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…


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Social anxiety disorder and its impact on building relationships

The reason that I have no friends is simple.

I’m just not a good enough human being to have people in my life. I am, amongst other things; selfish, ungrateful, narcissistic, uncaring, weak, worthless, grotesque, uncompassionate and evil. My voice inflicts pain on everyone I talk to. My body makes people want to vomit. My mind is that of a repulsive freak that brings pain and terror to people’s lives.

Or at least this is what my abuser convinced myself, and others, was the reason I should live an isolated life.

The real reason that I have no friends is slightly more complicated.

I suffer from social anxiety disorder; arguably the least understood anxiety disorder.

Social Anxiety Disorder (in a nutshell)

“Social anxiety is the fear of social situations and the interaction with other people that can automatically bring on feelings of self-consciousness, judgment, evaluation, and inferiority.

Put another way, social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.”

Source: The Social Anxiety Network

The most common feature of social anxiety is a constant, intense anxiety that does not go away. An anxiety that manifests itself physiologically with symptoms including: intense fear, racing heart, turning red or blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling, swallowing with difficulty, and muscle twitches.

Like most people who suffer from anxiety disorders, someone suffering from social anxiety knows their anxiety is irrational. But knowing something is very different from believing it. Deep in my heart I know I’m none of the things my abuser called me, but her relentless, repetitive abuse made me believe that everything I listed above is who I am. Her words persist in my mind regardless of what I do to counteract them, in much the same way that social anxiety persists, despite facing the fears on a daily basis.

There are seven situations in which someone suffering from social anxiety will experience significant emotional distress. I have, throughout my life, experienced each of these on multiple occasions – each leading to a reduced level of functioning, especially in the arena of building friendships and relationships.

1. Being introduced to other people

Any childhood memories of being introduced to new people have dissolved into the sands of time, but when I was a teenager – when meeting new people is a prerequisite to be accepted – it was immensely difficult for me. When I joined my new school after moving from Scotland to Wales it took me a long time to start talking to people, with the difficulty increasing to the point of avoidance after my mental health issues took hold.

A similar situation arose when I began backpacking in 1999, with many evenings spent quietly observing the other residents of the hostel, both envious of their ability to engage and angry at my own insecurities. Only when they started talking to me did I begin to communicate, for as with every friend and relationship I’ve ever had, I’ve never had enough control of my anxiety to make the first move.

As with many areas of social anxiety, this inability to communicate often translates to those who don’t understand as a form of snobbish behavior, with many people deciding I thought myself ‘too good’ to be talking to such ‘peasants’ – when in reality it’s the exact opposite. My anxiety drives me to believe I’m not good enough as a person to be around such vibrant, wonderful individuals.

All throughout my life – being introduced to Louise’s friends upon arriving in Australia, various parties attended throughout those years, having to meet new contacts or prospective employees in various jobs, joining social networking sites in the hope to make new friends, contacting organisations to assist in mental health and/or homelessness issues – whenever there is the threat or reality of meeting new people I withdraw into my shell like a terrified turtle.

2. Being teased or criticized

Ever since being bullied at school, which I believe to be a fundamental cause of my anxiety, this is my second biggest fear in the world. I know only too well that words can hurt – at times, far more than sticks and stones.

Although it is something we all fear – being social creatures, we want people to like us – this becomes a major issue when someone actively avoids communication over fear of the perceived inevitable criticism. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be too difficult to realize how it can affect building friendships and relationships.

Unfortunately, as has been written many times in the past, just as I was beginning to get a handle on this irrational fear and open up to both friends and strangers, I ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship.

And that is the worst thing that can happen to someone with social anxiety disorder!

3. Being the center of attention

Given that I’m a rather pointless human being who has achieved virtually nothing of note this has never been a huge issue for me. The thought of being the center of attention scares me to the point that I tend to deflect, play down or hide my achievements.

For example:

One of my few moments of pride was the work I produced managing a backpacker hostel many years ago. Although my abuser erased that pride with numerous vicious comments regarding this period (and what I believed to be achievements) I’ve always remembered being the center of attention at my leaving BBQ and the increasing panic that grew in the lead up to my inevitable speech. My words became muddled, my mouth dried and I made myself look like a twat in front of management and staff.

Also, when I had my short story and opinion piece published in 2009 I wrote both under a pseudonym and sent copies to only one person. I never told anyone else for fear of, momentarily, being the center of attention.

4. Being watched while doing something

My first girlfriend became increasingly frustrated that I’d never write when she was around. She thought I was being elusive and hiding something sinister, where in actual fact, I just can’t write when people are watching me.

The same goes for other areas of my life. I wrote recently of how my fear of being watched on stage ultimately led to me turning down Theatre at A-Level. When I was at a college, I would often head to the darkroom outside of hours as I functioned much better when alone. Even work I undertook at the hostel was easier when people weren’t watching me.

The downside to this is that it leads to all sorts of problems when trying to form relationships. Such behavior makes me appear to be a weird loner, secretive, unable to work as part of a team, and untrustworthy – whereas in reality, the opposite applies.

5. Meeting people in authority (“important people”)

Meeting or being in situations involving important people are guaranteed to freak me out. The usual suspects apply:

Police: although I have never committed a crime nor been arrested in any way shape or form.
Judiciary: again, despite never having encountered them, anyone associated with the law freaks me out.
Management: I will explore this in more detail in a later entry to the series.
David Tennant: never met him – would probably pass out if I did!

But in my mind, there are others:

Librarians: being the guardians of knowledge, librarians have always been intimidating and prone to cause me anxiety.
Academics: a recent comment on The Conversation stated that an interview from an academic was less ferocious than an interview from a journalist. Personally, I would choose an interview from a journalist any day of the year, as I fear whip-smart academics far more than journalists!
Psychiatrists: Arg! Why can’t they just understand I get tongue-tied and confused because I’m being placed in a vulnerable, potentially humiliating situation? If they did, I might not be insane as I am!
Doctors: see psychiatrists above!
Dentists: ditto.
Editors: perhaps because my grasp of grammar would most likely cause even the most kind-natured of editors to spank and send me to the naughty corner, perhaps because I simply envy them, editors are the supreme authority figure to this aspiring writer and therefore…runaway!

6. Most social encounters, especially with strangers

When most people think of social encounters they think of parties, or meeting up with friends, few take it the next logical step to be any encounter where social interaction may occur.

There have been times in my life where I have deliberately starved myself rather than walk to the supermarket to buy food.

One time, whilst homeless, I saved for months to secure a motel room but, because I couldn’t bear speaking to the receptionist on that particular day, lost my money by simply not arriving.

As for pre-arranged social encounters, nothing compares to the anxiety surrounding these. If I go I usually end up being so anxious I can’t tell the difference between a Bordeaux and a Claret and spend the entire evening saying nothing but the occasional, incoherent, gargle. If I don’t go, it’s because the anxiety has become so severe I suffer a crippling panic attack and spend the evening flagellating myself for being so weak and worthless. Either way, the chances of meeting new people, are non-existent.

7. Going around the room (or table) in a circle and having to say something

I hated this at school. I hated it at work experience. I hated it at training seminars. I hated it at first aid classes. I hated it at college. I don’t think I will ever not hate it.

When I had to do it at school I’d become tongue-tied and confused; the resulting mumble, oft ridiculed for months afterwards. At work experience (at the age of 15) I was so nervous I admitted – long before Eccleston, Tennant and Smith made the show must-see television – that I was a Doctor Who fan; the laughter still haunts me to this day.

By the time I began training seminars I hated this moment so much I would ‘accidentally’ miss my train or ‘accidentally’ get a flat tyre purely to arrive late and avoid this cruel hell. Ditto for first aid classes.

As for college, I tried for days to talk to my girlfriend about my fear of this moment in the hope I would receive some understanding, but whenever I did she attacked, knocking my self-esteem so much that on the first night I fumbled my way through my introduction, mixed the names of my favourite film directors (annoyingly, David Fincher and David Mackenzie became Fincher Mackenzie and David David) and accidentally told the class my name was Mitchell. I still don’t know where that came from!

In a world where first impressions are the only thing that matters, fudging this moment immediately puts me on the back foot. Rather than making an impression that creates ‘I want to get to know this guy’ feelings it becomes the other way around.

This, for the most part, is the story of my life.

No matter what effort I make to overcome this aspect of my life I never seem to be able to get a proper handle on it. It is possible to overcome social anxiety disorder – as I mentioned, I would have got there had it not been for an abusive relationship – but the surest way of doing so is through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Unfortunately I’ve never been able to access this particular holy grail of anxiety therapy. My aversion to psychiatrists (I have yet to meet one who seems to grasp the impact this anxiety has on me) means I am left fighting this without support; my anxiety too severe and my life too isolated to navigate the system to obtain effective treatment.

This isn’t to say I’ve given up.

However hopeless and difficult social anxiety may be – it is beatable!

Previous articles in this series:

Tomorrow: Anxiety and its impact on employment >>>


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Anxiety and its effect on body image

Author’s Note: I would *love* to include photographs of myself in this post to illustrate a part of my body image anxiety, which is that I do not see myself properly. People tell me I’m handsome and attractive, with a 34 waist and fair muscle definition but I see myself as a grotesque animal with a bloated size 44+ frame that makes people vomit upon glimpsing me. Unfortunately, my anxiety over my appearance prevents me from photographing myself either clothed or naked, let alone posting them online for all to ridicule. Hence the pixellation whenever I do post an old photograph of myself!

When the issue of body image arises people tend to think it the exclusive domain of the female gender; the sexualisation of young girls, the teenager struggling to accept herself, the woman instantly disbelieving her boyfriend the moment he says ‘no’ to her doubts over various body parts.

Rarely is body image seen as a problem that men struggle with. Over the years I’ve been in Australia, a country obsessed with appearance and physical shape, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard comments like: “men don’t care what they look like”, “men don’t see that they’re morbidly obese, they just believe themselves to be perfect” or “men don’t worry about how chubby their arse is”.

The simple fact is, some do; and I’m one of them.

Once upon a time I purchased a new pair of jeans. They were a pretty awesome pair of jeans, easily the most expensive I’d ever brought, and I thought they made me look pretty darn hot. Upon arriving home and modeling them for my then girlfriend I asked her the question she’d asked me approximately 38.6 times in the four months we’d been together: “Does my bum look big in this?”

She said, “Kindof, but then you only have half an arse anyway,”

“Half an arse?”

“Yep. Half is pretty sexy. The other half…ick,”

If I’d answered along those lines I wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near her splendiferous backside for many moons. But as men aren’t supposed to be hung up on body image, I wasn’t supposed to take it seriously. Unfortunately, I did, because I’ve been hung up on what I look like since I was but a young bairn rolling around in the mud in some distant Scottish village.

The Early Years

An overweight child at school will always be a prime target for bullying. If you don’t believe me, check out any news article published on the issue of obesity and take a stroll through the comments fields. The insulting terms that get thrown around in those adult forums are nothing compared to what goes on in the school yard. During those long school bound years I was called every name you can possibly think of for fat people; from the obvious (Lazy, Fatty, Fatso, Pooh, Michelin Man, Stay Puft) to the not so obvious (Feltzy, Dr Eggman)

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that it was during these formative years my issues with my weight and body began, especially when you consider my sister’s reaction. Diagnosed with anorexia at age eleven, her illness manifested itself into believing my fat was contagious, and thus, she could not have anything to do with me. No contact, no talking, no being in the same room or vicinity as her.

To say I became focused on my weight is an understatement. To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t develop an eating disorder myself! But my issues manifested in the form of a severe anxiety – borderline hatred – of my body.

Throughout those years I made several efforts to address the problem.

When I was a child I attempted to join an after school football group, given at the time I was a staunch supporter of Aberdeen FC and loved the beautiful game. Unfortunately, on the very first day, the coach informed me I was too unfit (thus not good enough) to play and was promptly informed never to return.

In my early teens I undertook several paper rounds that saw me lug several kilos of newspapers around the town I lived in both before and after school. I also rode my bike wherever and whenever I could.

Even though I hated Gym class growing up I always gave it my best effort – not always easy when the Gym teacher would confiscate my glasses for fear of them being broken. Being a fat kid playing sport is bad enough – being a blind fat kid playing sport was agonizing; especially when cricket balls I couldn’t see were hurled into my goolies or I ran into the wall whilst trying to grab a blurred basketball. All such uncoordinated behavior earning more insulting comments and verbal retaliation; especially when I would miss open goals in football because I couldn’t properly make out the ball!

By my late teens (when most people had begun experimenting with the opposite sex) I had become a virtual recluse; unable to go to the swimming pool for fear of people laughing at my trunk clad frame, unwilling to exercise in public unless under cloak of darkness and solitude. I would wear clothes that were too large – thus reducing the amount of clinging material – and began showering in a T-Shirt with a towel placed over the bathroom mirror to reduce the chance of glimpsing my naked torso.

The Backpacking Years

My first morning in Edinburgh I was desperate for a slash. I leapt out of my bunk bed and hobbled down the corridor to the bathroom, passing a girl who was packing her pack in the hall. She had a very wide, somewhat embarrassed grin on her face, an expression that confused me until I arrived at the toilet and realized my left bollock was hanging from my boxer shorts.

Only then did it occur to me that the excitement of embarking on my quest had overruled my strict rules of remaining clothed at all time. That woman, though she didn’t realize it at the time, holds the esteemed honor of being the first woman to see my left testicle!

Throughout the remainder of my backpacking – as per the reasons why I’d embarked on such a quest – I pushed to challenge my anxiety and self-confidence issues. When I went to Aberdeen I visited the leisure center to ride the flumes as part of a nostalgia kick to my childhood! A trip to Aviemore, in the desolate isolation of a forest, I stripped nude for the first time in public just to see if I could. On a visit to Glenfinnan I skinny dipped in Loch Shiel. Ditto, during a private visit to Loch Ness!

None of this prevented people aiming snide abusive comments or offering me ‘well intended’ advice on how I could lose weight and stop being so lazy and unattractive.

In spite of these comments and advice, by the time I arrived in Canada, I was stripping off whenever the opportunity presented itself. In fact, a couple of days after first meeting Annie I had zero problems stripping down to my shorts to swim in the springs nor doing the same to leap into a snake populated lake. Neither activity being something I’d have done a few months earlier, especially in the presence of such a ravishing, beautiful woman.

I’ve never been able to adequately explain why my body image issues lessened in Canada. Perhaps because I was so happy and relaxed, perhaps because I was in a foreign country and thus free to be a ‘different’ person. Possibly, and most likely, because the hours, days and weeks of hiking and exercise I’d undertaken since lugging my 20kg rucksack around the world had reduced my waistline to the second lowest it’s ever been.

The Australia Years

By the time I arrived in Australia I was back to my podgy, overweight, former-self. Months of depression and low mood had seen many comfort binges that had done my waistline no favors! Thus, upon arriving in the most appearance focused country on Earth, my body was far from what Aussie’s consider ‘acceptable’.

Every morning, on my walks and rides along the beach during those early months, I would receive condescending comments from complete strangers on how I should just ‘keep going’ and sooner or later I would ‘get rid of the spare tyres I carried’. Those arrogant prats probably thought they were doing something encouraging, whereas all they did was stop me from exercising and bring back the comfort eating to ease my bruised anxiety.

Over time I just learnt to accept I was never going to be anyone’s idea of male attractiveness. Despite cycling upwards of 20-30km a day my weight and physical appearance leveled off in the chubby camp and would never budge. My girlfriend consistently talking me out of joining a gym didn’t help given I’d worked so hard on my gym issues to even go there in the first place.

The Abuse Years

Oh. My. God!

I’ve written in the past how abuse does not go down well with a socially anxious person. Consider the comment from yesterday’s post where I mentioned my innate, crippling fear of being scrutinized and humiliated. All an abuser does is scrutinize, criticize and humiliate, in whatever manner they can to receive maximum impact.

As well as increasing my existing issues over my excess weight with regular references to me being fat, ugly and lazy my abuser created complexes over things I had never given a second thought in my life.

– A couple of moles I have on my back, and have done my entire life, I attempted to cut off with a knife after dozens of comments about how disgusting and grotesque they were. Seriously, don’t try that at home!

– A slightly hairy shoulder that I now shave religiously following dozens of comments about it, including twice when she informed me it made her want to vomit. I have, at times, reduced this area to a mass of bloody raw flesh by endlessly shaving given how aware of its ugliness I’ve become.

– Although never being the most fashionable human being on earth – I much prefer shopping in charity shops to assist the needy than spending hundreds of dollars on a single garment to help the already rich – I am now, and have been ever since the abuse, acutely aware that I am a deeply ugly person no matter what I wear. Until the abuse, I always felt comfortable and confident in whatever I wore.

– At one point in our relationship, as we were writhing naked in the lead up to a horizontal tango, she literally pushed me off of her as she’d become aware of a hair growing out of a freckle on my arm. After finding her tweezers and yanking it out she proceeded to give me a twenty-minute lecture about how disgusting it was, as if I had deliberately encouraged the hair to grow to annoy her. Now, much like the shoulder, I religiously excise this hair on a daily basis to the point that the skin is either removed completely or becomes infected.

I became so obsessed with my physical appearance during that time I’ve never fully recovered from it. As with all areas of my anxiety, the abuse has skyrocketed my body image issues to unparalleled levels.

The Post Breakdown Years

During the months after my breakdown I returned to my never-naked youth. Showers were taken in T-Shirts and swimming shorts, sleeping was always clothed (even on 30+ degree nights) and I would dress with my eyes closed to prevent any accidental nudity glances.

Only when my mood escalated to mania did I stop caring about what I looked like. Hence my ability to undertake the oft-mentioned streaking incident, stripping down in front of numerous women and roam around the hotel fully nude for hours on end. All things I would never consider under normal circumstances.

Upon the inevitable collapse back into depression, my anxiety over my body returned and remained. I returned to the techniques refined since my youth, as well as the new routines I’d developed as a result of the abuse. Although I would pretend otherwise, I never felt truly comfortable being naked in front of my next girlfriend, not because of anything she did but because of all that had happened in the past.

The Homeless Years

As with all aspects of my mental health, the anxiety concerning my body has increased ten-fold since becoming homeless. Sleeping in a park does not facilitate fuzzy bunny feelings over ones appearance. You feel constantly dirty, even after showering, body odors become difficult to contain, even after using deodorant, and clothing is often whatever you can afford and to hell with whether it suits you. Throw in the difficulty of getting a haircut, accessing razors to shave slightly hairy shoulders and eating a healthy and balanced diet, it becomes impossible to view yourself as an attractive human being.

With the vast majority of the world treating you as a feral animal, it doesn’t take long before you start seeing yourself as one.

Now

My strict protective strategies are deeply embedded to the point they are now second nature; the disrobing and putting on my ‘showering’ clothes, the changing clothes with my eyes closed, the endless removal of shoulder and freckle hair, the constant self-criticism over my lack of decent clothing, my inability to go to the gym in fear of scrutiny and humiliation in front of the sizzling hot people who tend to populate these facilities.

Although not receiving as much attention as female representation. The way males are depicted on-screen has also had an increased negative effect; the endless parade of ripped, shirtless males with perfect abs, six packs and v’s amplify the thoughts that I’m insignificant and unlovable; the demoralizing depiction of overweight males being lazy, unintelligent, beer swigging, morons; the repetition of the myths that men always see themselves as handsome, never see their physical flaws and that body image anxiety is solely the domain of women.

Throughout my life I’ve never really spoken of these body image issues with friends, girlfriends or psychologists in fear of the inevitable laughter, ridicule and emasculating comments. Men are supposed to be confident, assured, strong…not caught in the cycle of self-hate that body image issues create. Given I already feel emasculated as a result of the abuse and rape, increasing this would only do more damage to my fragile self-esteem, so I merely keep quiet at all times.

In recent months I’ve noticed articles begin to appear discussing male body image, all of which are sorely needed. But as with other areas of life (abuse, mental health, rape) the emphasis in mainstream society is still on female body image issues with little advice to men other than the standard, and insulting, “just harden the frak up” or “man up”.

Male body image issues are real, debilitating and humiliating. If you cannot love yourself, what can you love? Society needs to take this problem more seriously, instead of resorting to the tried and true stereotypes that reduce men to emotionless, arrogant, morons. Continuing to ignore the issue will have devastating consequences including, in some extreme cases, death.

Note: I would *love* to include photographs of myself in this post to illustrate a part of my body issue anxiety that isn’t clear, which is that I do not see myself properly. People tell me I’m handsome and attractive, with a could-be-better 34 waist but I see myself as a grotesque animal with a bloated size 44+ frame. Unfortunately, my anxiety over my appearance prevents me from photographing myself either clothed or naked, let alone posting them online for all to ridicule. Hence the pixellation whenever I do post an old photograph of myself!

Tomorrow: Anxiety and its effect on friendships and relationships >>>

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Anxiety and its effect on my education

Most of us have experienced a moment of anxiety or two in our life. The butterflies before a make-or-break your career presentation; the urgent need for a shot of whisky before delivering a best man’s speech; the tremble in your stomach as you disrobe in front of a new love for the first time. It’s important for us to feel anxious from time to time, it keeps us human, anchors significant life moments and enables us to grow as individuals.

The moment anxiety becomes an issue is when it affects our ability to function day-to-day. For the person overcoming abuse or rape, locked in the nightmares of PTSD or the socially anxious soul unable to connect with the world, anxiety is a prison not unlike that featured in The Dark Knight Rises; easy to get into, but nigh on impossible to climb out of.

Yesterday I wrote a little about the anxiety I feel in sharing opinions. Although this impacts on my life it could hardly be considered a severe impediment to my day-to-day functioning. However, when you look at how anxiety has impacted on my educational career, it may become more apparent the damage this condition can cause.

The Impact of Anxiety
#2: Education

A-Levels

For those who don’t have a working knowledge of the British educational system, A-Levels are the examinations that come after GCSEs (the exams you take after five years in High School). Once you’ve completed your GCSEs you are allowed to leave school and never return, but in today’s age, A-Levels are pretty much compulsory should you desire a career outside of fast food or dole bludging.

When I came to choose which A-Levels to take it was a no brainer. I’d known for months what I was going to do; Media Studies encompassed my love of film, television and print media; English Lit, my passion for literature and writing; Theatre Studies, covered my fascination with acting and theatre. With these three subjects under my belt I would be well on my way to university and, in turn, a career in film-making and the arts.

So, for two years, I studied Media Studies, Math and Computing.

Yep, you read that right. For months I knew what subjects I was going to do – but when it came to registering for them, I chose two subjects I had absolutely NO interest in whatsoever.

Why?

A large part of my anxiety is an intense fear of being evaluated or scrutinized by other people to the point that I will completely remove myself from the situation in order to keep myself safe and avoid any humiliation, judgment or criticism. It dawned on me that if I were to do English Lit, my writing would be subject to scrutiny by the rest of the class and presentations would need to be made that I just couldn’t do. The latter – obviously – being a pre-requisite for Theatre Studies. So in order to protect myself, I opted for two subjects where I could hide myself from the critical gaze of the class behind a text-book or keyboard.

They were the worst two years of my school life; I failed Math and barely scraped a pass in Computing. Whereas Media Studies, being a passionate topic for me, I excelled in.

No matter how I look at it, my anxiety controlled my A-Level decisions and, with the inevitable snowball effect that followed, it has haunted my life ever since.

University

Following my disastrous A-Level experiences it is no surprise that I didn’t go to Uni straight out of school. I knew by the end of the first year of A-Levels that I would not achieve the grades I’d need to gain a place. I also knew that the courses I was interested in – film-making, writing and publishing, arts and acting – I hadn’t taken the correct subjects for. Plus, the damage done to my self-confidence and self-esteem made me believe I would never be able to handle university life.

Basically, I was screwed.

So it comes as no surprise that my mood took a massive nose dive that summer. The realization that you’ve screwed up your entire life will do that! It was a realization that became a major factor behind my running away from home that summer.

College

Following two years of full-time employment and eighteen months backpacking I had built my confidence to a level I deemed sufficient to try to correct the mistakes of my past. I craved to return to education and achieve my dream of going to university, but wanted to make sure I was studying what I wanted. A course at Inverness College called ‘TV production, photography and sound production’ had everything I desired; writing, film-making, photography, acting, arts, film studies…everything was perfect.

By the end of the year-long course I’d caned every aspect of the course. In terms of written coursework, I was told it was university standard. In terms of practical assignments, although not perfect, were of a high standard. Classmates told me I should have my own radio show. Others told me it would be a waste if I didn’t pursue a university course.

So it comes as no surprise that, once again, I didn’t.

Only this time it wasn’t wholly the fault of anxiety, for I’d fallen in love, meaning I had to make a choice between my initial plan – of going to Vancouver to continue my studies at University (where, revealing one of my big life secrets, I’d been accepted) – or continuing my relationship with my girlfriend, which if I did, moved Canada off the table.

Although love was a major part of the choice I made, anxiety did play a part, for (like with A-Levels) not pursuing my dreams was a safer option than opening myself up to criticism, scrutiny and humiliation.

College (Reprise)

It would be nearly six years before I re-entered tertiary education. Throughout that entire time I attempted various night courses (all of which went uncompleted because of my employment commitments) and continually dreamed of going to university.

By this time anxiety was ruling my life. I rarely took chances. I rarely opened myself up. I had become safely coccooned in my safe little life with dozens upon dozens of protective strategies implemented to reduce the humiliation and insult I’d grown to fear since my teenage years.

When my relationship ended in 2006 it provided me the opportunity to reflect on my life and perhaps build a new future; hence, my decision to return to college.

I have written of this event several times in the past. Of how I was shit scared of returning to tertiary education after so many years in safe full-time employment, of how terrified I was of being in a situation where my writing would be regularly criticized, of how petrified I was of the numerous presentations I would have to give in front of dozens of people, but…for the first time in my life I felt confident enough in my abilities to believe I would be able to excel in the course.

A course specifically chosen not only on the basis that it reflected all of my passions but that it provided a pathway into several university courses I would have sacrificed a limb to get into.

Alas, as previously documented, things did not go to plan. The abuse fed into the glandular fever which fed into the anxiety which fed back into the abuse and cost me the course, my dreams and ultimately, my chance of tertiary education.

The Future

Although I do still cling to the hope that I’ll be able to return to education – albeit rarely – I know in my heart my chances have passed. If I can’t write my opinion as a blog comment, how could I write it in the form of an essay? If I can’t walk down the street to purchase food without a panic attack, how could I walk to a university lecture hall? If I can’t talk to a single human being without fear of humiliation, how could I present coursework without fear of public humiliation?

When I look back on how anxiety has shaped my educational choices – from the selection of my A-Levels, through turning down Vancouver, and ending up in the abuse fuelled loss of my college course – I wonder how different my life would be if anxiety didn’t have such a hold over me.

I’m aware it’s not all the fault of this disorder, that I must – and DO – take some responsibility for my choices, but they are choices that would have been easier to make had anxiety not been a factor.

Something that, if your only encounter with anxiety is making a presentation, being a best man or slipping your undies off to flash your boyfriend, is difficult to understand.

When it comes to my anxiety, we’re not talking fluttering little butterflies.

We’re talking a life-altering, heart-stopping fear that I have no idea how to fight anymore.

If I ever did to begin with.

Tomorrow: Anxiety and its effect on my body >>>


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The impact of anxiety: #01. Commenting

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 >>>