Tag Archives: social 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!

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!”


“Why my profile picture isn’t a sunset”, or “Every Occasion is a Selfie Occasion!”

Obligatory New Year Greeting!

Actually, my blog today does have a “New Year’s Resolution” flavour, but it’s been percolating for a while and I want to stress that I don’t endorse the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. Being “the way I am” (a perfectionist with low self esteem but kinda high self esteem but I must be the worst but now I am confused so should probably eat all the cheesecake), I struggle pretty much every day, if not every minute, to be something better than I am; resolutions seem a) unnecessary and b) a chance to sink into a puddle of self-loathing by mid-January every single year.

Which brings us to profile pictures!

I tend to focus on Facebook as my social networking platform, which the language of this post may reflect, but many websites that require us to choose a username also require us to upload a photo that represents Who We Are. For example, wordpress requires bloggers to profile themselves with an image. Until today, mine was a picture of a $20 bill with googly eyes pasted on the Queen (which, to be clear, was awesome):

20 with googly eyes

Before typing today’s blog, I switched my profile to a picture of my actual face:

Can you spot the googly eyes?
Can you spot the googly eyes?

(Which is also awesome, according to my husband, my close friends, and my mother. Usually flattering sources, regardless of their reliability.)

So why the switch?

I recently had to face a hard fact:  for me, my online persona is the only persona that really matters (hyperbole alert – but let’s keep on topic here, ok?).  On Facebook, for instance, people are in touch with anywhere between 1 and 500 friends (I’m not qualified to comment on anyone’s experiences with over 500 “friends”).  In reality, many of these friends are bare acquaintances, or are people we haven’t actually seen in the flesh for 20 odd years; but we interact with a bare fraction of that number of people in our physical lives, so I argue that we can become much more concerned about how we present ourselves to the stranger-friends of the interweb than to the people we live and interact with in close quarters.

So, again, why the switch?  What does this obsession with the opinions of near-strangers have to do with my replacing pictures of inanimate objects*,

My actual wisdom teeth.  I decline comment on the colour integrity of the image.
My actual wisdom teeth. I decline comment on the colour integrity of the image.


Serenity (named after the spaceship, not the state of mind).
Serenity (named after the spaceship, not the state of mind).

and photoshopped versions of myself

My very first profile picture.
My very first profile picture.

with pictures of something that actually represents my current physical  existence?

It’s simple, really.  I’m trying to love myself for who and what I am now, not for what I was 60 lbs ago or 10 years ago; how is it possible to succeed in this task if I’m forever hiding my appearance from the people I post at several times a day?  I realized that I was becoming more and more ashamed of my appearance, and as that happened I was updating my profile picture less and less.  It was as if I didn’t really exist anymore, or like I was trying to lose my physical self and become an anonymous text bubble on the internet.  This practice was not conducive to building self-esteem and more robust mental health.

So “Every Occasion is a Selfie Occasion!” was born. first selfie

Whenever I think of it (often if I’ve just spent some time on my appearance, but not always), I take a selfie and make it my profile pic on facebook.   As much as possible at this point in my emotional development, these pictures represent ME, RIGHT NOW and show the world I’m not ashamed of myself or my appearance.  It can be nerve-wracking, as I’ve mentioned before that I have an inconvenient habit of treating compliments like criticisms (social anxiety! you dog, you!), but on the whole I’ve found it to be a positive experience.

If you currently have a sunset, or a grumpy cat meme, or an inspirational poster as a profile picture, I highly recommend you try celebrating some selfie occasions.  Let me know how it works out in comments.

 *For the record, I most definitely still see a place for pictures of inanimate objects and pets on my internet profile pages, just not as representations of myself.  My wisdom teeth deserve to be shown far and wide, and you curtail my kitten picture posting at your own peril. 

Twitter Trolls & Self Acceptance

I recently posted something to Facebook that I thought was actually a better fit for PerfectPanic.  The post (rant) spoke about self-acceptance and overcoming social anxiety; it did so by bringing up the topic of Fat Acceptance.

As someone with social anxiety who also happens to be “overweight,” I often deal with the following quandary: The Therapist tells me that people probably aren’t judging me as harshly as I believe, while I know damn well that I am indeed being judged harshly (at least by some people) every time I walk out in public, just because of my weight (to be clear, I am not dismissing my awesome therapist’s advice; I’m just not able to use it as a blanket source of comfort).

For a long time, my low self esteem has made me a Good Fatty, who at least had the “decency” to hate herself for being fat and pretends to be working hard to achieve the perfect bod. However, I suddenly felt confident enough to speak out about my feelings around Fat Shaming.*

I invite you to read my original Facebook thoughts (now with pictures and a few edits for clarity):

“So, I was checking out the #Fatkini trend on Twitter, because I am sincerely trying to fall in love with my body, both as the chariot that carries me around and as a simple fact of my existence.

In real life, my chariot also happens to have two kittens.  Mind? Blown.
In real life, my chariot also happens to have two kittens. Mind? Blown.

I am fat, and have been pretty consistently since I was very young, despite dieting, exercising, and hating myself. Anyway, along my #Fatkini travels, I came across the following post on Twitter: “Put it away you morbidly obese, sweaty, dirty humans and crack on down the gym!” And HERE’s what I think of that:

I strive every day to excel at my job and in my relationships; I volunteer in my community (including walking all around my town for hours in summer heat delivering flyers); I try to be good to my family and friends and offer them all the love and support I can; and I worry EVERY DAY that I’m not enough, that I could be doing more. (I may sound like I’m bragging, but I think these actions of mine are relevant here.)

Despite all these traits, I know that when I go out in public, I am often judged as lazy, unhealthy, and generally some kind of degenerate because of the way I look. That sort of thing hurts my feelings, because I am NOT only my body size. Even IF being fat were inherently a bad thing (which health studies don’t necessarily back up), I refuse to be measured by my body size alone, instead of the complete, striving human being that I am.

That’s right: even if I do something commonly perceived as unhealthy or “wrong”, like eating fried chicken or ice cream, or sitting on the couch watching tv all weekend, there is SO MUCH MORE TO ME than what I choose to eat and whether I choose to spend time on a treadmill.

Basically a typical weekend, but with more natural history documentaries.
Basically a typical weekend, but with more natural history documentaries.

This daughter, sister, auntie, wife, employee and volunteer has a generous heart, a keen intellect, and a sharp sense of humour. Being overweight is only one of my MANY traits.”

- Carol Rossetti
– Carol Rossetti

In case you are interested in learning more about the Body Love movement, there are a couple of blogs you can visit.  The Militant Baker, written by “A mental health professional, pastry chef, ex-art major, crazy cat lady, fat model, fiery advocate, and total pain in the ass.” and my friend Rad Amy’s blog (which has been a great inspiration to me).

*Speaking of increased confidence, I’ve recently experienced dramatically reduced phone anxiety ;  I actually answer my phone now, with very little hesitation! See The Nervous Nelly to get an idea of my baseline in that regard.

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. 🙂

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.