Tag Archives: anxiety

Look Both Ways: The Anxiety Roadshow

I’m afraid of crossing the street.

Well, I’m afraid of vehicles when I cross the street.

Okay, I’m actually afraid of the people in vehicles when I cross the street.

bumper sticker
Patience and kindness.

I’ve recently been venturing outside to walk around town, the weather being so nice and my therapist being so insistent. It’s nice getting fresh air and a mild sunburn, but I have to face my totally rational fear of people in vehicles.

If I’m approaching an intersection at the same time as a vehicle and it appears our two paths are going to cross, I generally take one of two actions: 1) I slow down to a virtual stop some distance from the intersection so the vehicle passes through first or 2) I pretend I’m not crossing the intersection at all, but instead turning to continue down the sidewalk (after the vehicle has driven away I cross the street). Either way, the vehicle doesn’t have to stop for me and there is no conflict.

Because that’s what I’m really afraid of: conflict. I’m not afraid of getting hit by a car; I’m afraid that the people driving in their cars are going to get mad at me if I make them stop and wait while I cross the street. Like, I said: totally rational.

I’m not only overcome by this fear when I’m walking; I’m also a victim of it while driving. This fear makes me fairly religious about driving the speed limit. About driving exactly the speed limit. Sure, it’s nice to avoid speeding tickets (and let’s face it – speeding is breaking the rules. THE RULES!), but it’s equally important not to drop too far below the posted maximum speed because the drivers behind me might get angry if I am too slow.

angry driver
Patience and kindness.

There’s a construction zone I’ve been driving through regularly for the last year, and the speed limit has been lowered for a stretch of road that exceeds the actual area under construction. This means the average driver speeds through at least part of this zone. If they’re not speeding, it probably means they’re stuck behind me.

Do I know these other drivers? Probably not. Do they know me? Again, probably not. But it is vital that they not get mad at me. And, in my mind, it is guaranteed that driving behind my speed limit following self fills all these anonymous drivers with rage.

This leaves me completely frazzled. I want to speed up when a car starts tailgating me but THE RULES! When they can finally pass me it feels like a slap in the face.”I’m sorry!” I want to tell them, “Please don’t be mad at me!”

Where does this fear come from? I’m so glad you asked! It’s time for an episode of DADDY ISSUES!

My father is an angry man. I like to save the best stuff for my therapist, so let it suffice to say that good ol’ dad suffers from road rage and that from a very young age I learned that it takes next to nothing to force a driver into a slavering fury.

Nice Turn Signal
Patience and kindness.

Slavering fury is scary. A neurosis is born.

So, how do I un-born it? There are a few things I’m going to try.

When I’m walking:

  • Pay attention to my posture. It may seem unrelated, but studies (like the ones Amy Cuddy talks about in this TED Talk) suggest that posture impacts mood and behaviour. Maybe if I walk as if I have a right to some space on the street I’ll start to feel and act that way.

  • Remember how I feel about pedestrians when I’m a driver. Surprisingly, I don’t feel a murderous rage when I’m forced to stop and let someone cross the street. Maybe, just maybe, other drivers have some patience and kindness.
  • Follow the rules of the road and cling to the knowledge that pedestrians have the right of way.

When I’m driving:

  • Use cruise control whenever possible. Sorry, man – it’s out of my hands. The car’s in charge. (Remember to cover the break, though, and don’t use cruise control in wet or iced conditions. THE RULES.)
  • Think about the consequences of other drivers being mad at me. There are none, really.
  • Put on some music and turn up the volume. 

Any other suggestions? Post them in the comments!

Compliments: how to uncover low self esteem in 10 seconds or less

Oh, great. These sandals are off limits now. Can’t wear them again. There’s obviously something wrong with them.

Someone complimented them.

screaming cat
This cat feels the feels.


What’s wrong with a compliment? Only everything. A compliment about my appearance means that something about [my attire, my bearing, my makeup, my dumb face…] drew someone’s attention, enough so that this person was moved to speak. This attention means I’ve failed at one of my goals in life, which is to lie low.

I know. That’s not supposed to be my goal in life. All the after-school specials told me I am supposed to BE MYSELF! LET MYSELF SHINE! DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING! But what if “being myself” means hiding my light so far under a bushel that no one can tell my bushel from anybody else’s? We’ll return to this question in a bit.

Back to compliments.

The aforementioned footwear compliment happened  as I was leaving work the other day. I was minding my own business when I happened to pass someone on the stairwell. I know her by sight, as she works in the same section of the building, and I went through the familiar cost-benefit analysis that comes with the decision to greet or not to greet. Greeting calls attention to myself, but constantly being the one to respond to a greeting may make me seem unfriendly. I decided on eye contact, which means smiling as well. Eye contact and smile returned. Awesome. A successful stairwell interaction.

But then…

“Great sandals! We all need a little sparkle now and then!”

Oh, fudge ripple.

I laughed and thanked her, continuing down the stairs, but inside I was screaming. “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM? Are they inappropriate office attire? Are they too sparkly? Are they dumb shoes for babies?”

dumb shoes for babies
The dumb shoes.

My compliment phobia isn’t confined to footwear. Someone once complimented my purple shirt; see ya later, purple. Which is all well and good. Yesterday, however, someone complimented my hair. WHAT DO I DO NOW? I know that shaving my head is an attention grabbing move and thus out of the question. I finally thought I’d found an acceptably nondescript style, but now do I have to try to master an even less eye-catching configuration?

I assume you get it now. Compliments = something is wrong. Something is sticking out from the tight ball of mediocrity that I hope to make my appearance. Wrap it back up, please. Smooth it over with plaster, a nice nondescript grey paste that can harden into a smooth shell. I’d be happy to fit in with the rest of the furniture.

grey stools ARROW

Which probably sounds a little dramatic. Or heartbreaking? But there you have it.

What about other types of compliments? Given the fact that I am seriously approval-seeking when it comes to work and school, you might think I’d love compliments about my performance there. And you’d be partially right, but I have a whole different set of complexes for those situations.

So, finally, back to the question of appearance: is it wrong to want to disappear into the background at all times?

I want to say, “Of course not! That sort of attitude in no way indicates horrible self-esteem and a wealth of emotional damage,” but I’m trying this whole thing where I’m honest with myself.

So what to do? I’ve made a list for myself:

  1. Learn how to accept compliments gracefully. I found a Lifehack post that gives some suggestions.
  2. Try to believe compliments. It’s probably not very nice to assume that everyone who compliments me is a big liar-pants. I know and respect some of these people, so isn’t it kinder to give them the benefit of the doubt?
  3. Take more risks with my appearance. I’m going  to wear red lipstick today. For reals.
  4. Try to let my personality shine, without worrying so much about the outer shell. The after school specials also promised that real beauty comes from within. Time to test this theory.

Any other suggestions? Post them in the comments!

Maybe it’s time to fail.

Being back in school at the age of 34, I’m learning more than books and such; I’m learning how to try at something.

In my younger days, I never studied for school and often did my homework at the last possible second, but my grades were always above average.  Yes, that’s great, but I developed a nasty habit; when I was faced with any adversity, I’d simply quit.  Better to not try at all than to fail, right?  Totally…  I’m sure I never missed out on any character-building life experiences with that attitude.

Now I’m back, though, and I’ve decided to try. But that way lies madness…

I’ve aged into a ripe old perfectionist, which you know if you’ve been reading my blog at all.  This character trait has caused me just a little bit of anxiety, and that was before I decided to try at things.   Now, instead of being able to tell myself, “No one’s judging you! it’s all in your head!” I have instructors who are in fact judging me, and it’s not all in my head.


So I give every assignment my best effort.  And apparently my “best effort” borders on the psychotic.

First, I start each assignment as early as possible, just to draw out the torture.  It might be “finished” within the first couple of days, but then I proofread. I proofread and proofread and proofread and proofread.  I re-read the assignment parameters and proofread some more.

When I finally convince myself that making any more changes would be excessive, I simply gaze upon the completed assignment.  Is it perfect?  It looks perfect.  It gives me an excited feeling inside…

Excited feeling? Why? Well, here’s the real secret: I want my instructor to look at my work and immediately know that this assignment is A MASTERPIECE.

Have you ever seen A Christmas Story?  Classic holiday movie about a kid named Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun.

Stay with me, here.

There is a scene (linked below) where Ralphie turns in “A Theme” to his teacher, and he’s sure it is the best theme his teacher will ever see.  He fantasises about her reaction to his work, which results in a grade of A++++++++++++…

I want that. I know it’s silly, and people don’t dress like that anymore, but I want that.  For every assignment I hand in ever. I want to know the instructor has never seen anything better.  It might even change their very outlook on teaching, on life, on the mysteries of death and the afterlife.

No, it doesn’t escape my notice that I share the same fantasy as a fictional 9-year-old boy. The heart wants what the heart wants.

So I gaze.  And I fantasise.

And I doubt.  And I second-guess.

And I proofread, because deep down I believe that perfection is possible.  If only I could choose the right word here, and use a semi-colon correctly there…

So how can I give myself a break?  How can I break the habit of thinking that perfection is actually possible?  How can I stop this need for excessive validation?

Perhaps I need to fail at something.  Fail, and not give up. (Oh, the horror of it…)

Obviously this is not an experiment to be taken lightly, nor one to be performed on my school work (I’ve got a GPA to maintain).  I can think of a few things I might try out, though… I’m not any good at painting, so I have some painting supplies languishing unused in my storage room.  Maybe it’s time to pull out the ol’ canvas and brush, even if the result is a total fail.

Maybe it’s time.

Why your name is “Hey, you!” and the intimacy of name calling

I was recently called by my given name by a complete stranger.

Let’s think about this for a second.  As a puddle of Social Anxiety, I have to stop and check my perceptions every once in a while.  I have to ask, “Do other people have this much trouble answering the phone?” or “What’s the big deal with friendly cashiers?” or “Do most people feel sick to their stomach when someone they don’t know very well calls them by their first name?” Because I do.  And I did.

It was a simple case of a customer service worker actually paying attention to my name when I showed them my driver’s license, but it felt more creepy and intimate than that.  It felt like a violation, which I gather from the handy perception check above is not the feeling the average person would have experienced in the same situation.

So why did it bug me so much?

To understand, you have to get into the way I feel about given names in general: I’m squarely against them.

I gave a presentation in class today, and it was followed by a question period moderated by yours truly.  My hands were freezing and my palms were sweaty, in part because public speaking equals no and partly because I was terrified I’d have to call on someone by name.  It’s hard to describe the feeling.  It’s like an emptiness in the pit of my stomach, or maybe more like a space filled to the brim with cold, echoing fear.  The fear that I’ll call someone I’ve known for months by the wrong name.

To be clear, I know their name.  I KNOW their freaking name.  But what if I don’t know their name and there are so many names in the world and what if I know it but pronounce it incorrectly and what if I DIE?

So names are hard.

I won’t exaggerate (although I’d dearly loved to).  I call the average acquaintance by their names on occasion, and I use names when I talk with my close friends and family.  I’m not a monster.  I don’t even mind when acquaintances call me by name (but roll call makes me shudder).

So names have acquired a certain status in my mind.  If I feel safe with you, I’ll call you by name.  If I can take a deep breath when you’re around, you can even call me by mine.*  So when that stranger used my first name, she was taking a liberty.  She didn’t know it, but she was entering an intimate space where she really didn’t belong.

Or did she?  In the name of personal growth, should I be learning a lesson here?  They say to get anywhere in business you need to kick ass and take names (or at least remember and use names).  Is my hesitance to use names holding back my career?  What about personal relationships?  Do the people I greet with a generic-but-friendly “Hey, you!” feel slighted in any way?  Should I be using their names when we meet up in the mall, or the hall, or at other rhyming places?

It’s hard to ask these questions, because that way lies madness – obsessing over what I’m doing wrong socially can destroy me on a good day.  I need to ask these questions, though, if only to do a small favour to the people who are kind enough to be friendly to me.

Therefore, I resolve to use people’s names more and to try to take it easy when they return the favour.  1 2 3 GO.

*If you know me and are thinking to yourself, “Wait! Does she use my name?  Am I a safe person?  Am I insulting her when I call her by name? Is this blog causing me to develop Social Anxiety?” please remember that I’m fairly damaged and you have to take everything I say, or don’t say, with a grain of salt.




8 Stops on the Social Anxiety Blog Roller Coaster

I haven’t posted in a long while, and there are several reasons why.  First, I’ll admit that without extrinsic motivation I’m about as likely to shift myself off the couch and away from Netflix documentaries as I am to suddenly decide that running a marathon is a fun way to spend time (I will never decide this, by the way).  Second, when not tuned in to the soothing narration of Sir David Attenborough, I’ve actually been really busy with college course work, as I now find myself living the student life again (but with less binge drinking and more actual reading of text books).

These are valid reasons to be a blog slacker (VALID REASONS, I SAY!), but it’s important to also note that writing a blog about social anxiety sent me into a downward spiral of mental health. Hurray for spirals?!  It turns out that dwelling on your inadequacies and fears will do that to a person.  Who knew? I think I’m in a healthy enough space to return to writing, though, and the idea for this piece has been waiting for almost two years.   So, without further ado, here are eight stops on the emotional roller coaster of writing a blog about social anxiety:

Roller Coaster Up

1. I have a fantastic idea!  If I type about it and share it with the world, I could gain renown as a funny and smart person and people will approve of my existence!

2. Are these words perfect?  I really need these words to be perfect, or people are going to hate me and disapprove of my very existence.  Let’s proofread them just once more.  Just once more.  Just once more.  Just once more. Just once more… Okay. PUBLISH.

3. Oh, God. Oh, God.  Oh, God. ohgodohgodohgod.  I’m going to eat a 2 pizzas now.

4. People are reading my words!  Not only are people reading my 4295460613_7cc1c96f1a_bwords, they’re also liking my words! Social validation!

5. Not enough people are reading my words.  I know this because I’m obsessively refreshing the stats page to keep track of every reader.  And why aren’t the people who are reading my words also commenting on my words?  Everyone hates my words.  Even the people who haven’t read them.  Especially them.

roller-coaster-1011434_960_7206. I probably insulted someone.  Someone is definitely mad at me.  Or disgusted with me.  Or feeling sorry for me.  Someone probably disagrees with me, which is the same as them being insulted, mad, disgusted, and sorry.  I wrote the wrong words.

7. Someone commented on my words!  Someone said, “I feel you,” and that means they approve of me as a person!   I put very little stock in my own opinion of myself and rely almost entirely on outside feedback, so this means I can feel like someone of worth for at least 5 minutes!

8.  Someone commented on my words… and they probably only said nice things to make me feel better about myself.  No one could like my stupid words for reals.

The roller coaster does a little loopedy-loop back to 4 through 8 a few times, until something else eventually pulls my interest away.

But that’s all in the past (she typed confidently).  My plan after I publish this blog post is to stay off the roller coaster entirely and just hang out on the platform of “Hey, I had an idea and I typed about it!”


Hello, my name is PLEASE DON’T TALK TO ME.

“…Sometimes you wanna go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna go where people know
Troubles are all the same.
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”
Cheers theme song

No, Cheers.  No.

I’d prefer to remain anonymous everywhere I go.  Nothing but scripted, meaningless small-talk, please.

“Hi! How are you?”

“I’m well, thanks! How are you?”

“I’m well! Did you find everything you were looking for?”

“Yes, thanks… This conversation rates 10/10 for total lack of meaning! :)”

I do tolerate people knowing my name and expecting conversation when I’m at home, with friends, or at work. Life can be hard sometimes…

I’m not unfriendly.  Really, I’m not.  I just don’t think it’s fair for people to assume that their familiarity is welcome.

angry cat

Okay, I have to admit that came across as unfriendly.  In fact, I re-wrote this blog post several times trying to reach an end result that didn’t leave me looking like a huge jerk.

Let me try to explain.

Social anxiety holds me in a state of near-constant worry that people are judging me and finding me lacking.

jury caption

It doesn’t help that I have the perverse habit of interpreting compliments as gentle insults that I then obsess over for days/years – the addition of “friendliness” to a generic small-talk script can be frankly traumatizing.

what they said what they meant

And this sort of exhausting mistrust is not reserved solely for strangers in public places.  I trust my family and friends, and love them and respect them and blah blah blah.  But it can be pretty exhausting fighting the urge to second-guess and over-think.

bette davis

Not surprisingly, the idea of becoming a “regular” at a bar, restaurant, grocery store or gas station terrifies me.  I need safe places where I can keep my head down, spew scripted responses, and smile when required.

The problem is, my fear of basically everything on earth leads me to establish routines;   I visit the same stores, gas stations, and restaurants over and over again.   I fear the day when the words, “Hello, again! How have you been?” signal that it’s time for me to move on to more anonymous pastures.   Pastures where people will at least pretend not to notice that they’ve seen me more than once in their lives…

What do you think?  Is it unhealthy or unreasonable to crave anonymity?  I genuinely and for-real would love to learn your opinion. I’m trying to grow as a person and stuff. 🙂

“Nothing to be anxious about…”

Hi, everyone! Here follows a post written from my couch, where I sit in my pyjamas, paralysed by anxiety – so please forgive the rough patches that are sure to arise from me using my cell phone to compose this entry.

I tend to react rather strongly to the statement, “There’s nothing to be anxious about!”  My general response is,


I’ve recently been encouraged to take a step back and try to acknowledge that there are reasons that I react with panic to certain situations; the anxiety is real, but it is not caused by a true threat. As opposed to panic caused by OH MY GOD A BEAR, A FREAKING BEAR!


In this spirit, I acknowledge that no one is going to die because I have sweaty Latin dance class tomorrow… followed directly by a committee meeting.

A committee meeting that I want to leave early to attend another event, only I have to give my treasurer’s report and an update on our contest entry, only the youth club declined helping us with the video element and I hate giving bad news. And I have to making planning for the theatre and music classes I facilitate later this week, and with typing and reading board meeting minutes for the email sends and cleaning the house because husband is at work while I sit on the couch and whine about feeling anxious and HOW CAN I EAT ANY BACON HE BRINGS HOME WITH ALL THIS GUILT SAUCE?*

In conclusion, everything will be fine. Right? I’m going to put my head under the covers. Maybe eat a sandwich.

*To be clear, my husband does not pour the guilt sauce. My brain does.

How to buy the things

Decisions are hard.  All of them.

Should I go back to schoolShould I think about changing careers

Should I buy milk? 

Should I go to the bathroom right now, or wait for the break? (Because I kinda-really have to go.  But what if I miss something important and miss writing it in the minutes?  I’ll get fired and have to think about going back to school or changing careers while drinking or not drinking milk…)

I have a special place in my heart for decisions that have to do with me spending any amount of money – a corner shared by activities like “asking for help from a sales clerk” and “actually going inside a bank instead of using an ATM.”   Recently, I made a fairly large purchase and had the opportunity to examine the process I go through when deciding to spend money.

I started by thinking about how the non-anxious person does their shopping.  To be clear, I’m not talking about angst-filled decisions here.  This is a cycle for purchases within one’s means that are clearly going to fill a need or a want.  Everything from tooth-paste to lap-tops.  I thought it might look something like this:

01 Buy the things Basic Cycle

There is some amount of debate for anyone, but the process rolls along and comes to the logical conclusion of “buying the thing.”

The purchasing cycle gets complicated for me, due to the introduction of the perfect panic decision loop:

02 Buy the things ME

You’ll note that steps 3 and 4  are ignored completely.  That’s because I’m stuck in the tumble dryer that is Step 2.  I tend to be convinced that every decision will determine whether I am a mature adult with money in the bank or just some penniless fool who is a slave to short term consumer desires.

But there are times where the clouds seem to part, and some miracle allows me to take a deep breath and Decide to Buy the Thing.  In those cases, I have to act quickly or risk getting pulled back into the loop.

03 Buy the things NOW

A purchase is made!

But it’s the thought of this next scenario that usually keeps me spinning in Stage 2.

04 Buy the things nightmare

NO!  NO RETURNING THE THING!  SOCIAL ANXIETY MAKES NO TALK TO CUSTOMER SERVICES! You know what?   I love the thing.  It doesn’t work.  But I love it.  I don’t need to return it.  This has taught me a life lesson, so it’s totally worth the $300 I spent on a Chromebook that I can’t hook up to my printer.  *BARF*

So, the next time you’re in the grocery store and see someone picking a tub of margarine out of the cooler, putting it in their cart, walking a few steps, stopping, backing up, putting the margarine back in the cooler, walking a few steps, stopping, looking back at the margarine… it might be me.

The Nervous Nelly

Welcome to Perfect Panic!  

You should read this blog if you are


  • someone who enjoys laughing at the misfortune of others.  Don’t worry… it’s okay to admit it.  If it weren’t for people like you, the Meet the Parents franchise would have flopped and there wouldn’t be so many videos like this on the internet. Or pictures like this one:

*My anxiety requires me to apologize in advance to any nice people who may have been offended by the above picture.

So you’re going to keep reading?  Great!

To up your reading pleasure, first watch some of this video of David Attenborough talking about the Elephant Shrew (Sengi).  Now imagine that Sir Attenborough is narrating this post.


“The domesticated Nervous Nelly is characterized by its anxious behaviours.  If we were to insert a camera into its burrow, we might witness a scene rather like this one:

An adult female sits in a nest of blankets, engaged in typing behaviour on a laptop.  She’s been writing and re-writing the same email for about 25 minutes.  It will probably be another 10 minutes before she actually sends it, after which she will immediately regret not spending just a little more time proofreading.

The cell phone on a nearby table suddenly rings, and the subject begins ritual hyperventilation; she really needs to choose a ringtone that doesn’t make her feel quite so anxious.

Surprisingly, the Nelly doesn’t react by answering the call.  Instead, she picks up the phone and places one finger over the speaker, muffling the noise.


Her keen eyes study the display, shifting back and forth between ‘Decline’ and ‘Answer’.

Really, there’s no way that she’s going to decline the call; that’s rude.

But answering the call is equally out of the question, because that would mean talking to a real human, and Nellies need more mental preparation for that sort of thing.  

She’ll just let it go to voice-mail.  But wait… Did she remember to change the greeting after she got back from vacation? She’s sure she did.  Or did she?  She totally did.  But if she didn’t… the caller is going to be very confused.  Drat.  Maybe she should answer-

The phone stops ringing, and  the voice-mail icon soon appears on the screen. As the sun sets in the west, the Nervous Nelly sets the phone aside and plans to listen to the message when it doesn’t seem quite so terrifying.”


In case you hadn’t guessed, the Nervous Nelly is ME.  *gasp!*

It is fairly typical for me to deal with calls to my cell phone exactly as Mr Attenborough described.   It’s a problem.  But I’m working on it…

Fun fact:  I spent about 3 hours* editing and obsessing over this post after it was, for all intents and purposes, complete.   I had emotions.  

*low estimate

Expect more posts filled with angst and hilarity.  Not all of my posts will be narrated by the great Attenborough, though – that was a special treat.