Tag: social anxiety

the face i dare not show

Again, today, i heard something familiar.  When discussing anxiety and the trouble it can cause, the person i was talking to smiled brightly and said, “Yeah, you say you have anxiety, but you always look so cheerful and confident to me.  I don’t think it’s real.”

At first i felt frustrated.  Her image of me spits in the face of the reality i know.  Then i realized, to her experience of me, she must feel fully justified in her opinion.  There are faces i dare not show.  She only sees me on my best, bravest days.  For, thank heavens, i have days were i can walk through the world unhampered. Whether it be from medication or a sense of duty or just a miracle from the divine, i get these gifts of days when i am useful and reliable. Responsibilities have always had enough power over me to push me past fear and worry – only, i tend to fall apart when i get home, once the adrenaline wears off.

Yet, on the highest anxiety day, no one will ever see how fear and self-loathing can cripple me, because i will be hiding behind locked doors with the computer and the phone off.  Pain feeds the anxiety, and they will amp each other up over the course of time until i am rendered impotent. If you come to check on me during one of those spells, and knock on the door without my expecting it, i will hide in the bed, or crawl into the tub where no one peering in a window can see me, utterly terrified.

On the next step up, i might interface with you through social media or text or email, but i cannot get past my fears to pick up the ringing phone.  i stare at it in mild horror as it bleats for attention. It jars the fragile zen i can maintain while alone. Those moments are what caller ID and voicemail were made for.

Those days, i meditate for hours to keep myself calm.

Most of the time, i feel like an overfilled apple cart, one more apple and the whole thing will fall apart. My wheels will roll off in opposite directions, the structure of my being will collapse into a thousand pieces, fruit flying everywhere.  Worst of all, that new apple could come from anywhere.  Someone asks me to do a job, and i don’t feel like i can say no and i am suddenly (more) overwhelmed.  Another medical bill comes to me, that i cannot pay, because i am still limited in how i can make money.  A lot of days, i cannot check the mail.  The thought of it makes me start to tremble with angst.

The worse it gets, the more impossible it is to reach out for help, because people can be too helpful trying to solve my problems, as though anxiety means i cannot know what will work for me.  For every useful piece of advice, i have also had my heart broken.  What if i unburden my anxiety and someone uses that as opening to stoke my greatest fears (thank heavens you can’t make art so much any more, it was really awful) or my most tremendous guilts (Is that why this paperwork isn’t done?  What do you do with your days?) and the whole rickety construction of coping disintegrates?

Even worse, what if i do ask for help and then i am too needy, i keep talking too long, my need for a sense of belonging or compassion overriding my common sense? When i am in great pain, i distract myself by talking – it uses up so much less focus than listening. i am aware that i am listening too little and talking too much just like i am aware inside a dream.  Seeing that look of boredom or imposition on someone else’s face in response to my yammering can wreck me too.  i do not want to be the one who complains all the time, one of those people who see doom in every moment and cannot begin to have a positive thought or feeling.

For the anxiety, the depression, always live in tension with the joy i get from making art, the love that i feel for my friends, the multitude of blessings that i freely admit exist in this life of stress.

There are those tremendous days when i can move mountains. Thanksgivings pour from my throat until i am hoarse. And, there are the terrible days when no one sees me because i am hiding in a dark house, too afraid of everything to turn on a light.

It’s both.  Most of the time, i am in some kind of middle space – not moving mountains but not paralyzed either – and there’s no magical solution.  Progress can be excruciatingly slow, but inching forward nonetheless.  If i can work, i do.  If something urgent needs to be done, i can often put on the big girl pants, despite the chafing, and get it finished.  Often i am better at a regular job than my own art, because i am less invested in the ultimate outcome.  There are clear rules and procedures that help guide me. i can be glib and funny and am expert at hiding my pain.

So, with me and, i imagine, with many others who have anxiety and depression: what you are seeing is the best of us.  The worst is reserved for my cats, my dog, the two or three people closest to me, and those moments of solitude when suffering echoes around inside my own skull.


right on the edge

For weeks, i have been having profound issues physically. Even my ability to produce art, beyond sporadically writing poetry and fiction, has completely stalled. i lost most of the week before last, taking four sick days. For a while, i rallied, although after three days of shuffling through my obligations, things took a troubling turn. i went to the emergency room on Tuesday evening and got home fairly late Wednesday, without any joy.  Everything between now and then has been a blur of misery.

i have been struggling in the most profound way. The smallest things cause tears to stream down my face.  The world keeps spinning on me.  Food has become the enemy, all of it digestible only with intense suffering and pain. Usually, i cope very well with pain – working around it – but this is different.  i am graceless, frustrated, constantly on the edge of cognitive overload.

poor Martin

i could not even let my cat, Martin, cuddle (he is always starved for love) – the physical contact made the pain one whisker more than i could bear.  Eventually, he figured it out and started sitting beside me, cautiously creeping closer and closer, until i was in a good enough place for him to curl up close and get pets and scritches.  Thankfully, Roxi and Darwin are more self-sufficient, content to sit nearby and rest.

The worst part of this has been how it debilitates me emotionally.  My issues with anxiety get augmented wildly by this level of exhaustion and pain.  Chronic illness can lead to feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, but this has been a much stronger reaction than usual. i keep getting jumped, every phone call, each time someone knocks at the door, each time the dog barks like he announces the apocalypse, i nearly come out of my skin. i freeze and shudder and cry. There are a few really unflattering anecdotes i could share about hiding until the unexpected passed – and i acknowledge the irrationality of it. The fear is useless and misplaced.  However, this knowledge doesn’t make any difference. Indeed, the feeling of anxiety was so overwhelming and acute that i unplugged the house line for three days, knowing that people could text or leave a message on my cell (the ringer was set to vibrate) if it was urgent. The boweddown_11x14mail piled up, because i could not get to the box, either physically or emotionally.

Today, i was treading water slightly better, and predictably life felt a little more possible, a little less terrifying.  However, no illusion dwells inside my heart.  As i write, i have expended what energy i have, dinner is at war with my gastrointestinal system, and i can feel the anxiety ratcheting up.  Useless worries crowd my mind.  i try so hard to redirect myself into gratitude – this is a whole meditation/prayer i use to get through, focusing on whatever i can find to be grateful for inside even the worst present – but for now, i am a mouse and my fears are a cat.

Still, i am surviving. i am working to make bloodyminded stubbornness a blessing. All i can do is focus on tiny bits of work before i completely lose myself to sleep and pain.  In tiny, baby steps, i am making progress.  As you can see my website and online store are back up and running, i have edited the books i’ve completed this past month, and i continue to write the one that has its hands wrapped around my heart.  And if i remind myself of these tiny steps forward, maybe the rest of the hulking mountain of problems and fears will seem less intimidating.

thoughts on social anxiety

The past three days, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Sunday’s blog.  I suppose I should admit that the social anxiety has not gone away, in fact it has magnified a bit. An endless stream of apologies seems to be flowing from my mouth. At any rate, while I wrote Sunday, I had a tiny epiphany. My conviction that it might lead to the truth has grown stronger over the past 48 hours.

Although, I wonder if I haven’t had this epiphany before and just keep forgetting it.  Perhaps I should go back and check through older blogs.  My memory sputters like a car that refuses to start.

The back pain has left me right on the edge of cognitive load; I feel impaired as I try to process what’s going on around me.  Moving through space while hiding the amount of pain I’m in requires nearly all of my focus. If I drop my guard, I am probably going to become a trembling ball of whimpers. Certainly I was a wreck after dismantling my bedroom so I could flea treat my cat. This hyper-focus on keeping my shit together makes me acutely insecure that I’m missing things like social cues and snippets of conversation. Things get lost. Indeed, I forgot all about a student this afternoon.  Thank heavens she had her own key to the studio, knows what to do and has a forgiving nature.

Social situations have always left me anxious; large groups of people intimidate me.  As blissful as I can be with my life, I have very little confidence in how others see me.  Usually this doesn’t matter, because I’ve learned that trying to please anyone other than myself is fairly moot.  For everyone that likes some aspect of my personality, there will be someone who detests it. One will complain when I am passionate and effervescent, another adores it.  When friends try to comfort me I find myself blinking back tears, for I know if we went down the inventory of my character traits, I could give them someone who is a fan and someone else who rolls their eyes in despair for each and every item on the list. (This fact parallels in art, too: for every one who loves it there is another who will tell me I’m wasting my life.) Worse, when I am in this much pain, all perspective disappears.  Overwhelmingly, I feel forsaken, lost, like the world has suddenly become huge and terrifying. Solitude weighs on me like heavy stones, dragging me under water. All the strength and resilience I have demonstrated is forgotten. The joy I take in I am when I am alone does not soothe me, because in that moment the pain overwhelms all logic, memory and sensation.

Which does nothing to improve my cognitive load issues.  The pain itself can feel like a strange punishment for whatever my sins might be.

All the coping techniques that I can use when I find myself in a triggering situation to minimize the anxiety, and that I can use to derail the post-event insecurity, are not accessible when my body  screams so loudly.  Even if I quiet myself through meditation – something less likely when I cannot sit still without crying – all I can really manage is not fighting the onslaught of emotions and thoughts.  For the past three days, I have been nothing but apologies – desperate not to hurt people while I walk around in this haze – and I have continued to struggle with pain.

Eventually my back will feel better.  Or, I’ll just get used to this level of discomfort.  In the mean time, I’ve got to try to remember that this current spasm of loneliness and worry is happening for physiological reasons more than actual, rational ones.  When I lose perspective, I have to realize that it is only a shift in perception, not a condemnation.  If I say it often enough, I’ll start to believe it.


And, next time I have a big injury or an incapacitating illness, I’ll try to remember to re-read this blog.


after the meeting

Yesterday, I met with a great group of artists – setting up the calendar for the new season at Harbor Artisans in Belfast.  Within that cooperative’s walls, we laughed and debated and hammered out the details for 2014.  In fact, we will have a new website soon – I’ll update this with a link when it’s live. So much could pour forth from my fingertips about these artist cooperatives (I am also a member of  ones in Southwest Harbor and Lincolnville) but last night while my eyes were stuck open and I lacked the strength to write, I promised myself I would blog about something different this morning.

The intended topic – realized here – centers around a recurrent anxiety, attacking after events like this.

Last night, I fell to pieces a bit, mostly because of my back. It had reached the level of pain that makes me desperate for distraction. Knowing that the discomfort will pass does nothing to mitigate my desire to soothe myself in the moment. As often happens, words kept bubbling forth from me – I started craving laughter from those around me. Stories dripped from my lips.  By the time we parted ways, I already felt the overwhelming urge to apologize for such selfish consumption of time and word.  Even though I had wanted to go to a party that evening, I couldn’t manage it.  The pain and the sense of social ineptitude made going impossible.

Once home, I washed off the makeup, changed, tucked myself into bed with a heating pad and three cuddling heaps of fur (how the cats loved the warmth!).  Still, I could not find my zen. Waves of anxiety too loud to ignore kept washing over me.  Since I needed to nurse my back, most of the things I would use to distract myself inside my solitude were inaccessible.  So, in the dark, I had no viable alternative other than to sit with the thoughts. Without trying to make it worse, I held each one in my hands. First, the pronounced fear that during the last bit of convivial conversation I was too rowdy and too loud.  Second, the acknowledgment that without a doubt, I complained too much.  Finally, the sad realization that while talking about the last few years, it surely must have sounded like a lot of drama, even though right now I find myself content more than anything else.  Thankfully, I have learned what triggers and influences to avoid – and how to stop fighting the negative emotions that do arise.

This morning, feeling somewhat stronger and more able, I look back at the meeting and the time afterward with more calm.

However, my determination to find out how to vanquish this post-event anxiety has doubled in intensity.


Part of the journey is knowing when it is time to take off the makeup, change into pajamas at 4:30 pm and hide from the world for awhile.

20140131-170910.jpgThe animals all stand behind this plan, for no sooner had I crawled under the covers and pulled them over my head than I felt the familiar weight of a dog and two cats settle against me.

Some social anxiety still manages to unseat me – particularly after the event. Adrenaline gets me through the actual conversation, and afterward I dissolve slightly. Even more so when I am exposing my writing and art in a different way than before, or I feel like the ground is shifting underneath me.

While there has been a refreshing lack of circular thoughts on the subject of my art and person being liked or appreciated, the exhaustion of overwhelm remains.

And the only sensible thing is to take a break, rest and relax, lose myself in the written word and quietly breathe in and out – focusing on the wholeness of the moment rather the risk.


That sounds so much better than saying I am hiding under cats for an hour.