Anxiety disorders suck. They really suck. Maybe you’re skeptical when I say that, but it’s true: They’re the pits.
Social anxiety is kind of my anxiety’s specialty. Like, if my anxiety went to college, that would have been its major. It minored in spiders.
If you’ve read any of the literature, you’ll know that social anxiety is rooted in the fear of judgment. Maybe that’s even true. You’ll also know that the mind tends to run through all of the possible negative outcomes of any given situation, essentially convincing itself that such outcomes are probable or even inevitable as opposed to just conceivable. Maybe that’s also true.
I don’t know that I experience it quite like that, though. I mean, sometimes, sure, my brain worries about what could go wrong, but for the most part, I just experience this blind, irrational panic. It doesn’t really tell me that striking up a conversation with that stranger over there will lead to a humiliating incident. It just screams at me, in all caps, that FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T, DON’T, DON’T STRIKE UP A CONVERSATION WITH THAT STRANGER OVER THERE!
Seriously, my brain can go fuck itself.
To someone who doesn’t deal with this sort of thing, it can probably seem downright silly. Such a person—with their remarkable, non-fucked-up, human brain—might be tempted to tell the anxietee to just get over it. Buck up. Stop making a big deal of it.
Let me tell you …
Bucking up does jack shit.
Have you ever seen a jack shit? It doesn’t help.
I don’t really have any advice for dealing with anxiety. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be here writing about my terrifically fucked-up human brain. But, maybe I have a framework that will help the terminally non-anxious empathize with the struggle. Because, everyone has some kind of irrational fear. Yours might be spiders. Or airplanes. Or immigrants.
Whatever it is, there’s something out there that freaks you right the fuck out.
And, as scary as spiders are, they’re typically harmless unless you’re a bug.
Even the bites of the so-called dangerous spiders—like widows and recluses—are rarely fatal. Whatever threats they do pose, are generally minimized by the administration of antivenins, though I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the venom of the Brazilian wandering spider can result in priapism. Priapism, named after the Greek god Priapus—whose giant, wooden erection is quite literally the stuff of legend—is the medical term for that condition long warned of in Cialis advertisements: a prolonged, painful erection.
So, spider bites: usually not a big deal, bad-to-the-boners notwithstanding.
But, we’re still afraid of spiders. Now, if your big fear is spiders or airplanes or immigrants, it’s usually not a whole, big thing. More often than not, you can step on a spider, avoid getting on an airplane, or build a big, stupid wall.
But, I can’t step on social situations.
So, imagine that, as you go through life, every conversation you ever have is a great, big, hairy spider looking to eat you. When a stranger sits next to you on the bus, that’s a spider. When a coworker asks you how your weekend was, that’s a spider. When an employee at the Burger King mistakenly gives you a hamburger with mustard, and you try to take it back, and she says she could have sworn you said mustard, and you tell her you said no mustard, specifically mustard with a no in front of it, and she asks why you don’t just wipe the mustard off, and that’s no good because you can still taste the fucking mustard, and she says fine, she’ll get you a whole, new hamburger with absolutely no mustard on it at all, but you’re pretty sure she just wiped the mustard off and gave you the same hamburger … You bet your ass that’s a spider. That’s, like, one of those Lord of the Rings spiders.
The point is, no matter where I go, no matter what I do, I’m surrounded by spiders.
If you try to set me up with that friend of yours that you’re so sure I’d hit it off with, you’re sending me on a spider date.
If you invite me to a party, you’re asking me to come to a spider dance.
If you tell me to just make a phone call, you’re asking me to shove my hand into a bucket of spiders and then put the spiders up to my face and then try to talk to the spiders.
I really don’t like telephones.
This is my life. Make no bones about it.
For me, there are spiders everywhere. When I go to a restaurant, I order my food from a spider. The cashier who rings me up at the Piggly Wiggly is a spider. The people on voice chat when I try to play video games online are all spiders. If you try to get me to open up about myself, then you’re the spider.
Even if I see a literal spider, that’s also a spider.
For me, everything is spiders. My entire world is made of spiders.
And, yet, somehow, through some great force of will, I manage not to run around screaming all the time.
Somehow, some way, most of the time, I manage to pretty much get by.
And when I’m not getting by? Well, it probably looks pretty weird to the spiders.
So, if you ever see me, and I seem awkward or standoffish or just plain out there, please try to have some sympathy. Try to reach down in your heart and understand that you might have a hard time too if your world were made out of spiders.