Socially Phobic

March 30, 2007

Today, on the other hand,

Filed under: Social Phobia — iambrave @ 1:43 pm

I woke up in a state of total panic. The reason may sound so silly, but it’s this: we are supposed to go to a concert tonight. And my fiance’s car is in the shop, so I may have to drive fairly far, in the dark, to get there. But really it’s the event itself that’s freaking me out. When I am in a crowd of people, I don’t feel like a state of physical harm is going to come to me, like I’m going to be attacked or something. I feel – and as I write this, I know that this is ridiculous – like everyone is staring at me. This is true of concerts in particular. I think it’s the dancing. I feel really stupid when I dance and when everyone else “seems” to be able to dance so easily (“seems” because there is probably at least one other person there who feels the same way that I do), I feel like everyone else in the crowd is wondering what is wrong with me. Anxiety is a maladaptive fear response, so what that means is this: I don’t believe that there is a whole lot, if anything, that is emotionally different in my reaction than if I were afraid of physical harm.

The last time that we went out (it was a comedy show), which we don’t have the chance to do a lot right now (am I secretly happy about that?) for various reasons, I was anxious but was able to combat it by pounding tequila shots (okay, well, a couple shots and a couple beers: I’m enough of a lightweight that it was enough to do the trick for me). I’m not saying that it was a particularly adaptive coping strategy, particularly given all of the medications that I am on, but it did the trick. I ended up being able to lose myself and actually had a great time. But if I have to drive tonight, I can’t drink like that.

I have known that I have had this problem with concerts for a long time, and I think that this is the first time that I have ever been able to articulate it. I just cried to my fiance about it and I believe that it was the first time that I’ve ever tried to explain this particular feeling to another person. So let me go ahead and just come right out and say it: I HATE CONCERTS. I love music, and I love the group that we are supposed to see, but I HATE CONCERTS. Amazing now, looking back on it, that I suffered through so many (it’s been a while, but particularly in college), without ever expressing to the people around me (my best friends, say, or a past boyfriend) that I was going through this extremely intense and unpleasant emotional reaction. Panicking. And there were substances to get me through. But the panic response was still there, at least in the anticipation.

I feel the “spotlight effect” in other places, too, like every time I sit in class. Even if I look around and no one is looking at me, I know that they are thinking about me. I’m not delusional. I know that it’s not rational. But it’s the emotional response that I have. I first distinctly remember having this type of feeling at The Care Bears Movie. I just looked it up, and that was 1985, so I would’ve been six or seven. I was there with my mom. There was music in the movie, and the audience started clapping along. How do people do that so easily? How do they know when to start clapping? How does the first person to start clapping do it? (Clapping to music irritates me, but it’s largely due to the fact that (a) I don’t understand it and (b) I am profoundly jealous of people who can do things without being self-conscious. And it’s a little annoying. But okay, I won’t be snarky. It’s a little annoying TO ME. And it’s probably also because of the noise and the heightened state that my senses are frequently in.) As a side note, my mom didn’t clap either. Was I uncomfortable because I was modeling myself after her and could sense her anxiety because there’s a good chance, given her personality, that she felt the exact same way; i.e., is my anxiety learned? Was I uncomfortable because of my genetic predisposition to anxiety? Both are viable theories, and neither is mutually exclusive. I’ve clearly been taking too many psych classes.

I feel really bad right now. We have spent a lot of money on this and my fiance (so unrelated but I hate that word so I need to come up with something better to call him but then again he will be my husband six weeks from today so maybe I can hang in with the f-word until then) was probably looking forward to going. His first response, when he saw how upset I was, was “Okay, then we shouldn’t go.” He is trying to protect me when he says that. In all honesty, it’s probably not that huge of a deal to him whether we go or not. It’s impossible for me to judge in this state how disappointed he really is. But I feel like he is upset, whether he is or not, so that upsets me. It also upsets me because I have told friends and family that I am going and I think that they will think that I am stupid if I tell them that I didn’t go. I would never have considered telling them the real reason before this, but I think that some people might understand. So, that’s progress.

But what do I do? A standard treatment for anxiety is exposure, which means that I should go and put myself in the very situation that I am afraid of. The standard question of my last two therapists would be, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And barring some horrific disaster and I’m not even going to go down that mental road, I suppose that I would say that the very worst that could actually happen is that strangers would, in fact, look at me and think that I was stupid…but in reality that’s not the worst that could happen because even if people are actually doing that there is no way for me to be a mind reader. So the worst that could happen is that I would feel uncomfortable for a couple of hours and then I would go home. It’s standard cognitive-behavioral stuff, and it all seems so simple on paper. But, am I really in the mood to do therapy on myself tonight? I don’t know.

This is the way my mind works. This is what having social phobia means to me.

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