From a very early age I was entirely too aware I was painfully shy. And even though I'm in my forties now and I've put forth tremendous effort over the years to conquer it, I continue to be. I'm also prone to depression. But what I didn't realize until fairly recently is that I'm also anxious. Anxiety, you see, is the paramour of depression. A villainous tag team.
So, when I saw Scott Stossel in one of the most uncomfortable and anxious ridden interviews on the Colbert Report I have ever seen, I knew I had to read his book. I started it on the flight to Florida. Oddly, getting on a airplane doesn't make me anxious at all. My anxiety is purely social. Specifically ignited by large groups of people. Where, among them, I will have numerous opportunities to embarrass myself. Who may or may not be thinking thoughts about me. If they are, I'm sure they're critical and unflattering. It's a vicious cycle I can't seem to stop.
I've always been highly intuitive of other people's feelings. I used to be too attentive to the emotions of others, letting theirs override mine. In fact, I still have to keep a constant eye that I don't default back to that setting. What I didn't know until I read the book is this phenomenon is a classic symptom of anxiety. Over reading other people's signals. To one's own detriment. Guilty as charged.
In the grips of anxiety, my mind goes blank. Totally blank. I won't be able to think of anything so say. Let alone anything remotely intelligent. So naturally, if I am able to utter a word, it'll be something completely stupid and thoughtless. Which will only increase my anxiety and make me feel worse about myself. This I knew. But, I never made the connection that anxiety is at the core of my inability to remember and perform belly dance choreography. Dancing on stage means there is an instructor, classmates or worse yet, an audience watching me. Silently critiquing me. This is all making sense now. I don't have amnesia.
The day that's supposed to be the happiest day of your life, was one of my most anxious ones. It started the night before at my wedding rehearsal. Everyone's looking at me. And it's only about 50 people. The next day the number will grow to be over 200 people. That's 400 eyes. And a photographer. And small talk to make. So I ditched my own rehearsal dinner and spent the night sick with vertigo, my stomach in knots, puking in bed. The next morning, I didn't feel much better and did what I could to down some saltines trying to calm my stomach. My girlfriend covertly walked down the aisle concealing a plastic bag "just in case". Although I've been married nearly 22 years, I didn't realize this whole episode was anxiety until just yesterday.
Then there's the delightful irritable bowl syndrome link. Again, when I look back, this totally makes sense. If you've read the book and the blog post on me taking an urgently imminent shit in the Ambassador's toilet while at a party there this is but one of a myriad of examples I could give. This shit has been happening for years and is mortifying. Especially when there's no public toilet in sight.
In short, I've spent a lot of my life being desperately uncomfortable and exacerbated by the fact that I could shit my pants in public without warning. And forcing myself to do things despite that fact. There've been a lot of comments that I don't seem timid my book. And I'll take that as the highest compliment. Maybe next time I'll leave some blank pages to symbolize the awkward silences that would occur in real life.
Writers tend to be introverted listeners who prefer to write the things we cannot say. That's not to say we all have anxiety. Even though I'd bet most do.
Although I wasn't one bit anxious to meet my mentor, Leah, for the first time on my trip to Florida. Cause we're both a bit askew.