Back in the land of clouds and rain

I enjoyed the holiday (aside from 2 of my siblings annoying me so much that I almost wanted to strangle them with their own intestines by the end of it) and the sunshine, but I still found my social anxiety weighing me down a lot. Even seemingly simple things like ordering something in a restaurant or just making eye contact with someone can still be very difficult for me.

My mum said during the holiday that she notices that I never look happy when I’m telling a waiter what I’d like to order, or when someone else that I don’t know tries to talk to me. I worry that when I’m anxious, I must look very upset or angry, even when I’m neutral or happy. I’ll probably talk about this in a bit more detail in future because it’s something that I do have a lot of trouble with and I’m guessing it makes me seem unapproachable, rude, or hostile to other people. It’s probably a subconscious thing that stems from years of being bullied. I’m not even sure if I know how to smile, as odd as that may sound. I can obviously laugh and smile if someone says or does something funny but I find it very difficult to smile when I’m anxious. It feels too vulnerable. Again, this probably sounds strange to most people, but I feel like I have almost no control over my facial expressions when I’m anxious, and I’m not even aware of what my facial expressions are doing during those times. For example, I’ll think that I’m smiling when I am in fact looking a bit fed up or sad. Somehow learning to relax my facial muscles and practising smiling would probably help, but I still think it’s impossible to smile when you’re in a highly anxious state. If you don’t have social anxiety disorder, imagine being face-to-face with the thing you’re most terrified of. For example (and for the purposes of an analogy), if you have arachnophobia, imagine suddenly coming across a spider the size of an elephant*. Would you find it easy (or even possible) to smile in that situation? Of course not. That’s kind of what it’s like for me (and probably many other SA sufferers) when I’m very anxious and someone demands that I smile and stop looking so serious.

* I don’t know if this is of any comfort to arachnophobia sufferers, but it’s generally agreed that it would be physiologically impossible for spiders to be anywhere even remotely near that size.

We went to a Chinese restaurant on the last night of the holiday, and one of the waiters would not stop commenting (both to me and my family members) on how shy I was and how I needed to “Smile! Why are you so serious? Are you tired?” He asked me to give him a big smile at one point but I’m sure it looked very forced and not at all genuine. To make matters worse, as we were leaving, he kissed all the women in my family on the cheeks, including me. I get anxious enough just shaking hands with strangers so it was a bit of an ordeal for me and I probably did not look happy at all. He then said to my mum as she was leaving: “Tell her to stop being so serious. She needs to lighten up a bit!” Yes, I probably do need to lighten up a bit but having someone comment on things I can’t (at least not without great effort) change about myself, and having them force me to do things I’m uncomfortable with, is not going to help with that. I know he’s probably just very outgoing and upbeat himself and can’t understand why someone wouldn’t be (a bit like how I don’t really understand how other people AREN’T socially anxious in certain situations) but it is quite annoying when someone keeps pointing out weaknesses or things that are “wrong” with you. Even seemingly small things like that can lead me to feel like there’s no point in going on with life because I’m clearly not making any progress in interacting with other people. It makes me feel utterly pathetic and immature. And because no one else in my family has social anxiety disorder, they don’t understand how something like that could upset me so much, and if I mention it to them, they generally just tell me to stop being silly or to stop thinking about it. I can’t not ruminate over things like that. Thankfully, on this occasion, the worst feelings only lasted about a day.

Earlier on in the holiday, we all went go-karting and made use of the free transport being offered by the people who ran the go-kart track. When the driver asked everyone if we were all raring to go, I looked down shyly instead of answering “Yeah!” like most of the other people in the minivan. I did that in most of the restaurants we ate in on holiday as well. I know I shouldn’t but it just seems to be my automatic reaction in most social situations. The driver then suddenly turned to me and said, in a rude way, “Do you speak at all?” I wanted to answer that yes, I do in fact speak, and that I was sorry that my shyness was clearly unacceptable to him, but I just said “yes” very quietly and timidly. I don’t know why his response angered me so much. I’m just sick of my shyness being seen as some sort of horrible and inexcusable thing by some people. It annoys me when some people can’t understand that not everyone is as confident and outgoing as they are. It also reminded me of high school bullying, because people there would make fun of the fact that I never spoke.

I did manage to ask a waiter something about the menu on one occasion (my mum wanted to know as well, and she was originally going to ask but I volunteered to do so as a small way of challenging my anxiety) but I didn’t really have any SA-related victories aside from this. I really need to up the effort on fighting my anxiety now that I’m back home. I’d like to get better at being in supermarkets, have less anxiety when talking to men, and continue to practise making small talk.

When we were out at a show one night, the alcohol was free and unlimited so I had a little bit. It seemed to take the edge off my anxiety slightly and I was actually able to make eye contact with strangers, which was nice. It didn’t last for very long though, and I’m still cautious about alcohol because I would be too afraid to ever get drunk in front of other people, and I’m aware that many SA sufferers become reliant on alcohol in order to function in certain social situations.

So yeah…the holiday was mostly enjoyable, except for the things I’ve mentioned. One of the highlights for me was that the sea water was so clear there that you could see all the fish that swam past if you wore goggles. I saw both a swordfish and a skate (as well as thousands of much smaller fish) while there. I’m very grateful that I (mostly) get on with my close family members and I’m able to go to different places and enjoy things like that with them. I have about 465, 678, 124, 659 things I want to write about on this blog, including updates from months ago, so I’ll try and get the bulk of those written before going back to uni.

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8 Responses to Back in the land of clouds and rain

  1. First of all, I’m glad you’re back blogging. You’re more disciplined than I’ve been! I have been thinking about you a lot lately, and pondering your predicament. What you describe in this post is bullying, attempts to shame and control you, and violations of your boundaries. I’m not just talking about the waiter and the driver, but your family also. Your sisters sound overtly abusive, and the reading I’ve done about narcissistic family dynamics makes me think that you have been made into the family scapegoat. What I would like to know most is what your parents are doing when you’re being bullied by your sisters or strangers. Are they supporting you at all? Are they indifferent? Are they joining in? What’s going on? Sometimes I think about everything you’ve posted and how much you’re struggling and I think it’s your family that’s holding you back, because they’ve got you following a script that is incredibly harmful to your mental and spiritual health.

    My apologies if this is unsolicited observation. I am struggling to redefine my own relationship with my family of origin (because I finally see how the harmful dynamics laid the groundwork for several decades of depression, anxiety and targeting by abusive people). Waking up to the facts, and refusing to continuing to play the role I was given, has caused a lot of upheaval, but it has also given me tremendous freedom and room for personal growth.

    Your family may be very invested in keeping you down, because it keeps them up. It does not make them bad people, but it can mean that they are unhealthy for you at this time in your life.

    • Gemma says:

      Thank you. How have you been?
      When strangers behave in that way towards me, my mum will often remind me not to take it personally and that some outgoing people simply don’t understand very shy and quiet people (much in the same way that I can’t really understand how some people can be so confident and outgoing). She’ll also remind me that they most likely didn’t mean to cause offence. My parents never join in with strangers who say or do things that upset me. While we were on holiday, my brother did end up upsetting me badly by constantly insulting and annoying me, to the extent that I almost had a self-injury relapse, yet he was not made to apologise to me by either of my parents, and simply continued with his insulting behaviour. I chose to deal with this by acting as if he wasn’t even there whenever he made a nasty comment towards me, because otherwise I would have probably either exploded with anger at him or ended up hurting myself. The reason my brother’s behaviour upset me so much was that it reminded me of the bullying I endured in high school. While it’s certainly not my brother’s fault that I was bullied, it is his fault that he was deliberately trying to provoke me, so I was quite angry and upset that my parents didn’t back me up or make any attempts to stop this behaviour on this occasion. However, I don’t think my family members are trying to be hurtful or damaging towards me in any way, and I don’t think they’re treating me as a scapegoat (at least not deliberately). The one exception to this is my 18 year old sister, who does sometimes seem to take her anger out on me, and who can be extremely hurtful for sometimes no apparent reason. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we spend so much time under the same roof during the holidays that makes her so irritated with me. We generally get on better and fight less when she’s only here for a few days during university term time.

      My family members are usually nice to me, and my relationship with my dad has really improved since he developed an understanding of my anxiety. I think the problem is simply that (despite having some understanding, and being accepting of it) they still don’t understand enough about my anxiety and depression, and possible triggers. The fact that I’m so sensitive to things that might not bother other people (due to my SA and bullying) probably contributes towards a lot of misunderstandings as well. For example, I think my brother did want to wind me up and insult me a little bit, but I’m sure it wasn’t his intention to make me feel anywhere near as awful as I did. I probably need to sit them all down and explain everything to them sometime soon, and see if that improves things.

  2. The Blonette says:

    The problem with family is sometimes they are A-holes without even noticing. Sometimes they do it on purpose-that’s even worse. My sister sometimes rags on me about my phone phobia (I hate using the phone……hate it) which hurts 😦 I can’t help it, does she think I want to be this way? And sometimes thats it too-other family members are jealous of what they perceive as ‘extra’ attention and provisos (like not eating somewhere super busy or avoiding crowds etc) that ‘we’ (people with anxiety) get, they see it as an act and are resentful, they don’t realise we’d give our right arm to be normal! As for facial expressions I get you, I get told all the time I’m intimidating or snobby and it couldn’t be further from the truth! I’m scared! Cut me (and you!) some slack, whats worse is for me anyway that when someone points it out to me I just panic more about putting on a good face which in turn makes me look even more stressed out-it’s a vicious circle 😦
    Vanessa

    • Gemma says:

      Sorry to hear about the way your family (particularly your sister) treat you. I think the perceived “special treatment” or whatever that I get because of my anxiety may be why my sister often chooses to take her anger out on me as well. She also acts as if she’s so much better than me and so much more mature than me simply because she has friends that she regularly goes on nights out with, and she has a boyfriend. I’ve also been thinking a bit more about J’s (The Anxiety Trip) previous comment over the last few days. The 18 year old sister and my brother can be quite nasty with regards to my anxiety sometimes. My sister is sometimes horrible about the fact that I’m so anxious when her friends/ boyfriend come over to our house and that my mum has said she needs to warn me before inviting them round. It’s the same way with my eczema – when we go on holiday, I can’t wash the dishes unless gloves have been provided (I’m mildly allergic to one of the ingredients in washing up liquid and it could cause my eczema to flare up), though I do always offer to dry them. She sees this as me getting special treatment. She doesn’t realise that I’m not just trying to get out of doing things and doesn’t seem to care that my eczema might flare up and become painful.

      I think you’re completely right when you say that other people don’t understand we don’t do these things for attention or because we like to make a big fuss over nothing, but because we have debilitating anxiety. The other day, I was agonising over typing a text in response to my driving instructor (it can take me over half an hour sometimes just to write a short text or an email that only contains a few sentences because I’m so concerned about how I will come across to the recipient). My brother told me that I was being ridiculous and pathetic, and to stop making such a big deal of it. Things like this happen all the time, and again, I should probably have a word with them all about it at some point. Have you tried explaining your anxiety to your sister? Or is she just someone who refuses to accept/ understand this sort of thing? I also completely agree with you saying that we’d give our right arms not to be this way. I still don’t think my siblings realise how much I hate being this way and how serious and debilitating social anxiety disorder can be. I think they just think I’m pathetic.

  3. I am doing really well, thank you for asking. I’ve been working hard in therapy and in my personal life. Part of my improvement has come as a result of recognizing the people who were undermining me or otherwise treating me badly. I have stopped excusing their behavior and forgiving them before I forgive myself. They are all at a distance now and it was allowed me to recognize good people when they come into my realm. Part of this has involved treating myself with the same patience and kindness that I have given to others, and being careful with who I extend trust to.

    Your family may love you, but I like what the writer M. Scott Peck said: that love is a behavior, not a feeling. It needs to be demonstrated through actions and awareness of you as a person apart from them. You are in a lot of pain. If they are contributing to that pain, either overtly or covertly, that is not love. That’s cruelty. A lot of people are very cruel toward those of us with mental health issues and I am no longer giving them a free pass due to their “ignorance.” There’s no excuse for abuse, in whatever form it takes and it makes me angry to read about how your siblings treat you, having been bullied by my older sister for many years.

    • Gemma says:

      Sorry for the late reply. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well and have distanced yourself from the toxic people in your life. I’m really sorry to hear how you were treated by your sister. I think I need to be very careful about who I extend my trust to as well. Some may try to take advantage of me (I’m just glad that I’m generally quite good at judging what other people’s intentions are), and I’ve had a couple of so-called “friends” in the past who were more like bullies.

  4. Nick says:

    It sounds like that waiter was overstepping boundaries, I can imagine his behaviour would make a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Some men seem to think they can tell women that they should smile etc and they have no right to. He’s the one with the problem, not you.

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