For the past few weeks, I just haven’t felt like myself. It’s not that I’ve been particularly antisocial, but I began to dread the idea of interacting with new people or getting myself into unfamiliar situations. And meeting new people and trying new things is such an important part of my life and my business that I knew I couldn’t keep feeling that way. So I sat down and had a chat with Dr. L about it…
Me: I’m not sure why, but I’ve had the hardest time getting outside lately. Even if it’s just to go to the store. It’s the weirdest thing; I can’t get motivated to do anything that requires me to be out in public. Picking my son up from school is a big deal, too. I do it because I have to, but I really dread it. And it’s not because I’m lazy. At home I clean and do chores like crazy.
Doc: So it sounds like it’s not due to fatigue or depression. What’s this block you’re talking about?’
Me: I have no idea. I don’t want to talk to people, I don’t want people talking to me; I don’t want anyone to even LOOK at me. If D is with me I can go out and do anything. As long as he’s by my side, I have no problems. But it’s doing things by myself… just talking about it is making me flustered.
Doc: I can see that. I can see you’re blushing… Tell me, when you were in school were you always in the back, never raised your hand and dreaded the teacher calling on you?
Doc: And it wasn’t because you aren’t bright and didn’t know the answer. In fact you’re probably extremely bright but your teachers didn’t know it because you never spoke up in class.
Me: You’re totally right.
Doc: In business meetings you probably never spoke up even if you had a brilliant idea, because you were thinking: “What if I say the wrong thing?” or “What if they make fun of me because I say something stupid?”
Me: Yep, been there. And I’ve found it very hard to pick up the phone to do business-related stuff these past couple weeks. I’d much rather email. I can get on the phone, but not without a cigarette. But I’m an introvert. Don’t all introverts feel this way?
Doc: No. This is beyond introvert/extrovert. I’m an introvert and I don’t have those fears you’re talking about. What you’re describing sounds like social anxiety. It’s characterized by intense fear in social situations. To some it only occurs in new, unfamiliar social situations.
Me: I’m scared I might say the wrong thing and then replay the words over and over in my head. But I also say: “It’s okay. In a week you’re probably not going to remember you said that stupid thing. And most likely that other person has already forgotten you said that stupid thing.”
Doc: Right. People with social anxiety have this fear of being judged by others and a fear of being embarrassed and humiliated.
So the doc went on about it, describing my past few weeks to a T. I told him I didn’t want to be on any more medication; that I wanted to try and tackle this on my own and find other tools to help me, especially since I’m already on bipolar medication to stabilize my moods and I feel like a zombie at times.
And perhaps most frustrating to me, the situation he described doesn’t ALWAYS happen. I’m not always curled in a ball of anxiety, dreading the world around me. Some days I’m perfectly social. I’ve gotten up on stage and spoken in front of hundreds of people before with no problem! I’ve done motivational talks to small groups. I’ve competed in jiujitsu tournaments with hundreds of people watching me. I used to have a job that required me to meet new people every day. Some days it’s not even anxiety, but fatigue or depression that keeps me from interacting. But when it does happen, it seems as crippling and restrictive as any other mental disorder. So I might take his advice and seek group therapy. I’m kind of looking forward to putting myself in a group with other people that feel the same things I do.
Because I do like making new friends. I do like getting to know people. I like to be present and authentic and share my stories and listen to others. I like to show compassion and be a good listener. That’s ultimately what I’m most passionate about: Helping others. But how can I do any of that if I’m limited by this thing called social anxiety?
Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if not for this occasional block. I wonder how far I could have taken my businesses if not for the fear of speaking.
So I guess I’ve always had social anxiety. But when I’m hypomanic–and only when I’m hypomanic–I can speak to people no problem. Now I’m on medication that prevents me from seesawing into a hypomanic state and the one bit of armor I had is stripped away, revealing the anxiety underneath.
It wasn’t really good news. Knowing there are apparently several layers to my mental health is always going to be a challenge as I cut through each of them one by one. But just knowing means I can recognize that I’m not being lazy or purposefully anti-social. It makes sense to me.
And it gives me another justification for my intense love of World of Warcraft. I can be social. I can think about my responses and mitigate the fear of putting my foot in my mouth. I can laugh out loud and not be afraid of sounding stupid to anyone. I can greet new people without instantly thinking they’re judging me. I can contribute my thoughts to a guild chat discussion without worrying about what other people might think.
But this also explains why I sometimes have a hard time speaking up in Vent, even with guildies. Even though I know they’re all super cool and for the most part drunk or at least buzzed and won’t remember that stupid thing I said or the stupid way I said it. There’s just this underlying fear that holds me back from saying what I want to say, even if it’s on the tip of my tongue.
It might also explain my recent Arena frustrations. I want so badly to be good at it. My teammates say I’m doing great. But there’s still this thing in the back of my mind that believes they’re lying. They just can’t tell me how much I suck to my face. They talk behind my back about that thing I did where I fucked up and lost us the match and how much they hate me and the world is coming down and it’s all my fault… Yeah. Do you hear how redonk this is? It’s so totally irrational and I’m smart enough to know that. But there’s just that SOMETHING that lingers within, telling me I’m the root of every problem imaginable.
The sad thing is, there’s a shred of truth here; I’m at least partially responsible for our record. While we win more than we lose, almost every one of our losses can be chalked up to lack of communication. Could it have something to do with my half of the team being too afraid to say anything on Vent?
And my Arena partner… Light bless his patient soul… Listen up @ShifteaIRL (And @KrisstinaWoW when we do 3s): I’m pledging right here and now to communicate better! I know we’ve already made strides toward it. On Friday after each match we talked in Vent and evaluated what went right and what went wrong, and we’ve already gotten a lot better! (Could be that he’s running a DK instead of the Warrior… not sure).
I want to be able to communicate at the highest point of stress when it matters the most. Because I’m a damn good disc priest. Okay, maybe not damn good. But I’m not shitty. I’m that annoying priest in BGs that you can’t kill (unless you’re a rogue). I’m that “Shoo pally! Go be efficient! Help get your flag back and stop wasting your time trying to kill me! Or if killing me is really THAT important to you, come back with some friends” priest.
I may be good. But I want to be great. I’m talking 2200+!
I have decided to tackle this on my own. I don’t want it to limit me. I don’t want to be held down by anything. This isn’t a passive affliction I’m going to let rule my life. This is a challenge I can conquer just like any other.
Funny how the “thing” that’s been holding me back… was myself.
If you have symptoms similar to the ones I’ve described— symptoms that have kept you from doing the things you want to do in life—please at least check out the links below and speak to a doctor. Life doesn’t have to be this way. We deserve better.