If I had a pound…

Work is going okay, apart from the fact that I’m so tired that I feel like a zombie, and my anxiety is still making things very difficult. I always find it difficult to sleep in the summer, when it is still light outside (until about 10:30pm and from about 4am in the middle of the summer). I’ve been this way for years but I used to go to bed a lot later than I do now, which meant that I would wake up about a hundred times during the early mornings (or at least, that’s what it felt like) and wouldn’t be able to have a good quality of sleep at that time. Now that I’m always in bed by 9pm (usually earlier), I often lie in bed for a couple of hours, unable to sleep.  I’ve no idea why I’m like this but it’s probably linked to the seasonal issues that I have in winter.

Last week, the American guy* at work mentioned that I’m an extremely quiet person, and a couple of other colleagues who were in earshot agreed with him. I’m sure that most people with SA have heard this so many times that they’ve long since lost count. Whenever someone says that to me, I always interpret it as people not being okay with / accepting of quiet people and seeing being quiet or extremely shy as a flaw. In reality, people who make this comment probably just want to know why I’m so quiet and would like me to open up to people, but I can’t help being annoyed by such a comment and seeing it as someone having a problem with the way I am. My manager also pointed out how quiet I am when talking to me last week but said he realises it’s just the way I am (I think he was previously worried that I was upset about something, such as the fact that I had to order my uniform 3 separate times because people kept making mistakes with it). I was immediately anxious and embarrassed when he said this, as I (once again, with my negative bias) interpreted his comment as him being annoyed and regretful that he’d hired such a quiet person to work in a supermarket, and would rather have hired someone more talkative.

* I could be wrong but I think the US must be one of the toughest countries in which to be socially anxious. I’m wondering how socially anxious Americans manage, given that your culture apparently expects you to always appear confident, outgoing, and enthusiastic. Though perhaps there is more awareness about social anxiety disorder there, as opposed to the literally non-existent awareness among the general public and the majority of mental health professionals here.

Speaking of my manager, one of the things that my SA makes extremely difficult for me is talking to people who have authority over me. I’m always so awkward around my manager and can barely say a word to him. He’s quite informal, and a girl who started working there a couple of weeks after me talks to him as if he’s a friend that she’s out at the pub with, and he doesn’t seem to mind. But that doesn’t make it any easier for me to talk to him or be any less anxious around him.

Like I said in an earlier post, work has helped me a lot with my anxiety and confidence already. I feel that this is what I needed years ago, though I don’t think I would ever have been able to get a job back then. Most of my colleagues are nice, and a couple have been especially nice to me after the comment about me being quiet, but as usual, I’m extremely paranoid and distrustful of anyone who treats me nicely. I wonder what their motives are. I get paranoid about what they may say about me when I’m not there. I also get paranoid that they all secretly hate me. The other day at work, consistent with the 3 week long period of bad luck I seem to be having (more on this later in the post), I managed to spill a cup of tea all over the table and floor while I was on my break. It probably would have gone all over the colleague that was sitting next to me if he hadn’t had such a quick reaction, and I was sure that I must have really annoyed him by doing this, but he went to get some tissues to help me mop up the tea, and didn’t seem too bothered by it. Despite this, I felt awful for the rest of the shift, thinking that everyone at that table must’ve thought that I was a complete idiot (if they didn’t already – I already feel extremely useless and incompetent compared to my colleagues. I will often make silly mistakes due to being so anxious or tired). I always tend to just assume that everyone hates (or at least dislikes) me wherever I go. I’ve been meaning to start CBT again, though it seems that I never have the time/ I’m too worn out to do it much of the time at the moment. I do find it a little bit helpful but it’s so time-consuming. The comment about me being so quiet does make me want to push myself even further, and to perhaps write a list of exposure situations to try. Since I got this job, I’ve been wondering what the next step in challenging myself is.

I am trying so, so hard to talk to my colleagues. Often, when someone asks me a question or mentions something that relates to me, I’m usually unable to speak. I don’t really know why. Sometimes it’s like my throat closes up and I physically cannot speak. Or my voice goes all weird. Just within the last week or so, however, most of the time, I have actually been able to respond when someone asks something (for example, if anyone has seen a particular colleague). And yes, I realise that this probably sounds pathetic to anyone who doesn’t suffer from SA, but this feels like a major step for me. Conversations at break time are still a nightmare though. I usually sit with my colleagues without saying a word. This is something I really want to work on, but I find it extremely difficult to join in with conversations, and don’t feel as if I’m welcome to do so. I also relate more to my colleagues who are in their thirties and forties than to those who are in my age group. I don’t know if this is as a result of being bullied by people my age for so long, or if it’s the fact that those in my age group don’t seem to talk about anything other than drinking, who they slept with, and how much they pay for their phone contracts. Perhaps it’s both of those things. Most of the time, I find the conversations of the those in the 30-40 age group to be more interesting and a bit more intellectually stimulating. In some ways, I feel like an old soul (not that people in their thirties and forties are old). My online friend (who is probably the person that I have the deepest friendship with) is the same, and it’s probably why we get along so well. When it comes to the male colleagues in my age group (and even a number of those who are well above that age), listening to their conversations actually makes me glad that I’m single. They frequently reduce women to nothing more than body parts. I’d rather be eternally single than be with someone like that.

I have been having so much bad luck over the last 3 weeks that I feel as if the universe is playing a series of jokes on me. I had a metal retainer behind both sets of my front teeth (I had braces when I was 13, and the retainers are to hold the teeth in position for the rest of my life), but I managed to snap the upper one while flossing. It couldn’t be repaired and so had to be removed, and I now need to fork out £165 to pay for a new one. Hooray! In addition to this, I have: lost my house key and got stuck outside the house on the one day in about three months when nobody was in the house and had to drive to my mum’s work to get her key, lost 3 dog balls, punctured my front inner tube in a way that couldn’t be repaired when I was out cycling 11.5 miles from home, and had to wait over an hour for my mum to find me (I was in the middle of nowhere) and pick me up, was late to work because my neighbours parked partially in front of the driveway, and spilt tea everywhere at work, to give just a few examples. Something like that has happened to me on an almost daily basis for the last 3 weeks. Weirdly, this has been happening since I (FINALLY) watched Interstellar, which references Murphy’s Law.

My job isn’t bad, and obviously it’s helping me a lot with my SA as well, but without any particularly interesting or exciting things to do on my days off (I’m so tired that I tend to just spend them catching up on my sleep and trying to do things that need to be done before I go back to uni), life is a bit monotonous and…what’s that place in Perthshire?

DULL_2576738b

My family drove back through Dull when we went to Pitlochry last year, and many shockingly bad puns from my dad ensued. If you think my puns are terrible, you should hear his!

My colleagues all seem to go out drinking with friends, or something similar, at the weekend, or on days off. Meanwhile, the most exciting thing I get up to is walking my dog/ playing a computer game. I haven’t been along to any meet up groups in months because I’m so worn out from work most of the time, or meet ups take place when I’m working. Sleep must surely be the most underrated thing ever, right? I have been confident of this since my hellish term at university. In addition to this, after being around people and feeling so anxious all day at work, particularly on busy days, I tend to feel a bit irritable and tired of being around other people, so would rather stay at home anyway.

I still haven’t gotten any further with my plans to travel around Scotland this summer. Travelling alone terrifies me. Even more so if I’m driving instead of relying on public transport. I wanted to take my dog with me but I’m not sure if it would be possible to take him everywhere with me, and I’m not sure if it’s fair on him. So I don’t know if it will actually go ahead. I want it to happen, and it’s probably what I need (independence-wise) at this point in my life, but I’m paralysed by the fear of everything that could possibly go wrong.

I’m not sure if I’ve made any progress with learning to smile. A while ago, a guy at work (who doesn’t work in my department) sarcastically said “You’re always smiling, aren’t you?” He’s commented on that about three times now. I wanted to tell him to piss off. I suppose he probably just wanted me to smile but I don’t see why he has to do it in such an annoying way. Do I have to be some shiny, happy, smiling person all of the time? Do I need the permission of David Cameron** or the Queen to look sad or worried for even a second? Maybe he was trying to be funny, but I find that I often have a sense of humour bypass when I’m anxious. It’s difficult to see the humour in things when you’re incredibly tense, or even terrified. I would probably find those things funny if I was in a relaxed state, but I tend to act like an awkward idiot if someone tries to make a joke when I’m anxious. I can’t be the only one that this happens to, right? In addition to having a sense of humour bypass, I feel that I’m constantly making an idiot of myself due to my anxiety. I’ll stutter over my words or they won’t come out right, or they’ll come out like word vomit. When I’m working, this happens so many times in a day that I’ve barely had time to think about one instance of being awkward when another one comes along. My inner critic is constantly shouting “You are such an idiot!” I thought I had been able to master not blushing, but it happens a lot when I’m at work, often for no apparent reason. This only serves to make me feel even more awkward and embarrassed.

** Speaking of David Cameron, who the hell keeps voting for the Conservatives!? 

Like talking to people who have authority over me, another thing that I find really difficult is saying no to people. I’m a bit of a people pleaser and don’t like to let other people down or annoy them, but work is making me so tired that this is becoming unhealthy. This is my first day off in a week because I agreed to go in on both of my (planned) days off and also agreed to start at 5am on Sunday morning in order to help the nightshift people, despite my insomnia. This of course meant that people asked why I hadn’t gone out drinking the night before. I know this is terrible (though it doesn’t hurt anyone) but I’ve become an almost compulsive liar when it comes to things like this. I told them that I’d gone out drinking at [insert one of the very few pubs that I’ve been to in my life] the night before. I’ve become so good at making things up in situations like this. The truth often seems too pathetic to tell anyone (I never go out anywhere, except to walk the dog or go cycling on my own). So I just tell people what they want/ expect to hear. I’m worried about people seeing through that.

One thing that has been bothering me is that during the interview for the job, we had to fill out health questionnaires. One of the questions asked if we had a condition (with anxiety being the example) that would make it difficult for us to deal with difficult/ angry customers. Fearing discrimination, I lied and said no. I hope that won’t come back to bite me. To be fair, it’s amazing how high-functioning I am at work, given how severe my anxiety is.

Anyway…I’m sorry if you found this post really…

IMG_0673-950c39

I apologise for my awful puns and for spewing my word vomit all over your screens. As I’ve said, work has me feeling so worn out at the moment that – much like a sleeping bottlenose dolphin (going off on an animal biology geek tangent) – I feel as if I’m functioning on half a brain. I realise that this probably sounds pathetic, but anxiety and sleep deprivation do take a lot out of me. I’m also sorry that I probably sounded really grumpy throughout this post. I wish I had more time to write all the posts I’ve been wanting to write, and that I could sleep better so that the quality of my posts could be far better than the utter dross that I have just dumped here.

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4 Responses to If I had a pound…

  1. Mike says:

    Gemma, please start your CBT therapy again, it’s the best thing you could do for yourself! As I was reading your post I found so many things I could relate to from the days of my social anxiety:
    – how to speak normally, when your throat feels as if gripped by a vice?
    – the inability to smile
    – constant, negative thoughts
    – additional awkwardness around people with authority
    – no social life…
    All of the above belonged to my reality just 4-5 years ago. And today here are I am, just having returned from a trip with work colleagues, where I sang by the bonfire at the top of my lungs, and looking forward to another getaway weekend of constant partying with my best friend.
    And do you know what I feel right now? Only excitement! I am excited about things that would have me implode just a few years ago. And it’s been only possible because I didn’t give up with my therapy and followed with additional lifestyle changes.
    You can have the life of your dreams (and by that I do not mean the life of Robinson Cruzoe on an uninhabited island, as many social phobics do), I mean being able to enjoy and have pleasure from every single thing that scares you right now.
    I wish you all the best and hope you’ll keep on with your therapy, because I KNOW you can be a different person

    • Gemma says:

      Hello Mike. Thank you for your comment. I’ve started reading another CBT-based self-help book, and I’m also considering purchasing a 25-week audio CBT programme which is specifically tailored to social anxiety disorder, by an expert on the condition. If possible, could you tell me more about how you recovered from social anxiety disorder? I’ve read your blog but could you include more information on the CBT programme that you worked on/ the techniques that you used? Unfortunately, I can find no one within a reasonable distance of where I live who specialises in social anxiety disorder. And NHS psychologists/ psychiatrists (at least, the ones I’ve seen) don’t know enough about it to be of much more help than if you were doing CBT alone. I hate that SA is so poorly understood by even mental health professionals as it would probably help a lot to have an outside perspective on my thoughts and beliefs. I suppose group therapy may help me with that. Do you think it would be possible to overcome social anxiety (to the point of being able to function in society and form friendships/ relationships) without seeing a mental health professional?

      Thanks again for your comment. I’m glad that things have improved so much for you. 🙂

  2. Mike says:

    Hey Gemma, it’s good to hear that you are not going to surrender and keep on with your CBT programmes. As to your question about my treatment – I was doing the therapy with a certified CBT therapist, it had a form of weekly meetings and lasted for a year. My therapist didn’t actually specialise in social anxiety – her specialization was CBT and its application to a wide set of psychological disorders, social anxiety among them. Nevertheless, she was able to help me, or to put it more precisely – she was able to put me on the road to full recovery.

    And that’s because after a year of therapy my anxiety did not disappear, it just became managable to the point where I was able to face the challenges of work and social life. In the year after the therapy I did lots of things for the first time in my life, and although they were stressful I could see myself changing for the better and becoming a different person.

    If you could overcome social anxiety on your own? I don’t know. But I would recommend that you seek for a specialist, and not so much because of that person knowledge but because of his or her perspective on your inner world and the empathy they can offer. And I think being able to speak honestly about your most intimate and shameful problems to a human being will also give you a lot. I remember how very difficult it was for me to open up, how I would at times just freeze and feel the anxiety flame up in me – and this was the safest of settings, with somebody I could trust and who was there to help me. So it was very valuable in itself, learning to speak about my problems openly for the first time in my life.

    What’s pretty amazing is that right now I could talk about my social anxiety to any stranger (and I had!) and not feel much – it’s all in my past and I accept it fully.

    I’m sorry to hear that you have no CBT specialists anywhere near you, but even if you’d have to drive 2h to see one – DO IT! I’ve experienced myself how amazing and liberating the results can be, and I think it’s totally worth every effort.

    • Gemma says:

      What did you find most helpful about your CBT treatment? After my previous experiences with psychologists and psychiatrists, I don’t hold out much hope of seeing one who will actually understand and be knowledgeable about social anxiety disorder/ be helpful. But I might try seeing a private therapist if the CBT programme/ group therapy/ self-help books don’t help me.

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