It took me a long time to publish my last post. I spent months trying to start it until I finally felt brave enough. I must confess that for a few hours after it was published I felt my anxiety levels rising. No-one responded. Nothing on Twitter or Facebook. Was everyone horrified at what I’d said? What had I done?
I’m glad to say that those feelings soon subsided as friends and colleagues chimed in their support both public and private. A few mentioned that seeing me talk about these things helped them too. Knowing that you’re not alone is a powerful thing. That can be hard with mental health because we don’t talk about it. When it strikes you feel alone and isolated which makes everything worse.
So I thought I might try to talk more. Many people don’t know what it is like to have a mental health problem and I didn’t go into many details. Reading up on conditions doesn’t help much. Often it is just jargon but even then most things listed as specific conditions are really just buckets of symptoms that you get slotted into. What I call social anxiety should resonate with others but the specifics can and will differ.
I think that there is a lot of crossover between introversion and social anxiety. In fact I’m not really sure where the line is technically. I see the difference being how you feel when you’re around other people. For me it is often terror that you’re judging me for what I’m doing. Here’s an example.
Two months ago all of Mozilla gathered at Disneyworld. My trip there pretty much blew. Due to delays it took nearly 24 hours to cross the U.S. and after I arrived it took another 6 hours or so for the hotel to have a room for me. So I wasn’t exactly in my best possible state. The second night there was a big party. Aside from some near panic attacks walking to the venue (I don’t do well in slow-moving queues, despite being British) I managed to have a good time. Mainly I stuck with people who I knew really well. But after I got back to the hotel I was exhausted so I resolved to have a quiet night the next day and regain my energy for the final party.
So the next night I went out to find a quick bite in the middle of working on stuff in my hotel room. But I couldn’t. Everywhere I went there were Mozilla people. All of them staring at me, wondering why I was out by myself, why I wasn’t hanging out with others like normal people. I had to make it look like I had a reason. I was going to the gift shop to look for gifts for family. I surely wasn’t going to eat by myself because what sort of recluse does that?! Everytime I thought I had found somewhere without people I knew, someone showed up and I had to escape.
It was futile. I went back to the hotel and looked over the rather poor room service menu. But then I thought, no, this is rubbish. They aren’t really staring at you, they aren’t judging you, no-one is going to bat an eyelid if you choose to eat by yourself. I knew this logically and so I just had to act on it. So I went out again. And again I failed to find food. I just couldn’t do it. It was too much. There were people everywhere. What if they asked if I wanted to join them? I’d have to come up with some excuse for why I didn’t want to without offending them. My lizard brain was telling me that I had to run away. I went back to my room and felt awful. How much of a failure was I that I couldn’t even find food by myself?
It sounds ridiculous writing about it now from the safety of my home. Why would anyone care that I’m eating alone? There are surely enough people in Mozilla that need some time to themselves here and there that it would hardly be surprising. And as much as I can tell myself that now, I couldn’t when I was out there physically walking amongst people I knew and feeling like I couldn’t do the things I wanted.
This is one of the ways social anxiety affects me, the inability to do seemingly simple and benign things when in public because I’m terrified of how others will view me.
More to come.