Thursday 23 September 2010

A quick insight

I thought this might be informative for those who don't suffer anxiety disorders. People don't get it when I stay home sick but don't call work. "Just a quick phone call or a text message, that's all we ask." Well, too bad, I can't.

I have what must be descirbed as a very mild social anxiety disorder and very mild depression. I've thought about suicide but never attempted. I've thought about self harm and once or twice I tried to cut my finger deliberately but I only drew blood once. I'm not suffering as many people suffer. But sometimes life is hard.

Social anxiety is all about a fear of rejection. We all know what it's like to be rejected; it sucks. The reason anxiety is different is because it's just pretty stupid. I fear rejection in every situation, even situations where it doesn't make sense. When I am rejected it hurts so much it makes a cost-benefit analysis clearly against trying anything.

What's more, because I'm human, and because I know rationally that things really aren't so bad, I hate the idea of people pitying me, of not rejecting me but wanting to, because they don't want to hurt me. That makes me angry, mostly at myself. I absolutely don't want that. At the very least it's not a good treatment for my anxiety. I have to learn to deal with this.

I'm going to give you a quick, though not recent, example. I have never used cheques myself. I am not a cheque person, having banked only after the invention of Internet Banking and ubiquitous EFTing. I was once, however, given a cheque in payment for some tutoring I did. Other times this has happened I've put the cheque in a deposit envelope and the money has turned up in my account days later. Being out of money on that day and a bit hungry, I went to get it cashed - that is, to withdraw cash. I did this at my bank. The cheque, however, was not drawn on that particular bank.

Those readers with an understanding of financial matters will recognise that of course this won't work. Banks aren't in the business of handing out cash on presentation of little bits of paper. So when I tried to present my cheque to the teller I was told this couldn't happen, because it wasn't drawn on this bank, but would I like to deposit it. I replied no thank you and left. Once outside the bank, I cried a little bit. I didn't eat, instead walking around the city avoiding eye contact with everyone until I had to go wherever I was going that day. The feeling of rejection stayed with me for nearly two days. That afternoon I couldn't concentrate, I was too busy thinking what an idiot I was.

Was I an idiot? No. Was the teller particularly mean? No. That's what makes it a disorder. And it really hurt, that sort of physical pain in your stomach of utter humiliation. It's absurd. But that's what it's like. That's the risk I face every time I interact with anyone, for any reason. Some person's reaction to me may set me off, totally irrationally. As I say, that's what makes it a disorder, the fact that it's absurd and ridiculous and dare I say it, crazy.

This is why I don't do things. I hate that I have missed opportunities, from that time in grade one I could've spoken to that kid, through to just yesterday when I could've spoken to that guy. I hate this utterly because I know how capable I am. I know I could do it. I just don't because I fear what my fucked up brain chemistry could do to me if I do.

So much for quick. Sorry.


atrophie said...

I can really identify with this. I also suffer from mild depression & social anxiety. It stems from body image issues I've had since infant school and the fear of being judged & rejected that comes with it. The worst part of it is that sometimes my anxiety manifests itself as strong, almost painful hunger. Doubled over, going to puke hunger. It's a vicious cycle. I'll get help one day when I actually admit to myself that I have a problem.

I have issues with telephones. Since as long as I can remember people have mistaken me for my mother on the phone. You know, they start talking about something I've no idea about and I have to say no, I'm Danielle. It's so awkward that I just want to become invisible, fade into the wallpaper. I have this habit of running over events in my head, redoing past events, wishing I had said this or that.

I tried self-harm. I've still got some pretty stripes on my left arm from burning myself with white-hot sewing needles, but they're so faded that you couldn't see them unless you went looking. I chose that method because I wanted pain without blood & mess. It made me feel so much better until my mother noticed one day and made a fuss. I felt so ashamed. My depression & anxiety has always made me feel so ashamed that I very, very rarely speak to anyone about it, even my partner.

Well, I suppose the purpose of the above is to say hey, you're not the only one.

Patricia said...

Hi Michael,

I found your blog through twitter, and am currently devouring the posts.

I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your insights into anxiety disorders. I have a close friend who suffers from anxiety, and I don't think I've really understood what he goes through. For someone on the outside, it seems as if a lot of his fears are totally arbitrary, so it's difficult to emphathise.

This post definitely clarified things for me.


Michelle said...

I'm more in the depression side of things (bipolar and all) but I've had my fair share of anxiety issues. Not to the degree you suffer, but enough to at least be able to empathise somewhat.

Anxiety is arse. And so draining.


Anonymous said...

Good luck, I get where you're coming from.
I have depression. Unfortunately, I didn't realise this (assuming that I was just being stupid, fat and lazy) until I had spent a year telling everybody I was working on my Thesis. I was, in fact, in bed, doing a fair bit of staring at my laptop screen, put off the concept of leaving my place by the exhausting thought of having to wash my hair. I would quite often not have the mental energy to figure out how to cross the road. I could not call my friends, I could not talk to my parents, I most certainly not talk to my supervisor because if I did, they would find out the truth about how stupid and lazy I was.
I was emotionally and mentally exhausted, numb for a whole year, with the permanent undercurrent of panic bubbling under my solar plexis.
Even now, I have library books that are many months overdue. I cannot bring myself to take them back - I panic when I think about it (eventually, this will turn out to be very expensive!) This panic also prevents me from checking my Uni email.
After a suicide attempt that was only averted due to my parents calling at a fortuitous time, and my guilt at what I was about to do to them making me answer the phone, I started talking. I have been seeing my GP and a Counsellor, and while things are far from easy, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I may feel like shit, but I know that one day in the forseeable future, I will step out into the sunshine (and get that fucking thesis done!)
You are not alone, and you are not being silly, lazy or stupid. I know it is easy to say these things on the internet, but much harder to tell your friends, your parents, and professionals what is going on without feeling like a monumental fool. Good luck.
Wow, that was cathartic! Thanks!