Phobos and Deimos

“In moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy, but always against one’s own body.”

– George Orwell, 1984

In a matter of hours, I will have to stand up and talk in front of around 70 people. I think I would rather die, as pathetic as that may sound to some. I think I would rather be physically tortured. Cover my body in open wounds, I don’t care. Slice down the length of my entire arm if you wish. ANYTHING but my biggest fear.

I am losing it here. I can’t stop crying and shaking. I cannot do this tomorrow, I really can’t. I feel absolutely sick to my stomach.  I’ve been writing out what I need to say and I cannot remember any of it. I only need to talk for around 2 minutes but it will feel like an eternity. My group all practised doing their part of the presentation in front of everyone else today and I think I would have had a panic attack even doing that, were it not for the 20mg of propranolol I took a couple of hours beforehand. It is impossible for me to believe that anything will be able to stop me having a severe panic attack tomorrow. With any luck, it should be enough to stop me from shaking and to stop my heart from feeling like it’s about to beat out of my chest. But I still have to deal with the nausea and the emotional/ mental symptoms of anxiety. My mind going blank is the one that I’m most concerned about. As soon as I stand up there, I will probably forget everything, no matter how much I rehearse it beforehand. I also managed to say “eerrrmmm….” literally about 100 times in the space of 2 minutes today, when we were practising. It will likely be even worse tomorrow and I will get us all marked down for it. It’s also supposed to be improvised and not read, but I will probably not be able to say anything without reading it off a card or something. I will probably not sleep at all tonight. Probably just stay up and cry and wish that I didn’t have to go through what feels like torture and the most terrifying thing for someone with SA.

I was supposed to get someone to coach me 1-on-1 on presentation skills but student support messed up and I’m doing this completely on my own. No reasonable adjustments, no presenting to a smaller group of people, nothing. My presentation skills are the absolute worst. I cannot make eye contact. My voice sounds all shaky and pathetic, and I speak too quietly. I am going to screw this up massively.

I’m not even going to write any more because I’m just getting completely lost in the anxiety and panic here. I can’t focus on anything other than the nausea that I’ve felt all day now and how overwhelmed I feel. It feels as if I’m going to my death tomorrow. This all probably sounds laughably pathetic to anyone who doesn’t have SA so I’ll just shut up now.


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6 Responses to Phobos and Deimos

  1. bluehero45 says:

    I’ve been where you are at before. I also failed such things. Failing is not even the worst part, what you tell yourself and how you treat yourself afterwards is. Fail or succeed, just keep trying to move forward. The fact that you even made it this far is an accomplishment you should be proud of.

    • Gemma says:

      Thank you. 🙂 Regardless of the fact that the presentation actually went well, I think that I need to get back into CBT. I would add that it’s not only how you treat yourself after the event but how you perceive/ reflect on it.

  2. JC says:

    I’m probably too late, but I can’t pass by this post without wishing you all the (belated?) luck, hugs and empathies in the universe. Whatever happens, try to give yourself credit for even considering doing a presentation in front of that many people (my brain is panicking just thinking about it), and preparing for it despite the total lack of support from your uni. That’s a massive achievement, regardless of the end result, and honestly, I’m in awe of your courage here. I can’t even do a one-on-one presentation without support, and knowing that I’m going to have to do even that will bring all focus and productivity to a sudden halt, until it somehow gets sorted out (read: someone gets me out of it). It’s not at all pathetic, and I’m sure it won’t be to those without SA; university is in a weird kind of bubble where it feels like everyone else has got it more together than we do, and is far less fazed about everything than we are. But given how common glossophobia is in and of itself, surely they can’t all be effortlessly confident, charming intellectuals as they might have us believe!

    And I’m rambling my face off here, so I’ll stop now (plus I have a lecture to dash off to in a minute!). I hope it goes/has gone better than you expected, and if not, the welcoming arms of the blogosphere are ready and waiting to comfort you 🙂


    • Gemma says:

      Thanks, JC. 🙂 I am trying to give myself credit for it but my brain is still not registering that it actually happened. Yes, I think you’re right – I found out for myself at the time that everyone finds presentations difficult/ scary to some degree.

      Thanks again. 🙂

  3. Public speaking is terrifying when you’ve got social phobia. I believe it is the hardest thing to do when suffering with this affliction. I’ve been thinking of you over the past few days, wondering how you fared during your two minutes. I’m not going to be one of those people who says, “I’m sure it went better than you thought it did!” I’m sure it was as difficult as you’d thought it would be, and that your nervousness was visible.

    I used to tremble and sweat and have racing heart and thoughts when speaking publicly and when doing anything social. I’d dread it for weeks, try to wiggle out of doing it, suffer mightily during and after the event. I will say that forcing myself to make public speaking part of my recovery is the single act that contributed the most to my being comfortable out in the world and being able to connect with others. I’m still nervous talking in front of a group (or crowd). And I still shake like crazy both during and after. But it’s easier every time. I do it as often as possible so it doesn’t feel like such a big thing, and the best thing that ever happened to me socially was bombing for five minutes doing a standup comedy set, because it showed me that I could withstand it and not crater and the world wouldn’t end. Beyond all that that, though, it’s made me more confident in all my social interactions and it’s shown me that people are not judging me or waiting for me to fail. And even if I do fail, it’s okay. I would not have been able to form new friendships had I not first gotten up on stage in front of strangers.

    Everyone’s path is different. I never thought this method would work for me. Coming at a problem from a different angle sometimes leaves room for indirect success that has a spillover effect.

    Hope you’re okay, post-presentation. I’m amazed by your capacity to keep trying and by your bravery.

    • Gemma says:

      Hi J. I think I was as surprised as anyone that it actually went okay, thanks to the propranolol. I do want to make public speaking a part of progressing with my social anxiety (well…I’m not sure if “want” is the right word…). It’s hard to believe that I’d be able to cope without the propranolol though. What I liked about my latest experience with public speaking (aside from it being my first positive one) was that taking the propranolol allowed me to look at the experience at bit more objectively. I got to see that everyone finds public speaking difficult and a lot of people aren’t as confident as they like to come across as. It also struck me that even when other people did get anxious and stumbled over their words a bit, no one was judgemental or said anything nasty. Everyone was quite supportive of each other. Those who had already done their presentations were much relieved, but still very sympathetic to those who still had to do theirs.

      I suppose I’d like to progress by doing more public speaking but gradually lowering my dosage of propranolol and – if I can be brave enough – eventually not taking any before public speaking. Someone from the social anxiety meetup group suggested Toastmasters a few months ago. I felt nowhere near ready to attempt something like that back then but if I keep making progress, I may consider it.

      Thanks again for the words of wisdom. 🙂

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