30 January, 2008

Social Anxiety & Avoidant Personality . . . And Bears, Oh My!

Having finished reading Living Fully With Shyness And Social Anxiety, I have learned that with a lot of constant effort at practicing relaxation, positive thinking, and desensitizing myself to the situations I fear, I can make a drastic improvement in the quality of my life. Great. Not to put down the book, which is a great and informative resource, but I don't think it gets to the heart of my problem. Namely, avoidance. Even just a second ago, I was strongly considering just aborting this discussion entirely because I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to head in. And I'm sure it'll happen a few more times before the end. Let's just hope I make it to the end, else you'll never read this...

For a time I've been a little confused about the similarities and differences between what I've seen described as Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia), and what I've seen described as Avoidant Personality Disorder. Their descriptions seem to be rather similar, and I find myself sympathizing with the symptoms of them both. I guess, on a basic level, it would make sense to consider SAD a condition which emphasizes the anxiety that a person experiences in certain situations, while APD speaks more to a person's specific type of behavioral reaction to that anxiety. In other words, a social phobic is someone who gets excessively nervous in social situations, and a person with an avoidant personality goes to excessive lengths to avoid those situations. Well, I don't have a doctorate in mental health or psychology or anything like that, but that's the impression I get. And if that distinction is accurate, then I'd say that, while I consider myself to be a sufferer of both conditions, I think the more serious one at this juncture of my life, is APD.

If I had been in a position to seek help when I was in, say, grade school, then the book I just read might have been a huge help. I'd have had plenty of time to right myself before losing the bulk of my youth to this condition, and I would have been surrounded by enough opportunities to practice more positive patterns of thought and action on a daily basis. Surely, being forced into countless uncomfortable situations, as I most certainly was back then, I would have chosen to overcome my inhibitions rather than live in fear, if I had been able to believe such a thing was possible, and if I could have understood my position in context. But I couldn't. I quickly came to the realization that I was different, but I didn't ever really believe that I could also be normal, if I really wanted to.

I dunno, I really don't know. But I feel like, a lot of the tips in this book are about how to communicate better. Now, I don't like to draw attention, but when I talk to people, though I might not be quite so anxious to participate, I feel like my abilities to listen sincerely and show concern for people and all that are perfectly fine. It's not that I don't have the skills to talk to someone. God, it's so frustrating when you say one thing about yourself, thinking very much that it's true, and then you immediately think of a counter-example. I want to connect with people, it's not that I'm anti-social. But at the same time, I don't have a lot of desire for the usual kind of conversation that people engage in. I mean, if I really wanted to, I could swallow my fears and force myself to be that confident and inspiring person. But it's not me. Even if it means not being afraid anymore, I don't *want* to be a commanding presence. And I don't want my life to be filled with constant "positive self-messages" and "relaxation exercises". I don't want to be somebody else, I don't want to mold myself to conform to society. I want to bend the world to shape around me. I don't want to learn how to call people, and ace interviews, and make lots of friends, and stand up to people. I don't want to come to accept society, either. "If you have ever loved me, don't take my anger away from me. It is the only thing I have left."

That's not even the issue I was aiming for. Avoidance. My problem is avoiding things. I've adapted. I've learned to avoid the things I don't like. In my life, as it stands right now, my problem is not getting rid of the anxiety I feel day to day. I feel relatively little anxiety. Because I've holed myself away from most of the things that cause it. What I really need, first, is not to get over the anxiety, but to get over the avoidance first. Then, it will probably be fruitful to work on the anxiety.

But if the biggest problem with social phobia is asking someone for help, then the biggest problem with having an avoidant personality is doing something to get help. Is it just me, or do I have to have the most heartbreakingly ironic conditions?

I feel like I'd be better suited learning how to get a job without talking to a single person, learning how to succeed without any motivation, learning how to get much from very little effort. Why do I have to be a certain way to get by? And why does my mind insist on me being a certain way when it's clear that I'm not that way? In a different world, in a different universe, among a different society, I would be a model citizen, exactly the way I am. Why can't I be in that world?

On a completely un-related note, while I was showering much earlier today, I thought about death in a way I haven't thought in a long time. Like, you can think about death and what it is and what it means, but how often do you actually think about it from that specific perspective where you can truly understand death? Like, when I think about the meaning of non-existence, after everything I've ever known has been existence. Even now, I can think about the words and the concepts, but I don't feel it like I felt it earlier. It's a very profound, and very unsettling feeling. I think I used to have that feeling more often when I was younger. Also when thinking about, again from a specifically deep perspective, about the very idea of a limit to space or time. I can't even force myself into that frame of mind, but it's profound. Eh, this really isn't the kind of thing that can be conveyed in words. Everybody's probably felt it one time or another, though.

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