I get asked all the time: “Are you doing a book signing any time soon?” “Are you going to the RNA conference?” “Are you going to the **insert local town** festival?” And my answer is always “No”. Why? Because I suffer with social anxiety.
Hubby and I joke about me being anti-social. I distance myself from people all the time. I turn down coffee mornings, I make excuses so I can’t go to parties and events, I even avoid going into town if I can. Social anxiety sucks. But is it really that bad? Is talking to someone really going to kill me? Probably not, but that doesn’t stop me feeling like I am about to die. So what are the symptoms of social anxiety?
*Chest feels tight
*Need to go to the toilet every five minutes
*Aching muscles in my neck
*Panic attack (feeling faint, chest pains, can’t breathe properly, arms and legs start shaking)
*Feeling like everyone is looking at me
*Running over worst case scenarios in my mind
Imagine going through all of this at just the thought of having to talk to people. That’s social anxiety. You can read more about it here.
At the Festival of Romance in 2014
Every time that I have done a book signing or gone to an event I have had to take someone with me; my mum, my husband, my two best-friends. I cannot do it on my own. And even then, when I stand up and do a reading, I feel like I’m going to pass out and rush through it so that it’s done.
I can’t help my social anxiety. I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy, which has made it easier (I can go as long as someone I know and trust is with me, as opposed to just avoiding them all together), but I still struggle on a daily basis to meet new people.
I would love to organise a book signing, and get my face out there, but the prospect of being an utter failure (like the Festival of Romance where I sold 2 books and gave 1 away, and then came home with 50 books in a suitcase that I am STILL trying to shift) weighs on me. I don’t want to be that sad, lonely author sat in a bookshop begging people to buy a book – and yes it does happen, because I’ve had it happen to me. I was a reader, and an author literally cried because nobody would buy his books. I ran away and hid in the children’s section until I could sneak behind him without being grabbed again. I don’t want to be him.
I want to go to more events. I want to interact with other authors and readers. I want to sell my books. But even meeting people I’ve met before can be tricky. I feel like I’ll look like an idiot, because I’m very good with faces, but I’m convinced that nobody will remember me. That’s happened before too. Not in an author / reader setting, but I started chatting with someone I’d met a few times through Yeovil Creative Writers, and she ran away because she clearly had no idea who I was. Super embarrassing because it happened in front of a group of other people who saw it all. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, and I’ve avoided bumping into her since, in case it happens again, or she laughs about how she didn’t know who I was. Ha, ha, ha.
Equally, there are times when I don’t know who people are – for instance, authors who like their anonymity. I’ve never seen their faces (because we’re friends online), but spoken to them loads. I’m supposed to know them. I don’t want to be that person who runs away and feels awkward because I can’t put a name to the face. See, that’s another problem. Something that might be construed as “do you remember that funny time when I didn’t know who you were, and how we laughed…” for “normal” people, is an event that makes me want to curl up into a tight ball and cry. So, I avoid group events where I could bump into people I’m supposed to know, or where they are supposed to know me. Just in case that awkward “who the hell are you?” moment happens.
So, I sit at home with my social anxiety, trying to convince people to buy my books online, because I can’t physically meet anyone.
It’s not you. It’s me. And my stupid anxieties.