Monday, 15 June 2009

Social Anxiety Disorder - Making it work FOR YOU

I had a small gathering last night. Nothing big, nothing remotely “party” shaped, just some people from work who came round to my flat after a particularly long and arduous shift, in desperate need of some light refreshment. By half past two, we were talking sufficient bollocks in order for the night to be classed as a success – I did not do anything too embarrassing, and aside from a few make-up malfunctions, everybody left in one piece. One interesting aspect of the evening however, had nothing to do with the location, the company or the choice of music; Tom, one of my newly acquired friendsfromwork (all one word – this is how I introduce people until I’ve known them for about two years) diagnosed me whilst sitting diagonally in a slightly battered leather armchair – it gave him a sense of authority at the time. After asking me why I was finding it so hard to relax in company, he exclaimed “You have Social Anxiety Disorder! I studied this!” and so my hostessing was deemed acceptable, because I have a disability, and my prickishness might not be entirely my fault.

It might seem odd to an outsider that being diagnosed with a mental illness at a half-party actually didn’t ruin my night, or upset me in any way. You see, for years, I’ve been secretly harbouring the thought that perhaps my inability to interact with humans properly might be borne out of a quietly-growing sociopathic brain wrong, and that one day I might inwardly explode and charge through the wastelands of Leeds in a long leather jacket with two pump action shotguns, firing into the sky and at moving targets until they cart me away for testing. This way at least I now that ONE: Every single thing I remember I’ve done that consumes me with anxiety is probably not that embarrassing or abnormal after all and TWO: I will never end my days as a renegade massacar-er, because that’s not how Social Anxiety Disorderists roll. It’s very soothing.

How I did not diagnose myself remains a mystery to me – I spend a lot of time diagnosing my own mythical illnesses, being that I am a secret hypochondriac. Every sore throat is meningitis. Every stomach pain is liver serosis. Every headache is a melanoma. It’s not that I’m an overly morbid person – I have been known to show the odd sign of optimism and/or cheer here and there – I just get a bit worried over small grievances. Like scratches (What if I get tetanus?) or going on holiday (If I drink the water, will I get diphtheria? Etc etc). So as you can imagine, it came as a surprise to me that somebody I don’t know particularly well pointed out a malady that I hadn’t even thought of yet. A mental illness! OF COURSE! It all makes so much sense!

A quick trip to Wikipedia shows that not only was he right, he was fucking SCARILY right. The first of the criterion which need to be met in order to claim ownership of the sickness was: “A marked and persistent fear of one or more social performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing.” Imagine the term “Social Performance” refers to any situation in which there will be people who will be listening to me or talking to me, and you’ve hit the nail on the head. Parties, amicable meals at Nandos, going for drinks (those kind of drinks where you talk at length about really interesting subjects in turn to each other), working in a group at work/uni, going to a place where social skills are needed more than a “Hello” and a “please” aka. The Job Centre, seeing a doctor, going to the bank to get an overdraft, and sometimes even conversations in a group of more than 3 people all come under this blanket term of “Social Performance”. The most notably “OHMIGOD YES!” criteria was the third: “The person recognizes that their fear is excessive or unreasonable.” – In fact I recognise it to such an extent that I feel a constant sort of shame over my inability to interact with others. It has become an annoyance to me, and I mention it more than I should in conversation with others, by way, I suppose, of an apology. I must be the most irritating person to go out anywhere with. I can’t act normally unless I’m a bit drunk, but when I do act normally, I apologise for not acting normally before. I’m just one big explanation for my own existence. I know not to do this anymore. I’m aware that it’s a real problem, and I can deal with it accordingly. Ah, sweet relief!

There are some immensely useful things about the strange ways in which I act around people, as I have discovered. My friends are extremely good and interesting people. Nobody shit ever sticks around, because frankly, I’m far too much work, and I don’t blame them for finding somebody warmer and more rewarding to know. Another interesting trait I have is that even though in real life I resemble a cardboard cut-out of a person, if I am ever filmed, or have to act (don’t ask me why I could act at school, I really shouldn’t be able to go on stage, I just block it out) I magically turn into a friendly, approachable type of person, somebody people might be wrongly convinced they might like to have a drink with. My solution? Spend my life filming myself. It might not be practical, and it might alienate me from my species to a greater extent, but at least I’d be able to do that “small talk” thing you people like to do so much.

Don’t worry though; I won’t be rushing off to the GPs any time soon for some tasty beta-blockers. If it wasn’t for my inability to connect with humankind, I wouldn’t be the person I am today (see – optimism). If I suddenly became a positive, warm and huggy-type of person, this blog, my aspirations, and my personality would die. It’s better to be awkward, frustrated and yourself, than dosed-up, happy and deluded. So I am telling myself. Anyway, this is the last you’ll hear about my so-called “nuances”, because I’m sure that narcissistic ranting isn’t all that popular amongst the blogging community, especially when the subject is to do with possibly-curable self-wallowing mental illnesses. Oh wait...


av.ster said...

omg, thats me you just described, i'm always uncomfortable with small talk, and it annoys me, I cant speak on a phone. But I don't get stage fright

xthemusic said...

Totally the same Katie, esp with meeting people for the first time. Seems i have gotten much more used to talking to people i may never meet on YouTube.

As i said earlier, it would probably be much easier if we just did all communicating through webcams - like video conferencing. Would also mean never needing to leave the house.

Keep hold of that friendfromwork. Will save you money in medical bills.

Katie said...

Tr00 dat, he just saved me about £200 as it is, diagnosing me in the first place! haha

A video conferencing life sounds like the perfect life for me. How do we get all the other "normal" buggers to comply though?

peterRepeater said...

You should holiday in my brain for a week; a week's package holiday in Neuroses.

Regardless, everyone has some sort of mental illness: it's called consciousness; and being self-aware does have its flaws.

Just don't ever medicate because it doesn't help. Chemical imbalances occur naturally and should always be tackled naturally.

Depressed? Get a bit of exercise, stop drinking so much, eat properly, etc.

But we don't. I much prefer lamenting on teh internets than becoming a happy-go-lucky, trouble-free tit-wit.

Now I'm off to whittle a replica of my own phallus from some faeces I put to one side. Then I'm going to stick it back up my arse with fruit pastels up each nostril, howling like a wolf as I go.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

I'm about to start cognitive behavior therapy, not that I need it mind... I went to the NHS two year ago when my then partner ran away with the contents of my bank account. Turning down medication, they offered CBT and now I'm finally at the front of the queue. Hoorar, for the speedy responses of the NHS! At the time it was insomnia, servere depression etc which have long gone now, but hey, free therapy, so who gives a damn! They're kinda pitching it as a cure to everything and are asking me what I need changed about my psyche. I think I'll have social anxiety disorder, or SAD as you'd probably ironically refer to it as. Suppose it'll help in interviews, meeting new people and so on if they 'cure' it. I shall post here again, dear Katie, if the experience unviels any wisdoms I think you might benefit from me sharing with you.

Katie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie said...

I was told yesterday by the same person who diagnosed me to go for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

For some reason, the very thought of it and what it entails fills me with anxiety and dread. Despite being told it wouldn't change my personality, (and that I'd still be a bit endearingly shy, which I thought was a nice thing to say) I'm not sure why, but I don't feel lie taling about it in real life to a professional. My heart beats faster, and I get that "DREAD" nightmare feeling. There are a lot of things I could get fixed about me, and I wouldn't now where to start, or even if I want to get them fixed yet. I'm not sure if I'm ready.

Please do post your experiences if you feel lie you want to - it'd be interesting to now what kind of things they as you and how it feels to be changing your emotional responses and snap reactions to the outside world :)

lidia said...

my mum has social anxiety disorder and high blood pressure and frequently has panic attacks as a result. she can't explain why, just that sometimes everyday things seem so much larger in her head.

she got sent for cognitive behavioural therapy straight away by the NHS cos like you, she didn't want to take any medication. she has done in the past and she just felt like she was floating on a cloud constantly. what kind of existence is that?!

CBD wasn't a cure-all thing... it made her view situations differently and the therapist put things into perspective for her without being patronising. it's encouraged her to take part in lots of opportunities she was too scared to try before, like book clubs and computer classes. they set you challenges each week to try and conquer the anxieties you have :)

i'd say a lot of her stress has rubbed off on me. i get so worked up about certain situations like talking in front of a group of people. i overanalyse every single thing i've said and done when i go to bed at night... things that other people don't think twice about. sometimes when i'm in town everything will get on top of me and i feel really faint... and now i realise that i sound more than a little odd!

anyway, excuse the ramble! IT'S MY BIRTHDAY AND I'LL WRITE RUBBISH IF I WANT TO!

Katie said...

It's not rubbish, it makes total sense to me, especially the town thing. In big crowds of people, like Leeds on a Saturday - shopping centres especially - I get really angry and frustrated because I can't feel comfortable and I feel lie everybody is waling towards me. Eye contact is a big issue, and I tend to just stare at the floor all the time, and this maes it more stressful because you get claustrophobic. Does this make sense?

I probably will go for the Cognitive Therapy....just not yet. I'm glad it wored out for your mum :)

And HAPPY FUCKING BIRTHDAY! Are you doing anything fun?

chestymorgan said...

OOh,if I had a pound for every screamingly socially inappropriate remark I've dropped.I got frozen out of a Mum n tot group 2 years ago for remarking that my daughter looked like a child abductee in the Maradonna shirt her father bought her;as long as you feel comfortable with the people that 'get you'.Fuck the rest.

CBT worked for me;taught me how to be comfortable with myself...if that's not too wanky self help speak

Katie said...


I used to work at mym um's playgroup. If you'd have made a comment lie that around us, you'd have been invited back for midday irish coffee and evil cacklings about the other "pristine" mums. It's amazing how much little kids can reveal. That's all I'm saying!

regional said...

I would ignore Toms comments he is talking nonsense. Everyone has a spectrum of confidence which changes based on the situation. Don't you work in a bar? Didn't you invite other people to your flat for a social situation? You may feel uncomfortable in some social situations, but then who doesn't.

Someone diagnosed me as having Aspergers, probably thinking they were being nice and helping me. I was happy to accept this, it allowed me to abstain from full responsibility of my life. But the doctor was confident I didn't have this and told me what I just told you. I'd like to meet the parallel me who was told he did have Aspergers, would he be using this an excuse for why he wasn't achieving what he wanted?

I would recommend doing some research on CBT and the other techniques. Not only may they help you but you may find it interesting to understand how your mind works. Information is also available online and in books, which I found easier to access.
PS don't read many blogs but enjoyed this & next one. keep it up

Katie said...

I appreciate what you're saying, and thans for the kind words, but I feel he might be some truth in what he said.

I am aware that most people feel awkward in social situations, but this doesn't compare to the experiences I have. If you met me, you'd understand. It does annoy me slightly when people claim that these types of mental illnesses are fabricated, and that "everybody experiences these symptoms" - I can work in a bar because I know that I have to. I rarely make eye contact, and complaints from customers leave me a breath away from a panic attack. Like I said, if you met me, you'd understand.

But I do appreciate what you're trying to say, and I am researching it further before I go and seek any ind of treatment or official diagnoses. Thanks for reading! :)

fouls said...

Hello, well done on the cake vid success. While I appreciate that "it does annoy [you] slightly when people claim that these types of mental illnesses are fabricated", I thought it might be worth mentioning that Charlie Brooker's favourite scientist, Ben Goldacre, says in his book Bad Science that Social Anxiety Disorder is a condition that was made up by large pharmaceutical companies in order to sell more of a antidepressant called SSRI. This is on p.153.

Moreover, Charlie Brooker's favourite documentary filmmaker, Adam Curtis, discussed the rise of psychological self-diagnosis in the second episode of his series, The Trap.

Anyway, why you'd be interested in this unsolicited shite from some bellend you've never met, I don't know. And I realise that you're not about to use this (mis)information to embark on a course of treatment culminating in lobotomy. But I just thought it might be worth letting you know that too much talk about things like Social Anxiety Disorder may not meet with approval from within the church of Cultural Arbiter Brooker.

Jolly bye!

Katie said...

fouls - That's ok, as much as I love Charlie's work, I don't copy everything he believes. I need to do more research on the whole Social Anxiety Disorder thing, but I'm still fairly convinced it's plausible.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

My CBT has started, well the preamble has anyway. They first did some tests on my cognative ability and I scored 'the best score' she'd seen so far, which is validating. Then before I see the quack for CBT I was going get randomly put into 1 of 2 groups for six weeks. One was a group for doing mental exercises to improve cognition, the other was a 'friendship' group. I got put into the latter and now two times a week an attractive psychology post-grad makes in-calls and is generally nice and friendly to me. I'd predict the conclusion of the study will show that the mental exercises work better to improve your mental health but I am being as positive and willng as I can be. Of course, the Nightingale effect is coming into strong play here and I'm sure my general state of mind would come on leaps and bounds if she'd just cut with the foreplay. It does beg the question, is state funded prositiution the real answer to society's aliments?

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