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…

The impact of anxiety: #01. Commenting

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As I explained in this recent post, writing has become a casualty of my current depressive episode, and as such I can only apologise for the lack of posts in recent months.

Without any real support fighting these episodes has become increasingly more difficult. What worked five years ago no longer has any effect or I simply don’t have access to anymore, but I need to continue pushing back toward stability. The next red mark on my calendar is swiftly approaching (October 11) and I dread what may happen if I can’t attain a better head space before then.

Part of that pushing comes in the form of trying to blog on a daily basis again. Over the months I’ve been away I’ve missed indulging in my own form of wacky therapy. No matter how bad my writing gets when I can’t focus properly, it’s better than not writing anything at all (cue the Lord Byron quote!)

Another part of working toward this better head space is attacking the parts of my being that cause the most problems. Namely the anxiety that has crippled me since I was a child and overtook my being courtesy of the abuse, not the crazy shifts of mood bipolar thrusts upon me.

I wrote a little of my anxiety back in the early months of this blog, but this series deals primarily with individual aspects of life that my anxiety has affected; past, present and future.

Today I look at something most people take for granted; commenting on newspapers, blogs and websites.

The Past…

When I was growing up I had no problem sending my opinion(s) to national publications:

At the age of 9 I sent a detailed letter to Blue Peter regarding the school garden we had created at my school. This letter was read and I become the humble recipient of a green Blue Peter badge (Brits will understand the magnitude of this!)

At the age of 13 I wrote a series of hints, tips and walk-throughs for the video game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past that were published in an issue of a video game magazine I cannot recall the name of.

At the age of 16, a letter and quote I sent to Doctor Who Magazine was published, albeit with a misspelling of my surname.

At the age of 22, I had a comment published in a local newspaper, the first of many over the coming decade.

At the age of 30, an opinion piece I wrote and randomly sent to a local newspaper was published.

At the age of 31, I stopped.

Now, I cannot comment on newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites without suffering a major panic attack. The reason being quite simple; throughout my emotionally abusive relationship I was frequently insulted, criticized, attacked and publicly humiliated for sharing my opinions, so now, I fear a reprisal of the pain these incidents caused.

On one occasion I had a full glass of water poured over my head in a crowded restaurant on New Year’s Day for expressing a preference of one actor over another. There was no conversation following my voicing of this opinion, no questions or rebuttal. As soon as the name was spoken she picked up her glass and poured it over my head in full view of dozens of diners, staff and random people sneaking in to use the bathroom. After the incident I did as I was supposed to do; say nothing, share nothing and always ensure that what I was saying was what she wanted to hear for fear of further humiliation.

On another occasion, following a four hour monologue (I cannot call it a conversation as she said nothing throughout my talking) everything I’d shared with her was instantly disregarded with “That’s never gonna happen,” and “You’re just wrong.” Over the following months the information I’d shared with her was regularly raised whilst on trams, trains, walking through crowded shopping centers and street festivals. Never in private. The public forum, given the intensely personal and intimate nature of the information, was intensely humiliating as judgmental eyes and random comments were leveled at me from complete strangers.

On other random occasions comments and opinions I shared (even if they were true facts or a view shared by herself) were instantly shot down with numerous insults ranging from “you’re evil” to “no wonder you never went to college” to “you’re the most worthless human being I’ve ever met” to “yep, you’re gonna fail at college” – none of which being spoken with irony, sarcasm or humorous intent.

So over time I learned to shut the frak up. From actresses, film and television to my viewpoint on social and political issues to personal feelings, fantasies and desires, I made sure that whatever I said would meet with her approval, and thus, reduce the chance of humiliation and abuse.

The Present…

This self-sabotaging strategy of protection has continued ever since, aside from the odd random manic/hypomanic state where I can’t stop myself. Now that I’m homeless, a lifestyle that doesn’t exactly lend itself to being taken seriously, I don’t share any opinion in any forum outside of my control.

This week, for the first time in over a year, and only the third time since 2009, I did.

For the army of largely anonymous commentators (and trolls) who comment on a half-hourly basis, this sounds laughable, but for someone whose life has been annihilated by abuse, anxiety, and mental health, it was a big victory for me, despite the journey to the comment being littered with hazards and panic attacks.

I first read the article on Monday 13 August – the day it was published – and after reading both it and the report it discussed, began writing a three paragraph comment, prompted by the fact I am intimately acquainted with the topic being discussed; namely, homelessness.

I scrutinized each and every line ensuring there was no grammatical or spelling errors that I could locate. Every five minutes I rewrote individual sentences and entire paragraphs, removing any point that could prove contentious. After four hours my initial impassioned comment on the state of homelessness in Australia had morphed into a comment that was cold, emotionless and safe. Before clicking the ‘Post Comment’ button I quickly switched off the computer and ran from the room.

The mere thought of someone – anyone – criticizing my opinion, as had been the case throughout the relationship, was too great for me to go through with.

For the next seven days I read and re-read the article, constantly pondering whether I should write my comment again, let alone post it.

On Sunday 26 August I spent ten hours working on a new comment before deleting it.

On Tuesday 28 August, I spent another five hours writing yet another variation of the comment, before once again having a panic attack and erasing it from existence.

By Wednesday 29 August, my mind had been totally consumed by this bloody comment. It was now a week and a half since the article had been published. It was no longer being read, consigned to the graveyard of online journalism for the rest of eternity. But a strange determination had overpowered me.

So, I sat down, and for another four hours (making the total spent on this ‘project’ now 23 hours!) I wrote yet another variation of my initial comment – only now it had been written and rewritten so many times it was soulless, lacking in passion and as safe as a man wrapped in bubble wrap visiting a bubble wrap factory.

So I posted it

…and promptly had a panic attack!

The Future…

The thought that my opinion – albeit a heavily diluted one – is out there makes my skin crawl. Such a heightened emotional reaction to something as simple as writing a comment makes me think I won’t be doing it again in the near future, but I know I must if I ever hope to bring myself back from the brink and achieve a state of mind where I’m no longer controlled by this insidious anxiety.

So this week I hope to leave two comments and the week after that, three, and then four…until I finally feel comfortable enough doing it whenever the urge takes me. That’s the plan anyway, so hopefully any of the myriad of sites I try to visit for my news and opinion will write something that stirs my soul enough to concoct a comment, otherwise this personal challenge will amount to nought.

Tomorrow…The impact of anxiety: #2. Education >>>

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4 thoughts on “The impact of anxiety: #01. Commenting

  1. I just wanted to say thank you for these posts on social anxiety. Sometimes I feel like no one understands. I’m currently trying to get my boyfriend to understand why I can’t act the way he wants me to. I shall have him read these articles and hope that he gets an understanding that social anxiety isn’t something I made up.

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    • Thanks for your comment! :) I’m glad you enjoyed my series on social anxiety. Having suffered from the illness for longer than I can reasonably remember, I know only too well how difficult it is to explain the condition to friends/family, in fact whenever I attempted to explain it to my exes, my words were met with confusion and disbelief. Hopefully your boyfriend will react differently, as support from those close to us is one of the best treatments in dealing with any mental illness, let alone social anxiety! :)

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  2. This resonates with me so much.
    I read reddit all the time but never comment with anything but the safest, most uncontroversial input.
    Just today I actually stretched to voicing an opinion on something and it was just like you describe: endless re-reading and rewriting to sanitise my post and safeguard against any disagreement or criticism. And since I posted it I’ve felt terrified; tight in the chest, restless, unable to concentrate on anything else. I’m just terrified that someone might argue with me.
    In fact I found your blog because I was googling “anxiety of sharing opinions” or something similar.

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  3. Hi there, I really appreciate your funny and eloquent portrayal of social anxiety. Your ability to navigate your way through your experience with such intelligence and insight is very valuable. I have social anxiety and bipolar 2 and the anxiety is the most enduring and pervasive of the 2. I so often find I have absolutely nothing to say as my brain runs constant mental interference and there is no room for unrelated thought. I don’t know that I believe my relationship with the human race can evolve into something less fraught and dangerous, but reading your blog makes me feel less alone, so thank you.

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