First Steps – what am I so afraid of?
When I talk about the things that I have trouble with, it sounds silly, even to me.
The way that I’m fighting my social anxiety is through work with a cognitive-behavioralist therapist. C-B is a method that tries to get at a problem by doing a couple of things.
- It tries to help you analyze and understand your reactions, so that instead of just feeling blind fear in a situation, you develop the ability to see what it is that you’re so afraid of. By doing that, you’re supposed to develop the ability to at least intellectually understand that what you’re really afraid of just isn’t so bad.
- It tries to develop your ability to accept the fear. Once you understand it, you can start trying to do things that you’re afraid of. You’ve analyzed them to death, so that you understand what you’re afraid of, what the worst outcome could be. The fear is real, it’s a part of you. But it doesn’t have to control you. Right now, when I walk into a crowd of people, I’m absolutely paralyzed with terror. The only thing I’m able to do is, basically, find a nice dark corner to hide in. But – again, in theory – the idea is that by understanding what you’re afraid of, and accepting that the fear is real, you can learn how to act in spite of the unreasonable fear.
- It tries to get you to confront the fear. This is the thing that totally freaks the living crap out of me. You deliberately go into situations where what you’re afraid of is going to happen. And from that, you’re supposed to learn that it’s just not that bad.
I’m sure that I’m doing a lousy job of explaining it. But the idea is to understand not just your behavior, but the subconscious thought process that underlies it; and then to try to change that thought process. By changing the way you think about it – both on a conscious level, and on a subconscious level – you can change the way you feel about it, and change the way that you react to it.
That all sounds very nice intellectually. But what it means in practice is that you need to confront the things that scare you.
What I’m supposed to be doing every day now is taking the situation that was hardest for me that day, and piecing it apart. Looking at exactly what happened. Working through what about it made me so anxious. What did I think was going to happen? How much did I believe the worst outcome? What did I do? What else could I have done? What do I think would have happened had I handled it differently?
It sounds so damned benign when it’s phrased like that.
But what it means, really, is facing just how much of a freak I really am. Because the things that totally freak me out are so damned simple, so totally trivial. It’s just pathetic to realize that something so simple can cause such an intense, painful reaction. That I’m so sure that even the simplest thing is going to go so horribly wrong. That I can’t handle something that’s just easy, normal, and painless for most people.
An example. A couple of weeks ago, I picked my daughter up from camp. We got there, and they had breakfast for the parents under a tent. I walked into the tent – and there were about a dozen people there, milling around, picking up food.
To me, that was awful.
I went to grab a seat out of the way in a corner. And someone who worked there came up to ask if they could get me a cup of coffee. I couldn’t even answer them. My voice was just gone. All I could do was nod my head, because I couldn’t get myself to make a sound.
Such a simple situation. Such a simple interaction! But I couldn’t do it. And it probably left the person who offered me coffee with the impression that I’m a stuck-up jerk who wouldn’t lower himself to talk to the hired help. But that’s not it at all. The reality is that I’m just a pathetically broken person.