A few years ago I had tickets to go and see Against Me! They are one of my favourite bands, and with me being in the UK and them from the USA, getting to see them live didn’t come up very often. They weren’t playing the city I live in, but they were playing a city only an hour or so away. My flatmate was a fan too and offered to drive. I was really looking forward to it.
The date drew closer, and my flatmate mentioned her boyfriend was also in to them, and he’d come with us. I was alright with that, a bit worried about being a third wheel, but I’d met him before and liked him well enough. Then on the day, she tells me she’s going to drive two of his friends too. Suddenly, the idea of what was going to happen that day had completely changed in my head. It went from being a fun road trip, with me and one friend, going to see a band I really like, to me being stuck in the back of the car for a whole hour with two unknown men.
I shut down. I told my flatmate I wasn’t feeling well and that I couldn’t go. She knew I suffered from depression, and chalked it up to a depressive episode. To be honest, so did I. I missed out on a what could have been a very fun evening (that I had already paid for), because my brain simply would not allow me to participate. This is just one example of the many, many times I missed out on a social event or networking opportunity.
It wasn’t until I hit 30 that I realised I have social anxiety. I’d been so focused on depression that I just blamed that for my withdrawal from socialising. I never thought of myself as having a problem with social situations. I love my close friends, I love spending time with them, and I love having intimate conversations with the few people I trust. At a party, I’d happily chat away, not hide in a corner. I didn’t feel like someone who fit the bill of having social anxiety.
A. A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating.
B. Exposure to the feared situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally pre-disposed Panic Attack.
C. The person recognizes that this fear is unreasonable or excessive.
D. The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situation(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
F. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting 6 or more months.
G. The fear or avoidance is not due to direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., drugs, medications) or a general medical condition not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
But if I take a step back and really analyse myself, I realise that I am sometimes absolutely crippled by social anxiety. It’s not just missing out on social events, its simple things that effect my day to day life. I won’t answer the door unless the person I can see through the spy hole is clearly holding a parcel. I won’t answer the phone unless I know the caller. I won’t call a repair person to fix things in my house when they break, because the idea of having a person in my house fixing something for me is just too much. I don’t go for dentist or optician appointments as often as I need to, and things have to get really really bad before I’ll go to see a doctor. I’m scared of getting in a taxi by myself because I’d be trapped in a car with a person I do not know. These are really simple things that people do every day without thinking.
It’s not that I fear I’ll be attacked or anything like that. The worst thing I think will happen is people will try to talk to me. I’m great at conversation. There is no reason for me to fear this. As in the DSM 5 criteria stated above; I recognise these fears and my avoidant behaviour is unreasonable. But my brain just has a block and I cannot do it.
My friendships and relationships have been significantly hurt by social anxiety. I’ve lost friends, or had people distance themselves from me, after I just did not show up to their big birthday weekend (which involved lots of socialising with people I had not met before). I once didn’t meet up with a friend after she invited me to a party, again full of people I didn’t know, and she was moving away shortly after. I really regret that, as I made her feel like she didn’t matter to me, when she really does. It was 6 months before I came up with the courage to message her, and I’m so glad I did. I hope I’ll get to see her again soon.
I understand people getting upset with me, or thinking that I don’t care about them. It’s not nice when a friend doesn’t show up to a social event you’ve planned. I often get in to a spiral of self loathing when I make the decision to avoid a certain event. I find that feeds my depression though, rather than making it more likely I’ll make a different decision in the future.
Social anxiety also hinders my career. The most relevant example to this blog is Eroticon. I would probably love Eroticon if I was there. A bunch of sex positive people listening to cool talks and getting to know each other? That sounds awesome! However, I have anxiety attacks every time people start talking about it on Twitter, because I really want to go one year, but the idea of having to get to the venue in London and then be with people I don’t know, people who might have read my blog and think I’m shit (that’s my imposter syndrome coming out), is too much for me. I think I’ve resided myself to realising I will never go, at least not while it is hosted in London.
Another thing that holds me back in the (sex) blogging world is that I don’t interact much with people on social media. I read and like at lot, but I don’t comment because I feel like I’m butting in, or like I’m being rude. I don’t get involved in memes very often for the same reason. The same goes for DMs, I never send them, ever. If someone contacts me I’ll occasionally respond, but it makes me anxious. I feel like I could be part of this supportive community, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’d be an unwanted intrusion, and that I’m just not good enough and not likeable enough to join in. I know it’s another unreasonable fear, and this is absolutely not a reflection on the community. I’m the problem.
I have also always really struggled to promote myself. This year I didn’t even put out a call for people to vote for my blog on Molly’s top 100 list or Kinkly’s top 100 list. I just didn’t feel like I deserved a nomination, and the idea of asking others to was cringeworthy to me. The people I would have nominated have already been nominated on Molly’s blog, and I’ve nominated all my favourites on Kinkly. I don’t expect to get a look in on either of these lists this year. Which is my imposter syndrome again. I feel like my blogging is getting worse, not better, with time. I feel like perhaps a year ago I interacted more and I was part of a group and some people had at least heard of my blog. Now I think I’m back to where I was at the beginning, on the outskirts and that nothing I write is particularly interesting. Part of this is because with my pregnancy I was too sick to blog for a few months. I have created this situation myself, again this is not a reflection on how the community interacts with me: I’m the problem.
My imposter syndrome also means I don’t pitch. Ever. I simply cannot come up with any ideas that I think would be worthy of payment and publishing on an external website. I know this is unreasonable, and sometimes I do really consider pitching when I see calls for articles on certain things I know a lot about. But it gives me an anxiety attack and I simply don’t do it. I did have a company approach me about writing erotica for them to turn in to audio for a sex app they were developing. They paid me fairly and gave me a tight deadline. You know what? I fucking smashed it, I wrote them 5 short stories, I had loads of fun writing them, and the developers told me they loved them. I have actual evidence that some companies love my writing and are willing to pay me for it. Yet I still can’t bring myself to pitch.
The reason I’ve chosen to write about this now, or why it’s on my mind, is because I’m going to become a mother soon. I can live my life just avoiding the things that make me feel really anxious. Sure, it’s not ideal, and I miss out on a lot of fun times and opportunities, but I cope with it. However, soon there will be a little person in my life, and I will need to do things that scare me for their sake. I’ll have to make appointments for them and I’ll have to take them to social events so they don’t miss out. Most importantly, I don’t want to pass this anxiety on to them through example. I want my child to have a rich social life. I want them to be fearless and embrace all that life has to offer them. I also know that being very socially capable will get you far in life. I’m concerned they will see how I react to social situations and mimic it.
I’m not really sure how to begin working on myself to reduce at least some of the social anxiety. I’ve been living like this for my entire adult life. It’s really ingrained in how I think and act. If I could afford the cost I’d get some therapy, but as I can’t I’d welcome any advise or shared experiences anyone has to offer. Please feel free to leave them in the comments.
*Feature image is stock photography. I’m thinking of drawing a sketch for this post so it is more personal but I don’t have the energy right now, and I didn’t want to delay publishing otherwise I’d be to afraid to let it go live.
If you’d like to help relieve some of the financial pressure that comes with trying to get ready for a new baby, you can gift me something of my amazon wishlist. This is a shameless ask for help.