Home > Social Anxiety > Welcome to the home of the freak

Welcome to the home of the freak

Ok. Welcome.

Who am I? None of your business. Seriously.

I’ve got a pretty distinctive voice as a writer, and I’m not going to deliberately change my writing voice for this, so odds are, anyone who really wants to try will eventually figure out who I am. But I’d ask that until I’m ready to reveal it, please don’t. I hope that at some point, I’ll feel ready to come out and give you my real name. But right now, I’ll hide behind this friendly little pseudonym, thanks.

The more important question for the moment is why am I here?

I’m a shy person. But that doesn’t really get to the heart of my big problem. See, there’s shyness, and then there’s something else, something which starts in the same place, but which is so much stronger, so much more dominant over my behavior and my life that it’s no longer just shyness. It’s something else.

Psychologists call it social anxiety. I hate that term. It’s both too clinical, and too mild. Anxiety is such a gentle word. “I’m anxious” sounds like something out of a historical novel. But what it really means is an incapacitating fear of social situations.

A few years ago, some company ran a few ads for an anti-depressant that had proven to be useful for people with this problem. And it rapidly became a joke. It was mocked by everyone from Jay Leno to Jonathan Coulton. After all, “social anxiety” isn’t a real problem. It’s one of those stupid things the drug company made up to sell pills. They just want to sell happy pills to shy people.

Bullshit.

I’ve spent the last 20 years living in a cage that I can’t get out of. I’ve had three different jobs since I got out of college. In that time, how many real, face to face friends did I make? I can count them on one hand, with fingers to spare.

I’ve gone years at work without actually sitting down with anyone in the cafeteria – just grabbing food and rushing back to my office. I walk past tables with people I know. And intellectually, I know that I’d be welcome to sit down with them. But I can’t. It’s difficult to put into words, and it’s painful to put into words, because the act of doing it brings on the same panic that I feel in the situation. But the idea of sitting down with people, even people that I’ve know for years – it makes me panic. It makes me seriously, physically, ill.

This sickness, this craziness, has deprived me of a lot of happiness. It’s cost me promotions and bonuses at work. More importantly, it’s cost me friendships. Even among the very small group of friends I have, I still have to fight through the sickness to be able to interact with them. And as a result, I end up looking like a freak.  It’s made it impossible for me to really enjoy anything as much as I should – because no matter what I do, there’s a barrier of fear between me and the world outside of me.

I know I’m not the only person like this. But the nature of the problem is, I don’t know anyone else who is. Or rather, I don’t know whether I know anyone else who is. Because if I did, they’d be as withdrawn, as afraid, as antisocial as I am, and I’d never know it.

So. Why am I here?

Because I need a place to vent this. I’ve recently started therapy to try to find a way out of this cage. But it’s hard. It’s stressfull. It’s frightening. And it’s painful. So I need to be able to let this stuff out somewhere. And I can’t do it with the few friends I have left, because I don’t want to drive them away.

But there’s another reason. Because I know that there are other people like me. And it would have made it so much easier for me to finally get up and do something, if I could see that someone else had done it. I know that anyone who’s going through what I am can’t come forward and talk about it. Even if they knew who I was, and how to get in touch with me, it’s the nature of the sickness that we can’t reach out. But I can put this here, as a record. And this record will show that they’re not alone. And if this therapy works, it will show that there’s hope for us. That the pain of going through a process of healing is worth it. That there is a key to open this god-damned cage.

I hope to god that it’s possible. It doesn’t feel like it is. My doctor is asking me to do things that scare the living crap out of me, and I get sick just thinking about them. I’m writing notes on the times I feel the pain of this the worst, in order to give us a sense of how to work through it. But doing that, at least for the moment, just seems to make things worse. It highlights how much of a freak I am. And I’m absolutely terrified that I’m going through this pain for nothing – that at the end, I’ll have done this, put myself and my family through this, wasted huge amounts of money and energy, and that at the end, I’ll still be the same freak that I am today.  But I have to believe that there’s a chance. And if there is, maybe I’ll escape. And if I can, maybe I can show someone else that they can, too.

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  1. August 8, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    You’re right, you’re absolutely not alone. I have agoraphobia, which is similar, but not exactly the same thing as social phobia, because I have no problem interacting with people. My problem is that I get that sick feeling whenever I have to go somewhere outside of my apartment, which affects my relationships in similar ways, because how am I going to stay friends with people if I can’t even meet them at a restaurant for lunch? It gets in the way of my job and school, too. It sucks, a lot. I feel you.

  2. August 9, 2010 at 1:37 am

    Thank you. I will be pointing a few people at this. I can tell them all I want to that they’re not alone, but this is what it takes for them to hear it. Thank you for finding the bravery, whatever it took.

  3. August 9, 2010 at 4:27 am

    I just commented on your latest post, but I wanted to comment again, because I could’ve written a lot of what you wrote here (and have, pretty much, on my own blog). I also wanted to make sure I didn’t discourage you by saying CBT didn’t work for me. My experience was pretty much the worst case scenario you mention and it sucked, but at least I have a better idea of what I would need from therapy in future. It didn’t work for me because I couldn’t talk in therapy, so there was no way for the therapist to know what cognitive distortions I was thinking and offer alternatives.
    As I mentioned in my other comment, I saw a whole group of people get better at managing their anxiety using CBT so as long as you’re able to talk to your therapist about your experiences, it’s likely it’ll help you. I’m hoping you’ll inspire me to try again. 🙂
    I know you don’t know me, but if you ever want to commiserate about anxiety or CBT or anything, feel free to email me.

  4. Keely
    August 9, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Anxiety sucks.

    Therapy helps. CBT techniques in particular have been helpful for me, as have “mindfulness” based therapies, as kooky as that may sound.

    But you’re right. It’s hard. It’s so hard. It makes you confront the ugliest realities about yourself, your life, and the severity of your illness. Over and over and over.

    But it works, and it will be worth the struggle. You may never be completely free of the milder “shyness” bit of social anxiety, but you can reach a point where it doesn’t cripple you.

    Stop calling yourself a freak. You have a problem. An evil, crippling problem, sure, but you are not some kind of monster. Or if you insist on seeing things that way, know that there are lots of us “freaks” out here. You are not alone.

    Best of luck.

  5. Magatha
    August 12, 2010 at 2:58 am

    Yup, I’ve got my cage too. I need to ask you this question, and I want you to know that in no way am I challenging you or questioning your Social Anxiety Street Cred.

    How did you end up getting married and having children? That, to me, seems like the rawest, most dangerous, most terrifying risk a person could take. How did anyone get that close – or how did you let yourself get that close to any one person – and then go through the very public rituals of commitment and family-raising? Did this somehow not set off all of your alarms and radar pings and panic? Or was it a really, really hard decision to make, and a scary process to go through, and you just somehow managed to do it anyway?

    Obviously you’ll either answer or not answer, depending on how you feel. But social anxiety, a severely problematic family history, and other stuff put this particular accomplishment out of my reach forever; hence my curiosity. And my long hesitation before pressing Submit Comment.

    • August 12, 2010 at 10:18 am

      Magatha :

      Yup, I’ve got my cage too. I need to ask you this question, and I want you to know that in no way am I challenging you or questioning your Social Anxiety Street Cred.

      How did you end up getting married and having children? That, to me, seems like the rawest, most dangerous, most terrifying risk a person could take. How did anyone get that close – or how did you let yourself get that close to any one person – and then go through the very public rituals of commitment and family-raising? Did this somehow not set off all of your alarms and radar pings and panic? Or was it a really, really hard decision to make, and a scary process to go through, and you just somehow managed to do it anyway?

      Obviously you’ll either answer or not answer, depending on how you feel. But social anxiety, a severely problematic family history, and other stuff put this particular accomplishment out of my reach forever; hence my curiosity. And my long hesitation before pressing Submit Comment.

      It’s a good question, and I wish I had a good answer. But what it comes down to is luck.

      In my case, most of my fear is around the initial contact. Once the ice is broken, for the duration of any given interaction, I’m mostly Ok. I’m more shy and hesitant about saying things than most people, but I’m mostly OK. Initiating contact, or accepting contact initiated by someone else is where I’m totally crippled.

      In grad school, my university had a nightmarish preliminary exam for potential PhD candidates – 12 hours of examples on nine different subjects over three days. So the serious PhD students tended to spent close to 24 hours a day in the grad student office for the semester before the exam. Desks in the grad office were allocated by lottery. The result of the desk lottery put me and the woman I ended marrying in neighboring desks. And we were both there, 24 hours a day, for months at a stretch. I thought she was beautiful and wonderful, but she was dating another guy, so I wasn’t even thinking about her romantically, because she was already taken. And she doesn’t have a shy bone in her body – so she enlisted my help studying, because she was good at the stuff where I was weak, and I was good at the stuff where she was weak. So we got to be friends.

      Almost a year after we both passed the exams, she dumped the guy she was seeing. The relationship had been on the rocks for a while, so it wasn’t particularly sudden or anything. And she literally showed up on my doorstep the morning after she broke up with him, and virtually moved in. And she never left. I never asked her out; she took the initiative. I never would have been able to. I did manage to propose to her, which was incredibly difficult. Even though we were absolutely inseparable, even though I loved her dearly, and practically worshipped the ground she walked on, it was almost impossible. But I did it. And we’ve been married now for 16 years.

      It hasn’t been easy. Frankly, it’s been harder for her than for me. She’s constantly stuck covering for me when I can’t handle something. And even though we’ve been together for this long, I still sometimes find it hard to talk to her when something is bothering me. But she’s an amazing person, and she’s always stuck by me. She claims to never regret being with me. It’s hard for me to believe that, but I do, because I trust her.

      But really? All of that comes down to dumb luck. I would never have had the nerve to talk to her if she hadn’t started talking to me first. I would never have gotten comfortable socializing with her if the lottery hadn’t put us at neighboring desks. I would never have been able to ask her out, but she asked me.

      • Magatha
        August 12, 2010 at 10:56 am

        Thank you so much for writing this. It’s illuminating. Damn, we shouldn’t ever discount the power of luck, happenstance, and the incredibly bizarre world of PhD candidates.

  6. August 15, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Another sociophobic chickenshit here. (Alright, I call myself sociophobic chickenshit, I like the sound of it and I’m self-sarcastic by nature. The other folks with sociophobia, social anxiety and this all may prefer something else.)
    And, paradoxically, I’m chatty and entertaining, not panicky, able and willing to stand up and fight. Also, I’m tall, blonde and somewhat attractive and most people automatically assume that I’d be the star of every party. And then I refuse to phone people to whom I wasn’t formally introduced, I’m able to run away without explanation from a room full of people because there are too many people…

    I don’t know how I’m managing. Just somehow. Sigh.

    • Magatha
      August 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      Sometimes I think we all need acting classes. Real, live acting classes. Maybe we could get to a party, or make a phone call, if we were able to act like someone who would go to a party or pick up the phone. Probably it sounds like splitting your personality, but I think it’d be more like a shield. Going out with a shield may be better than not going out at all. I mean, if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing in whatever weird, awkward, MacGyveresque way we can.

      • August 16, 2010 at 3:40 pm

        Done that, didn’t work.

        The thing is, acting is a totally different phenomenon from actual social interaction. In acting, you know exactly what’s going to happen. You know exactly what you’re going to say, and you know exactly what everyone else is going to say. It doesn’t help when you’re in a situation where you don’t know what to do or say.

  7. Magatha
    August 16, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    I guess the acting theory is only fantastical. Did you ever see an old American Playhouse television drama, “Who Am I This Time?” It starred Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken? The IMDb summary goes like this:

    “From a short story by Kurt Vonnegut.

    “Christopher Walken is a shy hardware store employee. But whenever he takes a part in a local amateur theater production, he becomes the part completely–while on screen[sic]. Susan Sarandon is new in town, a lonely itenerant[sic] telephone company employee. On a whim, she auditions for and gets the part of Stella to Walken’s Stanley when the theater group does A Streetcar Named Desire. Before anyone realizes the problem, she falls deeply in love with the sexy brute, not knowing what the real man is like. (Written by Reid Gagle)”

    Without a script, Walken is virtually speechless and incapable of interacting with anyone. So in the end, Susan realizes that she and Chris must embark on a life together that is based on a play, forever and ever. It is a happy ending.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083325/

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