t think of searching, to discover how to make it happen.

Shocked SmileyImage by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

I was shocked to hear one author’s method of working with Word. She creates an Excel sheet with the starting and ending page numbers of each chapter, so that she can go directly to the chapter she wants to review. During (or after) every revision, she updates the Excel files with the new page numbers.

That would never work for me. I have so many revisions that I would never manage to keep the spreadsheet up to date. Fortunately, Word itself has a much simpler solution – one that doesn’t have mistakes because it’s built in.

Working with Word

Cropped screen shot of Cultivating a Fuji in Word

This is how Word looks as I’m working on a novel. Down the left-hand side is my list of chapters. I give the chapters names, even if the names won’t remain in the final version. That way, I know roughly what’s in each chapter. When I want to review a specific chapter, I click on the chapter in the list and Word jumps right there. So much simpler than going to a separate file, rembering a page number and then going to that page in the Word file.

Sometimes I divide the chapter into scenes by creating sub-headings, which also appear in the list. The sub-headings won’t be included in the final version of the novel, but they’re useful while it’s still being written/edited.

I might not remember exactly how to set this up without trying it out, first. I might even need to google it. But the main thing is that I know it’s possible. What, not how.

You don’t have to remember how. You only have to remember what.

Could that apply to other walks of life? What do you think?

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News

To celebrate the forthcoming publication of my novel, Cultivating a Fuji, the ebook version of my non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed, is completely free for one day only. Today. Do hurry to download it before time runs out…

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#SIMTalksWithMiriamThis post is from me, because I think this is important.

Are we brave?

Social Anx (@social_anx) ran a pole on Twitter, asking social anxiety sufferers whether they think they’re brave.

Brave Social Anxiety Sufferers

Only 14% consider themselves brave.

That means 86% of those who took part are wrong, in my view, unless any of those are constantly locked up in a room and never see a soul. I think anyone who defies social anxiety enough to venture out, to do things outside their comfort zone, to face potential derision, disdain, misunderstanding, rejection – is a brave person.

The fact that 86% of responders do not see themselves as brave is due to low self-esteem, a symptom of social anxiety. They are brave and need to recognise that. If they don’t recognise their bravery, no one else will.

And that’s unfortunate.

I am Brave

Yes, this was especially brave, but I say we’re brave all the time.

Stop press! This quote from @SocialAnxiety88 says it all:

You are not weak. People like us, we’re brave. We’re the ones who get up and face our worst fears every day. We keep fighting.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

A very happy birthday to author Katharine Johnson, who tells us about a particular consequence of social anxiety in her own life and in that of a character in her novel, The Silence, which I loved.

Why I wrote about Selective Mutism

Hello Miriam,

Katharine JohnsonThanks so much for inviting me onto your blog to talk about an issue that’s very important to me and one that (fittingly enough!) I’ve kept quiet about for a long time.

I chose the title for my novel The Silence (a psychological thriller set in England and Tuscany) for two reasons: it represents both the child Abby’s mostly non-verbal state and the adult Abby’s battle to keep her past secret. It’s the first of these situations I want to talk about today.

Selective mutism is usually combined with social anxiety and having experienced both myself, I wanted to show readers what it felt like and tackle some of the misconceptions that surround this disorder. Although my experience was back in the 1970s, my sister Rosie’s a speech therapist who’s an expert in social and behavioural disorders so I was able to make sure I had the most up-to-date information on the condition and treatments today and in 1991-1992 when this part of the novel is set.

Whereas Abby has very good reason for being non-verbal – the guilt over something she said being partly to blame for her mother’s suicide – my situation is much more common in that there wasn’t an obvious trigger. The uninteresting truth is that it stemmed from the shock of hearing my voice on a tape recorder for the first time when I was six. I can recall the moment with complete clarity, standing in a house in Germany while on holiday.  The voice I heard sounded so alien and I also realised in that instant why people were always asking me to repeat sentences like “saucy Susie sewing shorts for sailors” – I had a speech impediment that strangely had never registered in my own ears.

I’m sure these people never meant to be unkind (some were close relatives!). They found it funny and I suppose cute – but I was mortified. The result was that I stopped speaking in school and new situations. At home I was still noisy, out of the home I clammed up.

This apparent ability to be talkative on some occasions while refusing to talk on others makes it a hard condition for other people to understand or believe. Abby’s behaviour is frustrating and embarrassing for her father:

“You’ve got to start talking again some time. And don’t tell me you can’t because you’re talking to me now. There’s nothing wrong with your voice, it’s all in your head – it’s so bloody rude.”

The truth was, it frightened her too, sometimes, the grip the silence had on her. At first she had thought she had some control over it but gradually it rippled out to affect all sorts of people, even those who least deserved it. Once she felt it wrapping around her head, felt herself sinking into its depths, she knew there was no getting away.

“Are you even going to stop talking to me one day?” Her heart clenched at the tiny break in his voice.

“I do try,” she said at last although her voice was little more than a whisper. “Sometimes I can’t. It’s like a scarf wrapping round my neck.”

Although the scarf turns out to have a significance in the story, not talking isn’t a choice Abby makes – she feels physically unable to do so. People react to this in different ways – by getting angry like her father, finding it “spooky” like her stepmother, or by trying to jolly her out of it like her uncle when she first arrives at Villa Leonida:

“Will you shut up? You’re giving me a headache.”

“These approaches are very unlikely to work,” says Rosie. Neither is telling the child to “snap out of it.” They can’t.

Fear of other people’s expectations is a common trigger, which is one of the reasons for Abby’s father sending her to stay with his sister’s family in Italy. Being foreign is helpful to Abby in that the local people have no expectations of her but it’s still a problem within the English family she stays with.

When she first meets her uncle:

those first few moments with someone were crucial. Either she’d find her voice or she wouldn’t. If she didn’t speak to him immediately, she never would.

But it’s different with her cousin Philippa. Whereas other people assume that because Abby says nothing she has nothing to say, Philippa’s intrigued by it.

“Why do you pretend you can’t talk?”

“I don’t do it on purpose.”

Philippa grinned, clearly not convinced. “It’s driving Dad bonkers. Whenever I try  I always forget and get caught out by a question.”

It wasn’t a reaction Abby had encountered before. Most people got impatient or angry. They tried to trick her into talking by insulting her or bribing her with money they clearly didn’t have. Once at school someone had wrenched her arm behind her back further and further to make her scream . Her vision had whited out, she’d seen stars and thought she could feel her arm being ripped out of its socket but despite the pain she hadn’t been able to scream. But Philippa seemed to view it as some kind of talent.

This partly explains the close friendship that grows up between Abby and Philippa and sets them apart from other people, which is important for the story but is also quite a common experience.  

TheSilenceOver the next year, after transferring school and having speech therapy, Abby’s speaking improves although she still feels panicky and tongue-tied in certain situations. She describes her sessions to Philippa in letters – progressing from pointing to words or pictures to express a choice during the first term to the following term making a puppet nod or shake its head. At first her hand freezes even when asked to make the puppet squeak – selective mutism sometimes affects more than the voice, rendering the person immobile as well as non-verbal.

Gradually, she develops from whispering an answer into the ear of her trusted adult (her father) and then whispering from further away and eventually whispering to the speech therapist.

“I said a word in class today.”

Most children do grow out of it although the problem can continue into adulthood. As an adult Abby has it under control but when reintroduced to characters from that summer at Villa Leonida she panics that she won’t be able to speak.

And me? I mostly have it under control (to the extent people probably think I made the whole thing up) although to my shame in three years at university I never spoke up in group tutorials – what a waste!

So I was heartened the other day when I went to an Open Day at Bristol University with my daughter. The speaker for the Philosophy department said they absolutely recognised social anxiety. Students who didn’t feel able to do a presentation could either record themselves doing so or just write a script.

I know there’s still room for improvement but I think this shows what a long way people have come in understanding the issue.

Thank you, Katharine! That’s really interesting and goes a long way to explaining a confusing problem. I also didn’t speak in group tutorials. Presentations weren’t part of the curriculum in those days, although I’d probably have managed them.

The Silence is available in ebook £1.99 and paperback £6.99 (or equivalents) here.

The Silence

Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could change everything. When human remains are found in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she’s forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992 – a summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.

The Author

Katharine Johnson is the author of three novels and a non-fiction book. A journalist by training, she writes about ordinary people who through a bad choice find themselves in nightmarish situations. She lives in Berkshire, England and has a ramshackle cottage in Tuscany which is nothing like Villa Leonida. Her fourth novel, The Suspects, will be out later this year. When not writing she’s likely to be found with a book in one hand, a cake in the other or walking her spaniel while plotting her next novel.

Connect with Katharine on TwitterFacebookInstagramWebsite/blog.

Katharine has appeared on this blog twice before, in The Allure of Secrets and when she brought Irena to Letters from Elsewhere.

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Do you want to write (or talk) about one or more of the SIM topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings? The details are here.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

A hearty welcome, please, for C.J. Sutton, author of Dortmund Hibernate and This Strange Hell. He’s travelled a long way to be here. Over to you, CJ.

Taming the Mind

Social anxiety is an issue very close to me. Despite finding techniques to create a confident exterior, being placed in a crowded room or asked personal questions can still cause the heart to beat faster than it should. Many writers, to varying degrees, live with social anxiety. Our ideas thrive in our minds, transferred onto the screen and page for others to see at their leisure without our physical presence. This craft works best in isolation.

C.J. Sutton, authorI learned quite quickly that I could tell a story. But my storytelling needed preparation if I was to be placed on that stage. Put a blank page in front of me and I’ll smash out a short story before the day is out. Replace the page with real faces and the result would not be identical.

Being socially anxious can mean even the most mundane task, such as ordering a meal or getting a haircut, can lead to avoidance. I know people who fear speaking on telephones and attending meetings but will happily hold a snake or ride a rollercoaster. What is the cause? It’s hard to say, because the mind is rogue, and everyone finds fear in a different cave.

The characters I create are constantly in situations I would dread. Being the creator of those scenes allows a unique perspective. One can explore the why and the when, constructing responses that appear resolute. But I am never anxious when I’m writing. Never. 

In my debut novel Dortmund Hibernate, the protagonist is a psychologist tasked with nine criminally insane patients. He faces drug dealers, gangsters, sex addicts, murderers, rapists and all manner of sick minds. In his approach to his patients, this psychologist uses his education and passion for the job to remain calm and seek best solutions. But when having a drink at a bar, this changed. Suddenly, he cares what everyone else thinks of him and the room is suffocating.

This Strange Life by C.J. SuttonIn my new novel This Strange Hell, a main character lives in a town governed by a violent gang and hidden from police patrol. When this gang enters a public place wielding guns and requesting donations, she is a pillar amongst the locals and does what she can to keep her friends at ease. Ten pages later, when meeting a love interest for a meal on her birthday, this same character is trembling and acting out of the norm. She owns guns and works off the land. Informal. When life becomes formal, she starts to crumble.

Social anxiety is different for everybody. Whether it’s crowds, queues, attention or expectation, the feeling of being trapped in that situation can be the equivalent of pain. People may call someone out for being shy or introverted, and they may think that person is rude or uninterested. But within, their hearts are fluttering and terror dawns.

I know social anxiety.

Thank you, CJ. And yes, social anxiety is different for everybody. When I mention having social anxiety, people assume I don’t like doing public speaking or talking to strangers. Neither is true.

THIS STRANGE HELL by C. J. Sutton

A suited man runs from a burning tower in Melbourne as bodies rain down upon him.

Before the city’s millions can compose, he boards a train into the countryside. Hiding his identity and changing his appearance, the man finds his way to Sulley Ridge, a lawless town in the heart of the harsh Victorian outback.

The following day, a burned man wakes up in a hospital bed. Surging with rage, he speaks a name. Within an hour, the suited man’s face is across every screen in the country. It’s the greatest manhunt Australia has ever seen.

But as he tries to camouflage in Sulley Ridge, he soon realises the town has its own problems. Under the iron fist of a violent leader, the locals are trapped within slow and torturous decay…

As we learn more about the night of the burning tower, the connection between the suited man and the burned man threatens to leave a trail of destruction across the state.

Here is the story of a man on the run from his past, as the line between sanity and evil is danced upon.

Here is the tale of This Strange Hell.

Find C.J. Sutton

on his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

He previously appeared on this blog when he brought Walter Perch along to Letters from Elsewhere.

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Another fascinating letter from elsewhere was written by Dr Eloise Kluft, who was brought by Stephanie Bretherton, author of Bone Lines. This book is now published and available from all the places listed on her website.

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Do you know what Uplift means? I hope to blog about this in a few days. It has connections with my new book, Cultivating a Fuji, out in May.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Last year Alice Castle brought her character, Belinda MacKenzie to Letters from Elsewhere. Today, she’s back to talk about… let’s see…

AliceCastle1It’s such a pleasure to be here on Miriam’s blog today. I was really pleased when she asked me to contribute a post. I was offered the choice of Israel, Misunderstandings or Social Anxiety. As I’ve never been to Israel and I always try to avoid misunderstandings, I’m going to talk about the main character in my London Murder Mystery series, Beth Haldane.

Beth is a single mother in her mid-thirties, with a bad habit of stumbling across corpses. She also suffers from a crippling variety of social anxieties. Indeed, she barely gets through a scene in any of the five books I’ve written so far without hiding behind her fringe, blushing, stuttering or prevaricating in some way. She has the sort of nerves that all of us get, from time to time – except that she seems to suffer from them constantly.

As you’ll have gathered, Beth is a bit of a fish out of water. This is particularly true in Dulwich, the posh suburb of south London where I’ve set most of the action in my books. The other mums she meets at the school gates are mainly of the ‘yummy’ variety – they have tiny jobs, big handbags, cars the size of tanks and spend their days ferrying their children to afterschool activities like ballet and extra maths classes, meeting up with friends to moan about their au pairs. It’s a highly competitive, highly polished world, where appearances mean everything.

Death in Dulwich by Alice CastleBeth, on the other hand, has bills to pay, deadlines to meet and, until sudden death throws her together with a certain tall, handsome policeman, in the shape of Detective Inspector Harry York, she is struggling with it all alone, following the death of her husband. She, unlike many of her contemporaries, has real worries. Her anxieties are not just social, she has trouble making ends meet.

Beth also feels insecure. Over the course of the series of books, we find out more about why this might be so. But, from the start, we are aware that in a world of sleek, Amazonian women who spend plenty of time in the local beauty parlours, Beth stands out, for all the wrong reasons. She is short, scruffy, poor and earnest. And she cares, very much, about abstract concepts like justice, right and wrong, that seem to pass many of the other residents of Dulwich by.

When I was thinking of what type of heroine I’d like at the heart of my mysteries, I considered many different foibles – amateur sleuths always seem to have them. Miss Marple disguises her forensic intelligence behind that harmless-old-lady facade, Hercule Poirot has his little grey cells. I wanted my character to be an underdog, so that we would root for her against the well-heeled, smug types she comes across, but at the same time I didn’t want her to be a spineless jelly, jumping at her own shadow.

Well, I needn’t have worried. Beth popped into my mind whole, and has been wreaking havoc in Dulwich and the surrounding area ever since. She is a mass of contradictions, cripplingly shy yet daring when she has to be, kind to a fault but also able to give as good as she gets against those bullying playground mums. She prevaricates endlessly, yet has a passion for sorting things out. And she worries, constantly. But at heart she always knows what must be done, in the interests of justice, to ensure that Dulwich remains a safe place for her boy – and for us all.

Alice Castle's London Murder Mystery Series

Beth sounds like the kind of woman I’d like to meet. But I’d keep away from those corpses! Thank you so much for telling us about her, Alice.

Death in Dulwich has just been released as an audiobook and is available here.

Death in Dulwich, The Girl in the Gallery, Calamity in Camberwell, Homicide in Herne Hill and Revenge on the Rye are available from Amazon here, if you’re in the UK. Otherwise, search for ‘Alice Castle’ on your Amazon.

Read Alice Castle’s blog here or here.

Say hello to Alice on Twitter or Facebook.

 

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

For the second SIM Talk, I welcome back Jo Fenton to the blog. She brought Tina to Letters From Elsewhere, and also wrote a lovely post for my other blog. I wonder which of the three topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings – she’s going to talk about…

Jo FentonWhen I was 19 I went on a six-week trip to Israel. It was my first visit there and I was very excited. The main purpose of the trip was to work as a youth leader in a summer camp in Ashkelon, under supervision of a Hebrew speaking youth worker.

I went as part of a group, and there was to be time afterwards for touring the country. I had foolishly planned to do the touring with a young man who was the friend of an ex-boyfriend! More to follow on that subject…

I was a shy, nervous nineteen year old. Although I’d had a fantastic time during my first year at Uni, being away with a group of strangers brought all my social anxiety to the fore.

There were some lovely people in the group, particularly amongst the girls, and I did make some friends. I’m not sure if it helped that my closest friend in the group was a recovering anorexic, and the other girls and I spent a lot of our time making sure she ate, and trying to convince her that her view of her body image was distorted. At the time, I didn’t realise how similar I was to her in many ways, having an inaccurate view of myself due to the unkind comments of just a few.

There was a young man amongst the group – an attractive-looking guy with a charming smile and a Scottish accent. I don’t know if he understood how hurtful he was when he commented almost daily on my nervous laugh. Perhaps he was stupid enough to think he was helping me. Not surprisingly the more he commented, the more nervous my laugh became!

ashkelonsunset

Ashkelon (photo by David Drori)

Ashkelon was beautiful. I loved working with the kids, many of whom came from deprived homes; but who were lively, cheeky and resilient. It felt great to be able to do something worthwhile with them. The highlight of each week was the Israeli dancing on the beach, where we would dress up, enjoy ourselves, and socialise. I kept away as much as I could from the young Scotsman. My anxiety always returned ten-fold whenever he was near. I spent several weekends with the girls in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and fell in love with the country.

Eventually the time arrived for us to say goodbye to the children, and go off on our more extended travels. My ex’s friend, whom I shall name P to save anyone embarrassment, agreed to do a brief tour taking in Lake Tiberias and Netanya before meeting the girls back in Tel Aviv for the flight home.

P refused to accompany me to Masada and the Dead Sea as he had already been. Without knowing it, he did me a favour, as I’m sure I got much more out of the trip to those fantastic places when I visited with my husband, sons and my mum last year!

From the minute we set off on the bus towards Tiberias, he started moaning: I was cramping his style. The fact we appeared to be travelling together meant that all his potential girlfriends would be put off from approaching him. This complaint continued throughout the three days we spent in each other’s company. He thought nothing of my own feelings, but by then, I was so downtrodden, the idea of me getting a boyfriend seemed a million miles away. One thing I was certain though – he was not on the list!

Overall, the trip did little for my confidence. All the anxiety that had been squashed during my first year as a student, returned in full force thanks to these somewhat insensitive young men. It was not until I met my husband-to-be a few months later, that some confidence returned.

Looking back, I see that I shouldn’t have allowed these individuals to get to me, any more than my anorexic friend should have been affected by the idiots who joked that she was fat. (She was the opposite!) I’m happy to say that I haven’t been criticised for my laugh or my existence since then, and as stated above, I returned to Israel for a most enjoyable and fulfilling trip with my family last year.

Ah, the tribulations of the young! I’m so glad you had a much better experience on your second visit. Thank you, Jo, for that entertaining account, which includes all three topics of the series!

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Her first novel, The Brotherhood, is available from Amazon.

The sequel, The Refuge, will be released this summer by Crooked Cat Books.

Jo can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

I promised a post from Val Penny today. Unfortunately, some bad news meant that Val was unable to write the post. Unfortunately, you’ll have to put up with a post from me, instead. Fortunately, some good and very exciting news has given me the impetus for this post. And here is that news:

Cultivating a Fuji is going to be published by Crooked Cat Books in May 2019.

This is a novel I’ve been working on, on and off, for a long time. It involves a character who is very dear to me and a topic that is so important. But most of all, although I have to say it myself for now, it’s a delightful story, told with emotion and a lot of humour.

The premise of the novel, the piece of information that kicks off the story, is that Martin is being sent to Japan to represent his company. And if that hasn’t shocked you, it’s because you don’t know Martin. Oh, but you will know him. First, you’ll know him from the outside. Then you’ll keep watching through the lens as the camera zooms in and drills to the inside of his head.

Announcement Banner for Cultivating a Fuji

What happens in Japan is interesting. But that’s only the beginning, the catalyst for the rest of Martin’s life. Don’t worry; this isn’t a biography, told as a series of isolated events. There are just two short periods, seasoned with flashbacks and enveloped by the future. Keep reading (when the novel is available, that is) because even when you think there can be no more surprises, you’ll discover another.

There’s a woman, too, called Fiona. She and Martin meet late in life and she brings her own baggage to the relationship.

And one more thing: Martin isn’t me. Although social anxiety has touched both of us with its sorcerous sceptre, we had different genes and different experiences, and Martin was affected in different ways to me.

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