I don’t like to use this blog for personal things. But I’m in a bit of a state right now and I just need to let it out. I promise I’ll never do this again.
So sometimes I get anxious and depressed and things. It’s mostly during the winter months what with it being all dreary and dark and horrible and all that. But it also happens during the summer. And it’s not much fun.
There’s not usually any specific trigger for it. It’s just general worrying about things. And then worrying about worrying. Then worrying about the worrying about the worrying. It’s the kind of vicious cycle that ends with up wrapped up in bed crying and listening to depressing music.
I’ve tried pretty much everything. Exercise. Meditiation. Mindfulness. Dieting. Counselling. Citalopram. Fluoxetine. Quitting caffeine. Nothing’s helped much.
But I’ve been feeling better the past few weeks. Finally got the ok to come off the meds after the latest six months of that, as I was doing mindfulness stuff to just SHUT MY BRAIN UP FOR ONE SECOND.
But I still find it difficult to do things. I get anxious in social situations. I worry about failure. I genuinely fear being exposed emotionally. And it has real knock-on effects to my quality of life. I don’t sleep right sometimes. I load up on sweets and coffee to feel good for once. I swing into manic behaviour to balance things out. I spent loads of money on stuff I don’t need or really even want. I avoid situations where things might be out of my control.
Like today. A friend told me about a comedy gig in town. I love comedy. I like having someone make me laugh, giving me a new perspective on things. I just like being able to look at the ridiculous things in life and laugh at them. It’s great. I’d love to do it myself (if you’ve read anything I’ve written I’m sure you’ll agree it’s pretty much just gonna stay a dream though).
So I got all excited for that but unfortunately my friend couldn’t make it. Uh-oh. Suddenly there’s a dilemma. Do I go, on my own, or not go and just stay at home instead? That’s not an option surely, as I’ve paid just under £10 for this ticket. That’s a waste of money, and I’m a big comedy fan. Going it is then.
But not alone. In comes the anxiety. Who goes to a show on their own. Freaks and losers, that’s who. I don’t genuinely believe this of course. But the idea is stuck in my head. And besides, even if I don’t believe it I’m sure some people there will.
So I ask around. See if anyone’s up for joining me at the comedy. I even offer to pay some folks to go with me. I’m that desperate not to be alone. But it’s all too short notice and nobody can make it.
Still, I go. I reckon I can just sit at the back and hide. Nobody will even notice me. It’ll be great. No worries.
I get there and it’s the smallest venue ever. Suddenly: all the worries. Only the first few rows are filling up and the back rows are closed off as it’s not going to be a big crowd. Uh-oh. I ask where I can sit.
I’m pointed to an empty space right in the front row. Right in the middle. The single most exposed spot in the venue. But it’s too late. No turning back now.
I feel like I’m on display. Half the seats are angled so they face another. I feel like my every movement is a performance for the rest of the audience. I cross and uncross my legs. I get out my phone, check it a bit – gotta look like I have a real life, don’t want people thinking I’m some kind of loser freak – realise I can’t get any signal in town, put the phone away, fiddle with my hands a bit, worry that fiddling with my hands probably looks weird, look up, stare at the ground. What do people do on their own at these things? The people to the left and right of me have given me a wide berth. I’m sure it’s perfectly innocent, just them respecting personal space boundaries, but I feel them judging me.
These are all the thoughts that are running through my head. I sweat. I breathe hard. I worry that people can hear my irregular breathing. I hold my breath. Holding my breath means I have to breathe deeper and louder again still. Negative anxious behaviours reinforce a feedback loop. I’m stuck in a personal hell of my own making. I can’t even get up and leave without making a scene.
Finally the show starts. The first act is lovely, wonderful, funny. I’ve seen them loads of times and they’re always great. It’s the reason I came. Then there’s a short interval. Again, I’m at a loose end. Do I wander off or just stay seated? I can’t just leave. The empty gap will be really obvious and people will know that I left halfway. Yes I know they’re complete strangers. But I still don’t want to be judged by them. It just feels horrible to me. I know it’s crazy but it’s how I feel.
So I just sit there. Everyone else is talking. Or getting up and doing things. I can’t even get a drink, there isn’t a bar. I try the whole phone pantomime again but I’ve even run out of things I can be pretending to do on that. I’m reading texts from my network provider for promotions I don’t care about. Anything. But even then I worry. Am I looking at my phone too much. Who spends that long writing a text? I can’t play a game or anything – don’t want to be that guy sitting in the front row of a theatre on his own playing a game on his phone. So I just sort of sit there.
I’m not even sitting comfortably. My bike lights are in my pocket and if I rest my hand on my lap there’s a slim chance they’ll be activated and I’ll just draw weird attention to myself. Where do arms go? I can’t fold them, that would look weird at a comedy gig. No armrests to prop myself up on. So they just sort of hang awkwardly between my legs. Or on my kneee when I shift my legs into a cross-legged position, as I do every minute or so to look like I’m not just sitting there unmovingly.
Finally the second act starts. Yes. Home stretch. Over halfway done. Nothing embarrassing yet.
Until he turns his attention onto me. Exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Attention. Everyone looking at me. Being called out.
He calls me out for being weird. Says he’s had his eye on me since I walked in. Addresses my clothes – my vintage cardigan making me look like an 80s bumblebee (?) apparently. Some other stuff too, but I’ve tuned out. I don’t know what to say or do. I just sit there and take it, in as much good humour as I can.
Laughingly I ask, “do you want me to go then?” Secretly I hope he says yes, giving me permission to leave. But he says to stay, but he’ll keep his eye on me.
For the rest of the show I’m on edge. I can’t laugh at the jokes. I feel that he could come back to me again at any moment. I’m worried that he’ll come back for another round. I try to avoid his eye, but make sure I appear to be laughing when he looks my way. Don’t want to give him an excuse. And got to put on a brave face for the rest of the people.
I’ve always thought that people who get picked on at comedy gigs are just ok with it. And 99% of the time I’m sure that’s the case. Most people are up for a laugh most of the time. And it helps when you’re with friends. If I wasn’t on my own it’d be fine. I’d have someone to fall back on. But I’m there alone. With a room of strangers laughing at me. My every fear realised. All my negative thought patterns entirely validated. Every time I’ve been told “you’re overthinking it” completely upturned. Exactly what I was worried would happen did happen. And it was horrible.
Eventually the show ended. I’m not sure what to do. I kind of hope the comedian comes over and apologises or something. Like that’s not what he really thinks, it’s just something to do as part of the show. I’ve seen that happen a few times and sometimes it’s ok. But it doesn’t happen. Everyone just leaves. So I leave too.
I try not to make eye contact with anyone. Everyone there with their friends knows that I’m the guy on his own. The weird guy that got called out. I get away quickly.
Cycling home I almost cry. I know that’s super lame but I feel really upset. It’s hard to put into words how much public humiliation can affect someone with social anxiety unless you’ve felt it. And this isn’t me being all ‘precious and unique snowflake’ – it’s just a thing I have and this is how I feel.
And I know that I should just ignore it. I’ve got so much to be “happy about.” Lots of friends. I like my job. I’m financially independent. I’m more or less healthy. But my brain relates all of this to footnotes. It’s like all these good things are in this tiny little font and there’s a huge YEAH, BUT… in great big bold letters after that. You simply can’t ignore it.
So yeah. I’m upset. I’m on the verge of relapsing back into another dark patch. Another six months of gloom. Another six months of medicine and not feeling yourself and getting constantly asked if you’re feeling ok.
Sorry for the long one. I don’t really expect anyone to read it. I just know it’s better to let these things out than keep them in.