One of the biggest things that I’ve uncovered about myself through working with my counsellor has been a deep-seated and thoroughly debilitating social anxiety. There are understandable reasons for this – I was going to say ‘good’ reasons, but that’s not what I mean. When I was at school, from the age of about seven onwards, I was bullied. I realise, of course, that everyone experiences some sort of bullying in their younger years. You might even say it’s just part of growing up. But this wasn’t that. We’re talking about at one stage being so terrified that I wouldn’t even willingly leave my own house. It genuinely was that bad.
So anyway, I believe that all this history probably that is what is behind a lot of the difficulty that I have in socialising – hell, even just talking to – other people. The fact that my anxiety is at a peak when I have to talk to someone else of the same age and gender as me just cements the point, in my opinion.
Counselling has enabled me to see that in reality I’ve nothing to fear from other people. Nobody is going to call me names, take the micky out of me, threaten to shoot me (no, really, it did happen – more than once) or try to hurt me physically. Those days are behind me and I don’t need to worry about them anymore. But, of course, it’s not that simple is it? After all if it was everything would be okay by now, and it most definitely is not.
The big stumbling block comes courtesy of our old friend Ivan Pavlov and his wonderful canine friends (if you’re not familiar with Pavlov’s dogs then search for them on Bing, I don’t like Google). Because I’ve learned, based on all the evidence of my childhood, that people are dangerous; my body and brain can’t help reacting in a certain way. I’ll feel anxiety right in the pit of my stomach, my breathing will quicken, my body will tense and my thoughts will be racing at even the thought of putting myself into what should be the simplest social situation. To give you an example, for the past three weeks I’ve been avoiding going to the local post office because I don’t want to talk to the person behind the counter. Yes, sometimes it really is as bad as that.
Where does ‘getting out and about’ come into this? Well the only way that to un-learn the Pavlovian response that I’ve developed is to prove to myself that it’s a load of old cobblers. And that only way I can do that is to challenge myself by actually going out and doing the things that I find difficult. Which is why today I’m writing this on the 06:43 train to Edinburgh. It’s a bizarre fact that I experience by far the greatest anxiety when I’m travelling to, or even just thinking about travelling to, local places where I might see people who I knows. So beginning this process of un-learning by spending days out in further-flung places really does make sense. York (lovely), Glasgow (a dump) and now Edinburgh (truly stunning) are the three places I’ve managed so far.
Is it making a difference? Well, I think so. The real test will be a challenge that I’ve set myself over the next month. Fingers crossed!