For those of you that don’t know, I suffer from Social Anxiety and Depression. If I’m honest I don’t really like using the word ‘suffer’ because there are a lot of people out there who have far more to complain about than me. Sure, I find it really difficult to be in the general vicinity of more than 2 strangers and sometimes I get depressed to the point that I want to stick a screwdriver through my eye and write a really angsty suicide note, misquoting Ernest Hemingway and Shakespeare because I think it’ll make me sound deep, but it could be worse. At least I’m not married to Piers Morgan.
Social Anxiety is essentially just a phobia of social situations and people and while mine isn’t as bad as it could be, it’s still pretty bad. When I was diagnosed with it I was told I was about a 7 out of 10 on the grand ‘shut in’ scale and, looking back, it’s pretty clear that this assessment is a fair one. I can leave the house but I’ll spend 5-10 minutes putting it off, checking to see whether I have my phone multiple times like it’s a bomb detonator and I’m a bumbling Al Quaeda intern desperate to outdo the sneering tea-boy. Walking down the street is a nightmare, as are basic tasks like shopping. Don’t even get me started on going into Sainsburys at peak time to do a full food shop.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…
Buses can be difficult if there are too many people and buying a bus ticket requires more rehearsing than your average RSC production of Hamlet. I have to make sure I have enough money, I have to make sure I have my student card for the discount and I have to make sure I know what I’m going to say so I don’t end up in Aberdeen instead of my University campus. This wouldn’t be so bad if I only had to check each of these things once or twice but I have to do it so often it’s practically become a bloody catchphrase. Anxiety builds; I anticipate something, get more and more anxious, the thing happens, I go back to ‘normal’. This gets really bad when it comes to lectures and seminars where I have to sit in a relatively confined space with a bunch of people I don’t know and try to keep my attention focused on the representation of the working-classes in Kes (1969) rather than how everyone else is probably thinking just what an awfully awful twat I am, even though they’re probably more concerned with who would win in a fight between Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury, a question which has troubled me for longer than is probably healthy.
For what it’s worth the answer is Dick Van Dyke but he’d lose an eye, 8 teeth and any memory of every being in Night of the Museum
It’s far less stressful to avoid people altogether but that isn’t exactly going to help things so I feel that I have to force myself into doing things I don’t like, which is shit but at least it feels like something akin to progress. I have CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) sessions, which is essentially just exposing myself to social situations that I find difficult, and weekly meetings with a student support guy, which both help a lot but I still feel like the majority of my lecturers don’t really get it. Granted this is somewhat understandable, Social Anxiety is a really stupid disorder, mostly because it’s irrational like any good phobia; lots of people are scared of clowns but they aren’t exactly dangerous.
A large percentage of my lecturers have tried to understand and at least acknowledged that this disorder must be hell but there have been a couple who’ve been total douchebags about the whole thing, essentially taking the stance that I should just try harder, the same sort of mentally that says terminally ill people should just man the fuck up.
“Stop crying, at least you aren’t married to Piers Morgan!”
It’s not as if I’m not trying already, I take advantage of every bit of help I can get and I’m putting myself in increasingly difficult social situations but when speaking in a lecture feels about as difficult as storming Omaha beach with nothing but a barrel full of custard and a fez, I think I have every right to be a bit downtrodden and it pisses me off that around 20% of the lecturers I’ve had can grasp doctorate level concepts but not understand the basics of a serious mental illness, the bloody fuckwits.
Social Anixety is totally intolerable and, on a rare serious note, it is genuinely going out of its way to ruin my life, holding me back to an untold and unknowable extent. However, if I’m honest, I could probably live with depression, it’s not often life-threatening and at least I have a good excuse to get out of going to parties that I totally get invited to all the time because I am a ‘happening sort of guy’ because normal people say that right?
To be honest my knowledge of slang is about as up to date as the fucking Old Testament…
There isn’t really much to say about depression because most people tend to have a pretty good idea of what exactly it entails. There are days when I can’t function at all, my motivation can reach rock bottom and I hate the slightest reference to my own existence. It’s not a fun thing to deal with but, for the most part, it doesn’t get too bad. My depression comes in waves, sometimes I feel fine but I can practically guarantee it’ll get bad the following week with ‘dead points’ dominating approximately a couple of days per month.
While neither disorder is fun to live with I will argue that both have their upsides, however minor. Social anxiety tends to result in me over-analysing things which can be useful when it comes to reviewing and writing essays and I tend to value the few friends I have more than the average person might because I know that if I lose them it’s just me and the scary voices in my head that tell me that the local orphanage could do with slightly more fire. This is drastically different to my relationship to the average person in the street whom I tend to look upon with the same frightened awe one might experience while gazing into the black void of space or your average German snuff film. Furthermore, anxiety was once a vital aspect of our survival, the sound of a twig snapping could be a bear and our anxious ancestors are the ones who thought it was a bear and ran away, leaving nothing behind but their dignity and a hot stream of urine. It’s part of the reason I think I’d do alright in a zombie apocalypse; I’m constantly aware of my surroundings because someone might think I look a bit weird and that’s pretty useful when there is a significant chance of being torn apart by the undead. When it comes to depression the positives are harder to find though it might help me look a bit mysterious and angsty and apparently women like that.
Although my crippling people phobia and my general face area probably balance things out nicely…
Both conditions can actually be quite funny. I have a friend who suffers from essentially the same things I do (although I won’t mention her here because I don’t want to run the risk of this incredibly minor slither of ‘internet fame’ going to her head and resulting in a complex and unnecessary power struggle that will result in rampant acts of destruction and misery ending with neither of us getting our deposit back from our landlord), and we occasionally joke about how socially crippled we are. Ok, so there’s probably some element of a defense mechanism in there somewhere but I stand by the fact that there are funny sides to both conditions. After all, when I enter a room full of people I immediately think that everyone is looking at me like I’m some sort of demi-god and that their tiny, little minds will spend the next few hours trying to comprehend just what the hell I am. That sort of arrogance is completely unintentional but on reflection it leaves you feeling a bit like an insecure Kanye West.
Only less of an arse and with significantly better taste in baby names.
I think if I could send one message out with this post to the handful of you reading this then it would be to take the initiative to learn more about mental illnesses like anxiety. I can look back to times in Sixth Form and Secondary School where people couldn’t grasp why I was awkward and tense around other people and why I often went to ridiculous lengths to avoid social occasions and say with a degree of self-righteous condescension that they just didn’t know any better and shake my head like the parent of a child who accidentally said Hitler was cool because they thought he was a German heavy metal band and they wanted to look edgy. Ignorance is the enemy here and while I joke about these things neither disorder is easy to live with and, while I am working towards improvement, I’ll never be completely cured. We desperately need to increase awareness of some of the more obscure, yet still widespread, mental illnesses and maybe, just maybe, this post will help a tiny bit towards that. Or you’ll forget about this 5 minutes after reading it and spend the next hour watching low quality Dutch porn.