I survived the hygienist and the dentist today. I wasn’t worried about my teeth, but about shaking (from anxiety and olanzapine). There was some slight tremor, but if the hygienist or dentist noticed it, they didn’t say. I’m saving my energy for shul tonight, planning on spending a quiet afternoon blogging and watching TV so I have my best chance at getting to shul (synagogue) tonight for Ma’ariv (the evening service), Eichah (The Book of Lamentations) and kinnot (elegies) and staying there for the whole service. If nothing else, it’s a chance to monitor and record my social anxiety on a day when I can write soon after experiencing the anxiety. As for tomorrow, I will play it by ear. I do feel a little better today, which might be from getting out and doing something, which would indicate that I need to press on with at least some of my plans for the summer, even on days when I feel very depressed and despairing, and try to achieve at least some things even if I can’t do everything I want to do.
I reflected some more on my social anxiety after my post yesterday. Not for the first time, I found myself wishing I could be more like I am online when I meet people in person. Online I can hold a conversation, talk about a variety of things (Judaism, history, politics, culture and geek culture), make jokes and reveal details about myself to encourage greater intimacy (to be honest, I probably reveal too much online, here and especially on Hevria).
I have an email folder for emails and blog comments from people saying nice things about me. I know this sounds pathetic, but I do sometimes look through it when I feel depressed and need encouragement. I even printed out three A4 sheets-worth of them and blue tacked them to my wardrobe doors so I can see them when I feel down and at other times when I need a boost. Most are from people I know, at least online, but I have a couple from complete strangers on my Hevria.com posts. It’s strange to think that people know me from there and like me, considering I have, over the years, spent a lot of time there finding slender pretexts to complain about how bad my life is. I’ve been told that people appreciate my honesty, and people with similar problems find that I can express what it feels like to be depressed or socially anxious in a way that they are not always able to do. I suppose this must be true, or people wouldn’t say it to me, but it is hard to believe it. I imagine there are also people who roll their eyes heavenwards when I comment; at any rate, someone challenged me a while back, asking if I had some kind of “agenda,” but most of the feedback I’ve received has been positive.
The problem is that I can’t translate any of the confidence or eloquence I have online into the real world. When I met up with my non-biological older sisters last week, who I had known only online and via email, they said I was a lot more socially functional than the impression I give of myself online when describing myself as socially dysfunctional and friendless. Still, I felt I said very little all evening. Usually when I’m in a social situation, I stay pretty quiet and let the others talk. Sometimes I think of interesting or witty things to say, but I usually keep quiet about them. This is particularly true when I’m around other frum (religious Orthodox) people: I keep quiet about secular things, for fear of talking about something I’m not “supposed” to talk about (e.g. TV, literature) and I keep quiet about religious things because I assume they all know more than I do and I don’t want to make a mistake or say something that they all think is too obvious to need saying.
There are probably a number of false assumptions here and elsewhere that fuel the social anxiety: that everyoneis judgmental, especially all frum people; that I have nothing interesting to say; in particular that I am an am ha’aretz (religious ignoramus); that I can’t be funny or clever; that people are waiting to catch me out; that I have few or no friends and that they tolerate me at best, rather than really liking me. A lot of these assumptions stem from things I learnt the hard way as a child, from years of bullying and emotional neglect. It is very hard to change something that has been internalized so painfully and for so long, particularly when being lectured about my incorrect assumptions (I’m thinking of my date telling me to be more confident and not scared of her shortly before dumping me last week) just feels like proving the idea that I’m stupid and no one likes me.
I do certainly under-value the friendships I do have, assuming my friends don’t like me or think about me when I’m not around, then upsetting them by saying I have no friends, although these days I find it hard to maintain friendships for long periods, as increasingly my friends seem to get married and/or move away, which I suppose is why I was so upset by my sister’s engagement. My friends tend not to initiate contact with me, which encourages me to think that they don’t really like me and also means that it’s easier to avoid them. Perhaps that’s one reason I get so focused on marriage, because it is supposed to have more permanence. If someone chooses to marry me, then she’s expressed affection for me in a major and lasting way, although I suppose I would still be insecure even if I was married (again, I’m thinking of my date). I have a friend with low self-esteem who is married to someone with low self-esteem; early on in their relationship, they spent a lot of time look for reassurance from each other that they weren’t about to split up. I can imagine doing that to my girlfriend/wife and I’m sure it would drive her nuts unless she had similar problems.
I saw a cartoon years ago of a guy on a unicycle about to go on a TV talent show and the director is saying to him, “Remember, millions of people are waiting to see you fall flat on your face.” That’s how I feel all the time in public, so it’s no surprise that I prefer to be in my flat by myself, lonely though that often is. I don’t know what to do about this, as psychodynamic therapy hasn’t really helped deal with the symptoms of social anxiety, although it’s helped me to understand the causes. I will try the CBT book I have and I suppose I could always go back to the CBT therapist who helped with the OCD, although it will be harder to find the time when I am working four days a week.