This is probably going to be the toughest semester I’ll face at university in terms of the amount of social anxiety related fears that I’ll have to face head-on.
The main tutor for one my current modules seems to love to get everyone to introduce themselves to everyone else at the first lecture. So we each had to say our name and tell everyone what specifically it is within Animal Biology that we’re interested in. I was feeling more and more anxious as it got closer to being my turn to speak. My heart was pounding quite a bit but I did manage it. I know it probably sounds very strange to anyone who doesn’t suffer from social anxiety disorder, but even seemingly minor things like that can result in a lot of anxiety. As well as making us all introduce ourselves at the first lecture, the same tutor also told us that we needed to attach a ‘peer review sheet’ to our first assignment for that module or he would not mark it. This involved having to ask one of my classmates to read over my work and review it, saying what needed to be improved before I submitted the final draft. If you have social anxiety and don’t really know anyone on your course, this can provoke considerable anxiety. Asking someone to take the time to read over your essay (and feeling like you’re bothering them) is difficult enough, but I also have a massive fear of other people reading my work. It’s not so bad when I write on my blog because I’m anonymous, but if a classmate is reading my essay, I feel like I’m under a lot of pressure to make sure it’s good and that I don’t make any silly mistakes or they will think I’m an idiot and judge me negatively. Again, I know it’s stupid but that’s how my anxiety makes me feel. I was really worried about it but managed to ask the mature student on my course (who I mentioned in the previous post) through facebook if he could peer review my work (which he did), and I peer reviewed his. I had visions of failing that particular assignment simply because I thought I would not be able to ask anyone to look over it, but I managed it – even if I took the easier option of asking someone through the internet rather than face-to-face – and ended up doing quite well.
I also went to a networking workshop a couple of weeks ago in preparation for a networking event that took place at my university earlier this week (which I unfortunately chickened out of going to). I was very anxious even about going to the workshop but it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe this is because I took 20mg of propranolol beforehand…I don’t know. At the beginning of the workshop, we all had to stand up, introduce ourselves to another person and have a conversation about what our interests are both at and outwith university. I felt really awkward doing this but at least I was not shaking and didn’t stumble over my words too much. Whenever I’m talking to someone, I always take the most minute thing – such as a tiny change in their facial expression – as a indication that they are judging me and don’t want to talk to me. I always assume the most negative things about any interactions I have with other people.
I even managed to raise my hand when the woman running the workshop asked who finds it difficult to know how to interact with people at networking events, and I said (in front of everyone in the room) that it’s mostly because I suffer from a lack of confidence. I’m really surprised that I managed to do that – the beta blockers probably helped a lot. I do feel kind of embarrassed about it now. I don’t regret it though.
We then had to come up with an “elevator pitch” for the professionals that would be attending the networking event. I was terrible at this and couldn’t think of anything to say. However, I did once again manage to have a conversation with someone else in the room. The woman running the workshop also made us practise leaving and entering group conversations by walking around the room and tapping on the backs of random people to signal to them that they should leave the group. Unluckily enough for me, I was one of the first people she chose. I didn’t have the courage and didn’t know how to stop another person in mid-flow and leave to go to another group. Thankfully, the organiser helped me with this. She’s run a couple of other workshops that I’ve attended before and she seems to be very good at reading people – she seems to be able to tell that I’m extremely shy and unconfident as soon as I try to interact with anyone in the room. I did feel very, very awkward and unconfident for the entire workshop but I think it did help me a little bit.
Unfortunately, I did not manage to go to the actual networking event. I was getting increasingly anxious about it as it got closer and closer to the day and ended up deciding not to go because I feel that I’m not yet at the stage to put myself through that level of anxiety. T, my online friend, suggested that I just go for a short while and then I could always leave if I started to feel overwhelmed. This would have been a good idea, but I hadn’t even properly prepared for going to the event. And there was only one person there that I would have been interested in talking to – if I was able to do such a thing – anyway. I wish that I could have attended but just stood in the middle, wearing some kind of invisibility cloak, just observing what other people were doing and learning how to act in that kind of situation. I’m hoping that I will be able to at least give it a try next year.
Still to come…
I honestly think my tutors are trying to kill me with anxiety, over the next week in particular. I leave tomorrow morning to go on a week long residential field trip to the Algarve. While I’m obviously very lucky to get to go there as part of my course and escape the miserable weather here, I’m dreading it. I again managed to request a single room but I will be sharing an apartment with 2 other people while I’m there and I’ve never even said a single word to either of them. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to interact with them. There are just so many things that I’m anxious about. We obviously have to share the kitchen and bathroom and I’m worried about the massive range of SA fears that come with that – having to cook while other people are present and make conversation, worrying about getting in their way or annoying them, etc. They will probably wonder why I’ll have my own room while everyone else has to share. One of the tutors who organised the field trip said that I’d get to stay in the bedroom, while the other two would be sharing the sofa bed. This seems very unfair and if this is indeed the case, I’m worried that they’ll hate me and think that I’m stuck up before we’ve even really interacted with each other. And yet…I’d be too afraid to let them have the bedroom and sleep on the sofa myself because it would mean that I’d have nowhere to hide and try to calm myself down, and this could lead to A LOT of distress if they invited someone over or if I had a particularly anxiety-ridden day. As it’s self-catering, we’ll also obviously need to buy our own food. This would be difficult enough for me at home, but my Portuguese is virtually non-existent and I’m freaking out about having to go shopping alone and not knowing what people are saying to me. I’m convinced I’ll make a complete idiot of myself.
I’m also worried about what happens if people from the course decide to invite me to go out drinking again. You’re very much looked down on here or at least considered strange if you don’t drink and – while I might drink a very small amount of alcohol – I definitely would not want to get tipsy or drunk around other people on my course. I could maybe just about manage going with a small group of people to a quiet pub, though I’d still be extremely anxious. But from what I gather, most people my age prefer clubs to pubs, and that would terrify me. Someone like me would probably need to be completely inebriated or out of it on drugs to even consider going into a nightclub. I really don’t see the appeal of nightclubs and would probably have a panic attack if I ever set foot in one. Again, this makes me feel like an alien compared to most people my age, who seem to love going to clubs and getting wildly drunk. For some of them, it’s as if their lives revolve around getting drunk. I’m hoping that this doesn’t lead to the same kind of situations as it did on the last residential field trip – sleep deprivation when you are completely worn out from anxiety is torturous.
During the day, we’ll be working in groups. These are chosen by us (instead of randomly decided by the tutors) so I will feel very awkward and unwanted when everyone else forms groups and I have to somehow find the courage to join one. I think the groups are supposed to change every single day so I will have to face this anxiety every single day. We also have to do a group presentation while in the Algarve so we probably won’t have very much time to prepare for it. I’m going to once again be reliant on propranolol to get me through this, though I will take a lower dose than I did before the last semester’s presentation. I have been getting a little bit of support from a study skills advisor (I will write a post about her at a later date), which did help a little bit but I’m still absolutely dreading having to do it. I will probably be a complete wreck for most of the week as the presentation date approaches, particularly if I’m in a sleep deprived state.
There is also a mock interview that we each have to do while in the Algarve, in preparation for the assessed interview that will happen later on the semester. It’s apparently very similar to a job interview. I have never done a proper a job interview and I’m just as terrified about having to do that as I am about the presentation. I will have no idea what to say. 50% of this module (the presentation and the assessed interview combined) is based on things that my SA will have a massive, negative impact on. I’m worried that I will fail the module because of this. I don’t know what I can do other than prepare as best as I can.
I am so, so worried about everything. Even having to sit on the plane with other people who I don’t know very well, if at all, will cause me a lot of anxiety. I will not be able to relax at all for the entire flight and I’ll feel that they’re judging me negatively based on whatever I’m reading or listening to during the flight. I should be grateful and very happy that I’m getting to go to sunny Portugal and spend most of the day at coastal areas, but I have a feeling that this is going to be more like an endurance test for me than anything else.
I have to be up by 3:30am tomorrow morning so I should probably go to bed now. This is probably going to be the biggest test that my anxiety has faced yet.