In this post I'm shifting back into a personal perspective. I wish to shed light on something I face as I deal with social anxiety disorder, and at the same time justify myself as a person.
I can cope with panic attacks. I can work through uncomfortable situations. What I've largely failed to deal with is the guilt I feel because I cannot do what others can, and the question of whether or not friends and family will help me up if I fall too far behind.
If I can't hold a job or go to college, will my family give up on me? Will my friends abandon me? Will my girlfriend of six years leave me?
This isn't a confidence issue. I feel that I am a worthwhile human being, that I can add value to others' lives, that I can pull my own weight and not be a burden to others even if I can't do certain things. Yet my own expectations don't fit the cue card society has given me. I also feel a nagging sensation that others are expecting more from me—more than I can possibly give at this time.
Holding a job and going to school, driving, flying, talking on a phone, all of these activities and more are not only doable for most people, but are required. These are things that I can't do without weeks or months of preparation, or more. Not because I'm lazy, but because I freeze before I can start. My mind literally shuts off because I am phobic. It's the only way my brain can deal with an overwhelming situation.
I want to be me without the controversy. I don't want this contradiction between my nature and others' expectations for me, yet it's there, and I can't escape it anymore than I can escape panic attacks. I don't want to be unable to speak on a phone because I get tongue-tied, but I also don't want to be looked down upon because I can't be “normal,” or like everyone else.
I've begged, and I've pleaded, but I feel that I've failed to convince people that even if I am a phobic toward most things social, it's still worth having me around. At least I don't feel that I can rest on being accepted—that if I fail, I'll still be loved and wanted.
I imagine myself homeless in the years to come. Yet that's not even the worst case scenario. To me, doing what people expect of me is more difficult (at least in my mind) than losing everyone I know and love. That seems to be the decision I face.
As a phobic, I cling to the comfort zones I've built for myself. It's easier to have anxiety than it is to face the world. It's easier to be alone than shove my way through a crowd. It's easier to have nothing than it is to take risks to get more than what I need.
I know other people can relate to this. One doesn't need to have a phobia or even an anxiety disorder to understand what it's like to fear success and failure. I'm preaching to the choir when I say that leaving our comfort zones can be one of the toughest decisions we can make.
Something that helps me through some of these feelings is my spiritual practices. Listening to Alan Watts and Ram Dass, studying the writings of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Hsin Hsin Ming, among other sages. I'm slowly working toward a worldview that encompasses all things as one thing. A connection, not a division between myself and others. Because of this practice, I have grown more comfortable with myself in social settings—less self-conscious.
Yet there is a paradox involved with this that I understand, but feel others won't want to understand. Despite my enlightened realizations, which “should” get rid of my anxiety completely, I also realize that my panic attacks and phobias are also part of this oneness. As Ram Dass would put it, my social anxiety disorder is the melodrama I'm living. I have to accept it, or live in constant conflict with myself.
I know this to be true, because when I say to myself “Okay, I have an anxiety disorder, that's all right,” much of my fear, self-doubt, and self-consciousness evaporates. It's like going into the center of a fire to escape the heat of the flames. Yet it doesn't dissolve my phobias. It makes them more manageable, yes, especially as I am thinking of this, but once I stop thinking and go on with my life, I slip back into my accustomed habits and fear. It really seems as though this is who I am and it's not changeable.
I feel like I can and have accepted that, but will others? Am I going to have to continue to contradict society to be myself, push against others constantly? “I can't do this, I can't do that, but accept me for who I am?”
Acceptance is such a large part of social phobias and panic disorders. Speaking with people with anxiety, I get the feeling that the root cause is an existential split between self and other, and self and self. Anxiety is, at its core (at least on a philosophical level, if not psychologically), an attempt to escape oneself, a denial of one's nature, an attempt to swim against the current. It's a constant war against life as it is, a craving for a life how it's viewed by a distorted ego. And because our expectations never pan out, we with anxiety must continuously face failed expectations. It's tough.
This is why merely accepting myself and my anxiety helps so much. But this doesn't seem to help the split between self and other. The extreme self-consciousness that puts us at odds against all the people we meet. Add distorted thoughts to the mix, and we must always be on guard. “Will they laugh at us? What if I mess this up? I really am not as good as others, so I shouldn't even try. What if I get sick, get lost, or get hurt? What if I screw up and hurt someone else?”
The failure of others to accept me as I am plays right into the hands of this self doubt. It seems to prove all of my worst fears. And yet all of this is nothing more than a mind game, a game which I wish to drop as soon as I can figure out how to.
My hope is that others can drop the game as soon as I do. Maybe they are not playing the game that I am playing, and all of this is in my head? Maybe when I learn to loosen up and relax, it'll rub off on them? Maybe I'll finally find a way to explain this to them? Maybe it won't matter anymore, because I'll be cured of my phobias and all will be moot?
Or maybe I will be a phobic for the rest of my life. Can I be a happy phobic? Can I live a semi-normal life? Can I be married, have kids, and be a productive member of society despite not working or having any sort of education? Do I even deserve these things if I can't pull the same weight others pull?
It's a real mess, and it doesn't make anxiety easier—it makes things infinitely more difficult. And I have no answers for these feelings.
I have nothing but to move forward and hope things work out for the best. To accept the one truth of life, that it is an uncertainty.
Tao of Anxiety: Series
Tao of Anxiety: Series