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Books Social anxiety Uncategorized

Every Word Counts

hint fiction (n) : a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story

Changing wordsI’ve just written my entries for a competition of hint fiction at http://www.robertswartwood.com/?page_id=8. I don’t expect that any of my entries will be chosen over the many others for the forthcoming anthology of hint fiction, but I’ve enjoyed the experience of composing them. I enjoyed pondering over each word, wondering whether it best suits its purpose, whether its meaning is exactly the one I want in this particular place.

When you’re allowed no more than twenty-five words, you have to use the best ones you can find. In a novel of fifty thousand words or more, you try to do the same, but there’s a limit to the amount of time you can spend getting it just right. Writing a novel is more of a balancing act.

When you talk, you have practically no time to choose your words. And that leads to embarrassment, if you’re me. It leads to wishing you’d expressed something in a different way or wishing you hadn’t said it at all. And that, in turn, leads to refraining from talking. If you’re me.

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Blogging Social anxiety

Let’s be weird together

AliensI was delighted to see that at least two people identified with the sentiments of my last post. Delighted that they really got it. Why? Why do I care whether others feel the same way as I do?

As children, our natural tendencies are to want to be like everyone else. We fear being singled out as “different”. But as we grow up, we don’t mind that so much. We even want to be different, to be individuals, not one of the herd. Up to a point. Because if we’re too different, we’re considered weird and that’s not good.

So we hail our individuality and then seek out similar individuals. We form groups of individuals who are all the same. Because really, most of us don’t want to be different at all.

People who suffer from social anxiety feel very different. They know that others think they’re weird and this increases their discomfort in society and causes them to hide from it. Most people who join a social anxiety forum say this: “I thought I was the only one in the world with these problems. I’m so glad to have found other people who go through what I go through.”

This is one of the reasons why I want to publicise the disorder. To help sufferers to feel less isolated in a tough world. We all need to connect to others who understand.

No man is an island, entire of itself.” ~John Donne (1572 – 1631)

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Social anxiety

Public speaking – yes please

Frustrated presenterIf I said I had a fear of public speaking, you would probably believe me. You’d probably say, “Me, too.” After all, most people do fear public speaking, and I should fear it even more than most. And it’s true that most sufferers of social anxiety do fear public speaking and many to such an extent that they would never dream of trying it.

Sorry, but I don’t. I feel much more at ease giving a presentation in front of a hundred people than talking to one person – not everyone I talk to, but most people.

Why? Because a presentation is planned in advance. When I know what I’m going to say, I know I can look at any number of people and say it. I’m not shy. A conversation is spontaneous. When you talk, you have to be able to think up things to say. While worrying about whether your clothes are suitable for the occasion, whether the other person felt the sweat on your hand when shaking it, whether the expression on your face fits the mood you should be in, you have to make up some witty, or at least presentable, remark. And I’ve never been good at multi-tasking.

So I’m not good at talking, and knowing that makes me more afraid of it. Also, knowing that most people aren’t afraid of it and don’t understand others who are makes me more afraid of making a mess of it. And talking, as opposed to public speaking, is something we all have to do – often. And I want to talk, too. It’s just….

I think I’d rather have had a fear of public speaking.

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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.

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Social anxiety

Coming Out

Closet

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,

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Social anxiety

Gill

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: http://exentropy.co.uk/.

Thank you, Gill.

And thank you, everyone, for coming here.

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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.

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Social anxiety

Hands Up Normals

raisedeyebrows
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.

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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.

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Social anxiety

Speech is silver. Silence is…

…not golden. Just a fake gold that soon dulls.  Like the necklace I bought in Cyprus. They told me it was gold. I knew they were lying, but I bought it anyway. I felt I had to buy something because they gave me tea….

I’ve been keeping silent for most of my life. It’s time to talk.

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