The further I get into my therapy, the more hopeless I feel. I want to get past this horrible fear that’s dominated so much of my life. But I can’t do it. The things that my therapist is asking me to do are so simple, so trivial – and yet, I’m absolutely paralyzed at the thought of doing them.
It’s not that she’s pushing me too hard. We spent a total of a couple of hours over the span of multiple sessions working out a ladder – that is, a list, from easy to hard, of the different kinds of situation that trigger my fears. And we’re starting with the easiest one that I could come up with. There’s no easier first step. And yet, I can’t do it.
In my last post, one commenter asked something about what kind of example I’d be setting for my children if I give up.
I don’t know. I don’t want to teach my kids to give up when things get hard. But I also really believe that there are some things that we can change, and some things that we can’t. No matter what happens with my therapy, I’m never going to stop being shy or introverted. Those are just basic parts of how I’m put together as a person. I can’t decide to stop being introverted. It’s a fact, not a choice.
I want my children to understand that we don’t get everything we want. That to got through life, you need to be able to be realistic, set realistic goals, and be happy with what you can achieve.
I’m not arguing against being ambitious. But we don’t always get to decide how things will turn out. We don’t gain anything by denying the existence of the limits that reality puts on us. If my son were to decide that he wants to be a professional linebacker in the NFL, he’s going to be disappointed. It doesn’t matter how much he wants to do it – he doesn’t have the right sort of body for it.
I don’t want to teach my children that they need to aspire to some kind of arbitrary goal, and torture themselves if they can’t get there.
All that my therapist is asking me to do is to find an excuse to walk into a couple of stores on my way to work, and ask someone who works there a question. Just a simple question, like “where can I find the toothpaste?”
And I’m absolutely sick at the thought of doing that every day. I can’t face it. It’s pathetic, but I can’t. And when I say sick, I’m not being figurative. I’m giving myself migraines every day from the stress of it.
And if I can’t even do something that small, that simple – how is it remotely possible that I’ll ever defeat this wretched anxiety?
Is this just an inescapable part of who I am? How long do I keep doing this to myself before I can conclude that it’s not going to work?
Having severe social anxiety (god, how I hate that term!) has caused me all sorts of problems. But the one that really upsets me most is that I have no friends, and no social life.
I would dearly love to be someone who actually had friends that I could actually spend time with. In real life, I don’t. There are people that I know online who I really value, but there is a difference between a friendship that only exists through the mediation of a computer screen, and a friendship that exists in real life. Some of my best online friends, I don’t even know their real names. I wouldn’t be able to identify them if I walked past them on the street.
And, most importantly, the sad fact is, if the people who I consider my friends online were to meet me in real life, not only would they not become my friends in the flesh, they’d most likely wind up not even being my friends online.
That’s not because there’s anything wrong with them. I don’t mean to suggest that they’d turn out to be awful people. They’re people who I genuinely care about deeply, and who I fully believe are terrific people.
The problem is all mine. Not that I’m a terrible person. But because I’m so damned scared when I meet people that I manage to appear to be either distant, cold, and unfriendly; or manically insane. If I’m really me, I can’t even talk. I just fade in the background. Why would anyone want to hang out with someone who’d just spends their time hiding from the person they’re supposed to be hanging out with? But if I don’t hide, the only way I can cope is by basically pretending not to be me. And because that’s so damned hard, I wind up acting like a crazy person. I just don’t even know how to be normal.
I recently had two different online friends try to make arrangements to do something together in person. I turned both of them down. Not because I don’t want to meet them. I really do. But I know myself well enough to know that if I were to take them up on the offer, I’d end up regretting it.
I’m going through this painful process of therapy to try to get over this. But honestly, I have a very hard time believing that there’s any real chance it will work.
I don’t know who I’d be without this. This problem is such a part of me, it’s so deeply ingrained, that I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without it. I’m trying, I really am. It’s hard, and it’s painful – but I’m trying. But when I stop and honestly look at myself, and ask: do I really believe that I’m going to be able to change, to become a person who’s capable of having friends, of having a happy social life? No. I don’t really. I don’t really believe that it can happen.
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.
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.