No longer as truthful as should be deserved, some names, places and events deliberately vague to protect identities that aren't mine

Monday, 13 August 2012

Fear is the mind killer

So the other day I had a panic attack.

They don't happen that often thankfully; I know what tends to induce them and generally avoid those situations, but sometimes they can't be helped.  Sometimes they're induced without warning during a depressive episode and I can't do anything about them.  But I get them in other ways too; often they're related to social situations.

It's a point where the impressive amount of confidence I generally manage to exude completely falters, because it's not confidence in the slightest: it's all bravado, a lot of it, that actively overcompensates.  And okay it does it well cause most of you assume I can get what I want easy and that I know what I'm doing.  But as I say, it's all a lie.

One thing that really sets it off, and was the thing to set it off the other day, is being on my own in social situations.  As an only child I need alone time, but it also means I'm less good in social situations.  I don't necessarily need to BE with a friend all the time, but I need to know where they are, and have at least some vague sense of how long I'm going to have to fend for myself.  I don't do well by myself, I tend to stand in the corner awkwardly.  Even if I've been introduced to a group of people, I'm not good with people I don't feel I know well and am comfortable with.  I'm never sure if they actually like me, or are just being nice and saying hi because my friend is there.  I need someone else to initiate the conversation.  I need to be introduced to people first.  I'm not good at jumping in and putting myself out there.  It's something I'm aware of, and I'm trying to work on, but for reasons I'll go into in the next paragraph, I have to take it in almost imperceptibly small steps.

If I end up on my own for any length of time, for whatever reason - maybe the friend I was with bumped into someone they know on the way back from the toilet and got talking to them - and being 'on my own' might be hanging out with a group of people I just met that night, but am too socially awkward to actually interact with of my own volition, that's when the panic attack sets in.  At first I just get a little paranoid and agitated, with my conscious thought constantly wondering where my friend(s) is/are.  This steadily builds up and after 5-10 minutes I'm constantly looking around hoping I spot them coming round the corner.  My breathing starts to pick up and my heart rate increases to match.  Around the 15 minute mark I get into real problems - by this point I am very paranoid, very anxious and trying to stop myself from hyperventilating and throwing myself into a full blown asthma attack as a result.  My muscles shake but as I try and keep myself vaguely composed so as not to draw attention to myself and end up being 'the guy who had the freak out' I end up unable to move, and unable to speak except very quietly, because anything more than that and I'll lose control and the panic attack will completely take me over.  And when the whole deal is I'm feeling uncomfortable in social situations, having a panic attack in the middle of one is rather obviously the worst thing I can do to make me feel any better about anything.  Of course this then means that I can't even then go wander around to FIND my friend(s), or realistically ask someone else to go find them and impress upon them the importance of finding them and quickly without going into detail about the situation, and explaining such would make me lose control and I'd end up freaking out publicly.  Catch-22

Eventually, when the friend does inevitably turn up, and I manage to calm myself down, or tell them what's happened and get them to calm me down, my entire body then hurts, as the effect of the strain on my muscles from where they were involuntarily shaking in panic that I was forcibly keeping as still as possible so as not to draw attention to myself suddenly hits as the feeling anxiety stops taking up all of my conscious thought process and allows me to become actively aware of the world around me.

The person who had to deal with my panic attack earlier this week had no idea about this aspect of me, nor should he have, I've probably told the above to all of 3 people in my life before, and maybe another 3 have worked it out through their ability to read people's emotions and mental processes without being told them.  Again, the bravado-as-confidence that I normally display in abundance is designed to hide all this.  So the fact that most people, even most of my closest friends, probably didn't know quite how bad I could get until they read this post is really just testament to how convincing I am with the impression of myself I intend to project, and for you to see, versus what's actually going on inside me.

And on highly related note, this is why I am nowhere near as good at getting boys/sex/etc as so many of you actually think I am.  It involves putting myself in a situation, with someone I don't really know, or don't know how they're going to react to the prospect of a date or fuck, and even with a friend beside you, that's something you're effectively doing on your own.  I find it almost impossible to pick up guys when I'm out - It's a crippling and paralyzing level of fear for me to go up to a boy and try and talk to him.  I've been granted some modicum of grace by the internet, where you can idly message someone on grindr with a 'hey' or cruise someone on an online profile or whatever - I still get that painful stab of rejection when they largely don't reply, but it's at least something.  I am not good at all at making the first move.  Once a dialogue has been established, I'm fine, but that initial contact, that putting yourself out there, that making the first move; it's almost impossible for me.  This is why I love the US.  American boys and girls are so much happier and willing to make the first move, and culturally, it's not met with as much suspicion and hostility as a stranger coming up to you and saying hi is in the UK.  Americans are a lot shier when it comes to full on flirtation or sexual issues, but that's the bit I am good at, and I am confident at, so it balances out well.  And of course once they start talking to me, they hear I'm British and it all goes Love Actually and group sex instantly happens.

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