I’m waiting for my moment to come
I’m waiting for the movie to begin
I’m waiting for a revelation
I’m waiting for someone to count me in
‘Cause now I only see my dreams in everything I touch
Feel their cold hands on everything that I love
Cold like some magnificent skyline
Out of my reach but always in my eye line
– ‘Spiralling’ by Keane
I apologise for the depressive mega-rant that follows.
Despite having made quite a lot of progress over the last few years, I still feel like I’m not really living at all but waiting for my life to begin. And it doesn’t seem like that will happen any time soon. Just waiting and waiting, and hoping that things will somehow get better if I keep facing my fears. I feel like my life is void of purpose. I don’t even feel like I’m part of life or part of the human race. Loneliness and isolation are the worst things about living with social anxiety disorder. I feel that I’ve been trapped in the same place for the last decade and nothing much has changed. I still don’t have close offline friends or someone special in my life. My social skills aren’t much better than they were back then. I don’t want to pursue friendships or a relationship out of loneliness or out of other selfish reasons but I don’t see how that can be avoided in my case. Each day just seems to fade into the next one. I don’t think the vast majority of people my age can even imagine being as socially isolated as I am, and there are people who can’t even leave the house because of their anxiety and so are even more socially isolated than I am.
My Swedish online friend reminded me that 3 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to go into a busy shop on my own without having a panic attack, but I still feel hopeless. I’m sick of feeling so damn sorry for myself and not making the most of what I DO have. And I know that I’m better off than most people with SA in having a family I get on with and who I can do things with. Yet I’m still miserable, or at least feel sad and empty, most of the time. The curse of this disorder is knowing exactly what you want but being unable to obtain it. In addition to that, you get to see everyone else with their friends, and in relationships, and with a good chance of getting a job that they want (or just getting a job full stop). When I was 14 and joined one of the main SA forums, I remember thinking how bitter some of the older members were and promising myself that I’d never become like that. But it’s very difficult not to become bitter when you’re stuck in this situation. I know that the universe is anything but fair but it still really begins to grate on you when you realise that even horrible, abusive people have a group of friends and a partner, and you don’t. I have fought and fought against my SA but I’m still alone. I feel like giving up a lot. Would it be better to try and accept that my life will be forever void of close friendship and love, and try to make the most of it regardless? On one hand, would it be better to look at myself in the mirror and say: “You’re never going to have close friends, you’re never going to be in a relationship, you’re never going to kiss anyone, you’ll never have a family, you’ll struggle to find employment and end up in a job that makes you miserable, you will be lonely for the rest of your life”? And then, when I’d fully absorbed that, and cried over that, to look in the mirror again and say to myself: “You’re going to have a number of dogs and try to make their lives as good as possible, and they’ll bring you some happiness and companionship. You’re going to focus on developing your interests and doing the solitary activities that you enjoy. You’re going to dedicate your life to fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness. And you’re going to do your best to improve the lives of other people or animals, and make the world a better place in some way”. On the other hand, I feel that if I stop fighting my SA, then I really may as well be dead. But it’s a fight that seems impossible to win.
I have lost so, so much to this condition. My teenage years were not “the best time of my life” as many people told me they should, but a thoroughly miserable time full of loneliness and suicidal thoughts. I didn’t develop socially during those years like I should have. I can’t even put into words how much I’ve missed out on and how many opportunities have passed me by over the years due to my anxiety. And because progress is so slow, even if things go well, it still seems that SA will completely rob me of my youth, at the very least. I’ve wasted so much time because of it. And time keeps ticking away. Is there life before death? Every year is exactly the same. I’m not happy with where I am. I’m trapped.
I hate having to lie so much all the time to disguise the fact that I have depression and anxiety. I hate the way that society views people like me, for something we can’t help and most definitely didn’t choose. I’m considering contacting CMHT for therapy again but part of me thinks that therapy is a lot of crap. CBT is the only thing that has helped me, but when I say it’s helped me, I mean in about the same way that a small plaster would help a massive wound. There is nothing that’s going to make this go away. At best, it might ease things by about 0.5-1%. I feel like I’m never going to have a life that I’ll be content with.
I promised myself that I’d go along to my university’s annual networking event a couple of weeks ago but it didn’t really end up happening. I showed up for all of about 15 seconds, and did nothing else. I’m extremely annoyed with and disappointed in myself for this, and for not being able to do the presentation. I did go along to 2 different networking workshops in preparation for the event, and did extremely well for an SA person. We had to practise breaking in and out of groups, and I did a lot better than in last year’s workshop, even if I was still really awkward. I was able to talk more than last time as well. I was slightly more confident in talking to the organiser of the workshop, and I managed to ask another woman attending the workshop if anyone was sitting in the seat next to hers, and then move there. We had to come up with ‘elevator pitches’ (we have to ‘sell’ ourselves to potential employers in a short amount of time) like last time as well. I wasn’t able to come up with one but I was able to give another person some advice on what to include in his. I was able to tell the woman running the workshop that I was unable to come up with an ‘elevator pitch’, and she said that I could stay back after the workshop so that she could help me with it (I was able to thank her and tell her that I’d found the workshop very useful). She assumed I struggled so much with it because I’m a very modest person, but that wasn’t the reason at all. The real reason is that I honestly can’t think of anything good about myself or anything that would be useful to an employer, other than perhaps the fact that I’m hard-working. But I think confidence and the ‘gift of the gab’ win over that every time.
On the day of the networking event, I ended up being late to uni, due to having a driving lesson that morning and having to prepare for lab sessions that afternoon. So I only had about 10 minutes before labs in which to go along to the networking event. I’d been feeling so anxious about the networking event all day that I’d barely been able to stop myself from crying. I’d looked up the list of organisations who were attending and none of them seemed relevant to what I might want to do anyway. But I still wanted to go for some general advice, and just for the experience. I felt like I was going to have a panic attack when I finally got into uni (I didn’t take propranolol, like I previously said I would, because the side effects are really worrying and I’d rather not risk it). I was freaking out and everything within me was screaming at me not to go. But I knew that I’d be really disappointed in myself if I didn’t go. I kept saying to myself: “Gemma, literally just go. Nothing else. Just go. Look around the room for a bit then leave. At least just go!” So I did. I looked around the room very briefly, trying my best to look as if I was looking for a friend/ classmate, then rushed off to class. It really, really annoys me that I’m still not ready for networking despite going along to the workshops for it two years in a row now. It annoys me that my anxiety is still getting the better of me.
I still haven’t gotten to know anyone in this new year group. We’re in set groups for the lab sessions but I feel I just annoy the people in my group because I get so anxious in labs that I can’t follow instructions. The other week, we were a microscope short, and despite the fact that I’d already claimed one of the microscopes, one of the guys from my group decided that my open lab book next to the microscope and my slide on the microscope stage were obviously a sign that no one was using it, and proceeded to claim it for himself. My SA obviously meant that I couldn’t confront him on this. So I was left just sitting there for the rest of the lab session, feeling incredibly anxious and useless, because I couldn’t ask one of the tutors for another microscope. I got marks taken off because of this, and the tutor did not seem at all happy. I’m guessing that as per usual at my uni, not one of them has read my learning profile, which clearly states that I find approaching tutors difficult. Being so quiet and unconfident also meant that I had almost no input within the group, which was really frustrating at times.
I’m going to end this mess of a post with something that was covered in another university workshop by the same woman who ran the networking one. It was about feedback and learning, and the two different attitudes to these – the fixed mindset and growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and ability are static, while people with a growth mindset believe that these can change and be improved upon. She showed us some studies that showed people with a growth mindset achieved better results in the long-term than people with a fixed mindset, because they were more likely to pay attention to feedback and actively work on improving their marks. I’m wondering if the same thing is possible when applied not to learning but to overcoming social anxiety. I hope it is.