All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

S.A.D (Social Anxiety Disorder)

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Social Anxiety Disorder is something very few people know anything about. It is a mythical, mysterious entity, which is most likely to be the figment of someone’s imagination than anything real and painful. Alas, it is real, and like many mental illnesses is contributing to the destruction of so many people’s lives.

This post was originally written on the 14 & 15 November 2007 and was the first time I’d ever really attempted to write about the one thing which has caused more problems than anything.

Any idea what that means? Well, here are some possibilities:

bereaved, bitter, blue, cheerless, dejected, depressed, despairing, despondent, disonsolate, dismal, distressed, doleful, down, downcast, forlorn, gloomy, glum, grief-stricken, grieved, heartbroken, heartsick, heavy hearted, hurting, in doldrums, in grief, languishing, low, low-spirited, lugubrious, melancholy, morbid, morose, mournful, pensive, pessimistic, somber, sorrowful, sorry, troubled, unhappy, weeping, wistful, woebegone

Which one did you go for?

I’ve bolded my own personal favourite – such a lovely word that one.

Just out of curiosity did anyone actually notice the trick in this deliberately slippy question? Be honest now, how many of you read that I was asking what sad meant?

Now, how many of you noticed that what I actually asked was, what S.A.D meant? Notice the wee little full stops :) You have now, excellent, because in order to understand where my depression came from you need to know what this lovely little acronym means.

Part I: What is it?

About eighteen months ago I went to the cinema with someone. Unfortunately we were unable to see the film due to an extravagantly confusing serious of events involving a fake voucher and an angry beaver, so we in fact ended up wandering the casino watching all those fondlers, spankers and strokers before heading into gay old Melbourne town looking for somewhere to eat and have an intoxicating beverage or two.

All however was not well this evening, as a few days before we had had a slight barny via text message (singularly the most heinous form of communication ever introduced) and neither of us were talking about it. It was kinda hanging in the air between us, so thick and juicy you could have de-cored it with an apple…umm…decorer.

Have absolutely no doubt that, much like everything that happened between my (ex)friends and me this year [as discussed in this this previous post]; it was my fault.

We ended up in a rather crass 24hr bar sandwiched between an adult bookstore and a backpacker hostel where we gathered together our potato chips and wine and kinda sat in agitated silence until she – always she – broached the subject first.

What resulted over the following few hours was the most humbling, embarrassing and humiliating experience of my life.

You see, generally, I know – I just KNOW – when I am going to have a panic attack, I can feel them coming, feel them welling up inside me. When they do either of two things will happen:

1) I’ll spend a good fifteen-twenty minutes doing nothing that is in any way confronting or panic inducing, this way I can control my breathing, go to my safe happy places and control them.
2) A panic attack will vomit out of my soul at such speed and power it will be like my entire mind and body has just been run over by a super high speed locomotive leaving me incapable of doing anything bar sweating, shaking, trembling, crying and stuttering for at least two hours.

So what do you reckon happened here? Of course! We’ll find that out soon…

…first, let us explain what S.A.D is for those not in the know.

Social Anxiety Disorder is ‘a persistent fear of one or more situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others and fears that he or she may do something or act in a way that will be humiliating or embarrassing. It exceeds normal “shyness” as it leads to excessive social avoidance and substantial social or occupational impairment.’ [1]

You see this depression – all this anxiety, despair, self harm, suicide attempts, loneliness – began with a disorder that, basically, makes it virtually impossible for me to talk to anyone confidently. Any type of social interaction, especially small groups, dating, parties, friends, talking to strangers, restaurants, etc. are incredibly difficult for me to deal with.

Over the course of this year I have backtracked through my entire life to work out where all of this depression began, hoping to identify the key events in my life to try and understand everything better. I worked this out to be three events, three regrets (which I mentioned previously here), which had I acted differently, would see me currently the happier side of dandy – instead of battling through all of this depression and agonising pain on a daily basis.

It all began in 1993. Fact! No question in my mind!The one thing, the one regret which started everything, was I did not say “Hey, you’re bloody cute, wanna go to the cinema sometime?”

That’s it.

The fear – the absolute mind numbing fear that I have never been able to explain to anyone ever and make them understand – of saying that sentence to one person, the cutest girl at my High School, is why I am here fighting this fight.

The fear was beyond shyness! So before any of you go, well he was just a shy schoolboy, shouldn’t matter. NO! No no no no nooooooo!

There is a difference between shyness and S.A.D, with the latter come the glory of: your mind going completely blank, fast heartbeat, blushing, stomach ache and your thoughts are often self-defeating and inaccurate on a level you can never understand until you have felt it. You literally have trouble being in a room with people, let alone a room with a woman that you want to ask out.

So that’s what started it all. Shyness at first, leading to S.A.D, leading to chronic depression, leading us to the potential nightmare of a public panic attack in front of a friend…

Part II: My Experiences

So, there we were in a rather crass 24hr bar sandwiched between an adult bookstore and a backpacker hostel where we gathered together our potato chips and wine and kinda sat in agitated silence until she – always she – broached the subject first. What resulted over the following few hours was the most humbling, embarrassing and humiliating experience of my life. You see, generally, I know – I just KNOW – when I am going to have a panic attack, I can feel them coming, feel them welling up inside me. When they do I either of two things will happen:

1) I’ll spend a good fifteen-twenty minutes doing nothing that is in any way confronting or panic inducing, this way I can control my breathing, go to my safe happy places and control them.
2) A panic attack will vomit out of my soul at such speed and power it will be like my entire mind and body has just been run over my a super high speed locomotive leaving me incapable of doing anything bar sweating, shaking, trembling, crying and stuttering for at least two hours.

That panic attack vomited onto the table between the wine glasses and potato chips at such velocity I’m sure she thought I was having some kind of seizure. Well, most likely the words – sad pathetic little man – were swimming around her head, closely followed by – gotta get me the hell away from this one!

For those of you who have had the good fortune to not experience a panic attack you won’t be able to fully comprehend the utter devastated humiliation I was feeling. Having a panic attack is hard enough, let alone having one in front of a friend who respects you. You just DO NOT want them to see you like this, as they will never again look at you in the same way.

From memory, it took me about an hour to fully get this attack under control. This included running to the bathroom to hyperventilate and have a good cry, followed by several glasses of wine and half a bag of potato chips.

She never did look at me in the same way again. I had lost her respect forever.

The reason I had a panic attack on that day was simple – I was trying to have a conversation with a woman. That’s all. I wasn’t about to face a Chimera in to-the-death combat armed with only a squirrel. I wasn’t standing naked in a room full of Japanese businesswoman relying the benefits of an unsound economy. I was merely trying to have a conversation with a woman, granted the conversation was of a slightly touchy nature, but still, a panic attack happened. All I had to say, at any point, that evening was: “Hey, Cb, ’bout those text messages…”

But nope, instead, I had a goddamned panic attack because I could not say one sentence.

As I said in the last post, this has always been a huge problem for me.

My battles to control S.A.D began in my late teens where I made a concerted effort to overcome self-harm and sort myself out. They raged through my time working at a video shop where, after yet another crush on a woman I couldn’t talk to, literally plastered 56 notes all around my bedroom saying “Just Fucking Phone Her You Wanker!!!!!!!” [2]

The I decided on the greatest challenge I had ever faced; backpacking! If anything was going to help me overcome S.A.D this was it, and it kinda worked for a while, met lots of great people, had lots of great times, but when the crux came to actually starting a conversation or telling them something important, emotional or anything about me I panicked and had to metaphorically leg it to stop that panic attack from hitting. Either that or cower on the couch hiding behind the battle of Culloden.

So, wanna laugh? Here are some pretty embarrassing facts:

1) Going to a party takes me approximately 14 days to prepare for, any less time, then I will either bail or go – and have an anxiously unhappy night. The least amount of notice I ever had for a party was about four hours but rather than refuse I gave it a shot. You have to try, you have to pretend you are okay for people to want to be your friend, hell, you have to pretend for you. And out of every single party I have ever been to I was, for about an hour feeling awesome; then I ended up having a glass of champagne thrown over my head and the night collapsed into an orgy of tears, panic attacks and anxiety of a level I had never experienced.
I think I’ve only been to two parties since then. I failed at both.

2) Going to dinner/lunch with friends, maybe 7 days notice to prepare myself for.

3) Job interview; 5-7 days.

4) Casual night out with friends; that’s 7-8 days.

5) Date; 4 weeks – easy, which kinda takes me out the game, doesn’t it! ;)

I could go on and on, basically anything which requires social interaction for me is as painful as a woman in labour for say – a month. But, by fuck, I have always tried – and there’s not a goddamn one of you can tell me otherwise!!!!

When I look back on everything I was doing to try and overcome this, I am so proud of every achievement that I made. So proud of myself for going backpacking, so proud of myself on the times when I’ve invited friends round, so proud of myself that night I went to the party with only a few hours notice (even if it ended badly) because I was frequently standing up and slapping the fear out of my system because I knew I needed to beat this part of me in order to overcome my depression.

I needed to be able to say to that woman in the 24hr bar: “Hey, wanna hear something kinky, eh?” without hours, days, weeks, months of building my confidence up before hand.

No-one can respect you, or like you, or want to be your friend if you have a panic attack at the mere thought of a conversation. If you can’t talk to people happily, you don’t deserve friends.

[Yet another catch 22 there; how do you become more confident to talk, if no-one is there to talk to?]

YOU HAVE TO TRY.

“NEVER STOP FIGHTING TIL THE FIGHT IS WON.” That’s what sexy Kevin said.

…or until you realise there is absolutely no point because no-one really notices your win anyway, then that little S.A.D riddled mind convinces you of the same thing. Square one.

I said in an earlier post that I had beaten my depression into remission earlier on this year. I had, before I had a conversation with the doctor in mid February, never felt more confident about myself and my abilities, I was trying to start conversations with only a few moments of thought before hand (rather than the usual few months), I was eager to get to know friends better, make new friends and assured that the one thing I knew would help more than anything (i.e college) was right there and waiting…happiness at last :)

“Mwaaaa, ha ha haaaaaa – quack!” said the rather malicious duck.

All that work, years of work, collapsed! My confidence took a huge battering – which for someone afflicted with S.A.D is a huuuugeeeee problem, as that’s what is causing the fear! Breakdown. Why bother? What’s point? But ya know, I tried…

“Mwaaaa, ha, ha haaaaaaa – ribbet,” chorused the equally malicious frog.

…now, five months of constant psychological abuse (including: boring, tragic, negative, unpassionate, uninspiring, weak, unspontanious blah blah blah shut up!) and five months of loneliness/battling my confidence is now at a level that is weaker than when I was trying to ask the cutest girl in High School out.

Basically, the reason I’m finding it so hard to overcome this period of depression and S.A.D more than any other point in the last ten years, is because every thing I did to make myself the person I wanted to be in those ten years – amounted to nothing. I have to start from scratch, and however strong I feel sometimes, however much energy and passion bubbles away within me, I have to wonder what the point is.

Coming so close to achieving a ten year dream and have it all fall apart in a matter of weeks!

F – A – I – L – U – R – E

Why bother?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Take it away Buffster…

Angel: Look, I’m weak. I’ve never been anything else. It’s not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It’s the man.
Buffy: You’re weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it’s because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster. Angel, please, the sun is coming up!
Angel: Just go.
Buffy: I won’t!
Angel: What, do you think this is simple? You think there’s an easy answer? You can never understand what I’ve done! Now go!
Buffy: You are not staying here. I won’t let you!
Angel: I said LEAVE!
Buffy: No! No!
Angel: Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!
Buffy: What about me? I love you so much… And I tried to make you go away… I killed you and it didn’t help And I hate it! I hate that it’s so hard… and that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don’t. I can’t.
Angel: Buffy, please. Just this once… let me be strong.
Buffy: Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do. And we can do it together. But if you’re too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can’t convince you that you belong in this world, then I don’t know what can. But do not expect me to watch. And don’t expect me to mourn for you, because…

Remember those words from the pen of the almighty Joss Whedon: Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do.

Remember them always. Because along with one other quote [3], I say them to myself daily, as they do kinda help.

Addenum

(written on 14 November 2007)

Okay.
Ya got me.
Sticking my hands up in air whilst brandishing a cheeky grin.

One of my kind readers has pointed out that S.A.D is also an acronym for seasonal affective disorder, so if ya came to these posts expecting commentary on this – I, ummm – hope you at least enjoyed the malicious duck line.

I don’t suffer from this version of S.A.D – I in fact suffer from reverse S.A.D, as I seem to be far more at home in the cold dank darkness than I am the glaring sunshine. Quite unlucky actually, as you don’t often get to see women and their beautiful bottoms wearing bikinis in the cold dank darkness.

Which is a shame when you think about it.

[and hey, why name two disorders with the same acronym, isn’t mental health confusing enough as it is?]

———-
[1] …taken from Wikepedia
[2]…which I did, and she wasn’t there, so got really annoyed because for the first time ever I’d phoned a woman up with the intention to ask her out. Stupid thing is, when I went to work that afternoon she was there on her day off grabbing a video, and I didn’t ask her, despite having a perfect opportunity because by then the confidence had dissipated and the fear had grown back.
[3]…”Elton! Fetch me a spade.” Ahhh, classic.

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One thought on “S.A.D (Social Anxiety Disorder)

  1. “…inaccurate on a level you can never understand until you have felt it. “I know how you feel…I found out a year ago that I have SAD, I thought it was merely shyness at first but then it got worse and lead to depression and now feel like i’m locked in a dark cave where I just want to break out and be free!!

    Like

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