Social Media & Social Anxiety

Where is this blog going? What does it say about me? Since blogs also are representations of their authors (or at least embody certain aspects of their personalities), it is important to me that it looks like something I can identify with, that I want to be connected to. After checking out other blog designs over the last couple of weeks, I finally decided to make the transition to a new look. I really liked the compact layout of the old blog theme, but had grown tired of the colour scheme and tiny font. The new one has a more elegant typography and no visual clutter, and the so-called responsive design ensures that it can be comfortably read from a variety of devices, from desktops to smartphones.
Lugubrious Layara also got an organisational makeover during the holidays: I streamlined the “About Me” section a bit, and reorganized the side-column. After almost two years, the scope of topics written about here became too broad to be faithfully represented by the tag cloud any longer, so I took it out. The “Social Anxiety” tag got turned into a full category, as it is too important a topic about which I write. I added share buttons to the posts and a contact info with an email address to the side-column. Finally, I designed my own header.
And then, I also joined Twitter in an effort to promote my blog a bit. This step I was not sure about, as tweeting does not come naturally to me. I will give it a try and see how I like it in a month’s time, and whether it actually is worth the effort.

I am old enough to still remember the way the internet was when it first became widely available for private homes – back when you could not receive phone calls while being online and loading graphic-heavy websites was a real test of patience. The era of dial-up, when surfing was so expensive that I was limited to two hours per month (sic), and when I could not even have imagined some of the programmes and games I use routinely now. Before web 2.0 became a reality, the internet was a much easier place for people with social anxiety, like me. One felt much more anonymous back then, and conversations took place on message boards or forums. If you wanted to lurk from the shadows, you did just that, and if you wanted to join in, you had plenty of time to formulate a response.
Nowadays, very many places on the internet feel like the virtual equivalent of a party in full swing. Social media live off rapid-fire smalltalk, and like with a real-life party, those who are best at this kind of conversation shine, whereas the rest awkwardly stare at their feet. On a message board, you could drag posts from the archives and revive threads which had been dead for years, and the discussion would simply continue if some other forum members had sufficient interest. On Facebook, a status update becomes obsolete after a few days at the latest (depending on the size of your friends list), and on Twitter the half-life of a tweet is a few hours only.
I am terrible at smalltalking, both in real life and online. I never know what to say, or how to phrase it, and I am also very shy about approaching another person. Fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of boring the other person… the whole palette of social anxiety at work. And social media have a much lower threshold in that regard than old-fashioned forums. Facebook is ok for me in so far as I know all the people there, and the update tempo on my timeline is not quite that high. But Twitter is difficult, because I do not know what to say: for the mindless quips and joking, I’m not nearly funny enough, and generally too long-winded for anything of substance. Some people have the gift to be profound and deep in 140 characters – but I don’t.
However, it’s not only Twitter which freaks me out. I can’t play any kind of online game where I would have to interact with other players; it is especially stressful because I am supposed to be leisurely around them, but can’t relax in such a setting and tense up. I am also very shy on other people’s blogs, more often than not leaving without commenting because a wave of social anxiety washes over me: “What if they don’t like what you are going to say? I’m sure they’ll find it boring as hell! Oh, look, there already are three comments, and they’re all so much wittier than what you were going to write. Just leave before anyone notices you have been here…” Even on my own blog, I sometimes worry about my own replies to visitor comments.

Both in real life and on the internet, I prefer moving in social circles I am familiar with – among friends, I can become surprisingly chatty. Among strangers, no matter how amiable they may be, it takes quite a while until I will start opening up, and one of the advantages of the internet is that through blogs or forum posts, you can get to know another person a little before you even exchange the first greeting. Social media which put more emphasis on exchange than on content (I am somewhat simplifying here, for the sake of the argument’s clarity), like Twitter or Facebook, are not any different from real life conversations to me, in terms of difficulty. Virtual worlds or MMORPGs are even more stressful than attending a party.
The truism that increased internet usage equals increased loneliness is too simplistic in my opinion, because its default assumption is that online interaction is less meaningful than offline interaction. When you suffer from social anxiety, however, chances are that – given a conducive internet usage – you actually are going to have more meaningful contacts with strangers than in the real world, while experiencing less stress at the same time.
Do not misunderstand me, I am not arguing for the superiority of internet contacts. If given a choice, I will always take a face-to-face meeting with my friends over emailing or messaging them. However, the media tend to paint a picture missing crucial details, both when praising the new interconnectedness and when condemning the arbitrariness of the new online platforms. For many people out there, the reality is much more complicated.
Despite occasional bouts of anxiety, I value the contacts I have through my blog, because they make me feel less isolated regarding my mental health problems, because I can learn from other people’s experiences, and because they allow me dealing with my social anxiety on a smaller, controllable scale.

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The Versatile Blogger Award

Last spring, I got nominated for the “Versatile Blogger Award” by The Mirth of Despair’s Fractured Angel, but for a number of reasons I never got around to writing the proper response for this. One of them was that it came just before my wedding, a time when I was incredibly busy with a plethora of bureaucratic acts. Immediately afterwards, I became very busy with university, and then a writers’ block hit. Another reason was that it took me a very long time to think of seven random things about myself which would make for a somewhat interesting blog post. However, enough of the excuses, I finally made it. Thank you very much for the nomination, Fractured Angel, and please do not think the long time it took me to come up with this post is an indicator for how little I care !

The rules demand that I nominate another 10 blogs for this, and much as I’d like, I am rather out of the loop with what’s going on in regards to mental health blogging. Most of the blogs I used to check on a regular base have been on a hiatus for most of 2012, and on top of that I do not know who already got this and who didn’t, and who would want to do this in the first place. So if you are reading this and feel like participating, consider yourself tagged!

Here are the complete rules:

  • Nominate 10 other blogs. (Done.)
  • Inform them about their nominations. (Done.)
  • Share 7 random things about yourself. (Following.)
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you. (Done.)
  • Put the Versatile Blogger Award picture in your post. (Done.)

And without further ado, seven random facts about me:

I don’t drink alcohol. Never. Not on my birthday, not on New Year’s Eve, nor any other day. The biggest reason being that I simply don’t like the taste, and partly also because I hate what alcohol does to many people (for every person I know who can drink responsibly, there are three who just lose control). When I was younger, I tried a couple of different alcoholic drinks, but never actually found them to be so appealing that I would have wanted another one. Consequently, I was tipsy a few times, but never completely drunk either. The last reason why I do not drink is that I have strong suspicions that alcohol would turn me really loud, vulgar and reckless, and I could never live down the shame after such a night.

I’m a huge Cate Blanchett fan. In fact, that’s how I “met” my husband –  in an online discussion forum back in 2005, and I also made a number of really good friends there whom I met in person.
The first time I really noticed Cate Blanchett was in 1999, when watching the Academy Awards. Cate was nominated as Best Actress for “Elizabeth”, and when the camera zoomed in on her, I was instantly smitten. There just is something about her face which utterly captivates me, and apart from being one of the most talented actresses of her generation, there also is a very nice human being behind the whole film star facade. In 2008, I met her in person and talked to her for about 30 seconds, and last year my husband, a friend, and I were actually able to see her in a stage performance when she was part of a theatre festival in Germany.

I have been playing The Sims since the day the first part was released. What I like about this game is that you have so much freedom: building, furnishing, character development, or just simple gameplay. And everyone is equal in the game, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Nobody tells me what the population of my world has to be like.
As for other games, I have also played all parts of SimCity, and am very much looking forward to the new one due in March (even though I’ll probably have to wait for my birthday in May to get it). Last summer I was obsessed with Skyrim for about four weeks (then my computer blew up), but the problem with it is that combat situations really stress me out, so that even though Skyrim really appeals to the archaeologist in me like no other game does in terms of design, I haven’t been playing much since I got the new computer.

I know three dead languages. In my school, three languages were obligatory and you had the choice to add a fourth and even fifth to your curriculum. In addition to learning English, I also hold proficiency certificates for Latin, Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew. Actually, I was the only person in the entire county to finish school with all three of them that year: six pupils had started out learning Hebrew, but after a year and half, I was the only one left and thus enjoyed 18 months of quasi-private tutoring.
Apart from giving you bragging rights and having something to put on the CV, it did not add any competitive advantage, however – while Latin was required for prehistoric archaeology, the others never played a role in my studies. Lack of practice pretty much eroded away most of the active knowledge I had, and depression took care of the rest.

I have been keeping a diary since 1995. I started writing when I was fifteen years old and went on a student exchange to England, as an outlet for all the anxiety I suffered in advance. Afterwards I just kept writing, and especially at the time when I was slowly coming to terms with my sexual orientation it proved very valuable to me. Over the last years, however, the motivation slowly faded and the time periods between entries became longer and longer; blogging apparently took its place.

I have skew-splay-flat feet. Yep, all three at once, inherited from my father. If you are wondering what that looks like: the closest analogy probably are the Hobbit feet from the Lord of the Rings movies (minus the hair). During my teenage years this condition made me sprain my ankles so often that the ligaments are completely worn out now and I have to be quite careful when walking to prevent accidental twisting or stretching. I cannot wear heels due to this and have a hard time finding shoes which do not make my feet hurt. At home I wear Birkenstocks all year, because they support my feet the best.
A freaky side-effect of those feet and the loose ligaments is that I can turn my feet so far outwards that my toes are pointing backwards and the heel points forward. If it’s only one foot at a time, I can manage a 180° turn, both feet at the same time about 120 – 140°.

I was frequently mistaken for a “foreigner” as a child. I have dark hair, as do both my parents, but in addition I also have an olive skin tone neither of my parents has. Growing up in a small town neighbourhood where literally all other children in my kindergarten class had either blonde or fair brown hair and generally light skin tones, I stood out. Visibly different ethnicities could be found in bigger cities only, and my mother would be asked if her husband was German as well, or simply be greeted with, “So you do speak German!”
Usually, the comments were not unflattering and people would assume that I was Italian or Spanish. But not only Germans made wrong assumptions about me, I also got chatted up by Africans a couple of times.
The older I got, the less frequently situations like these repeated. I think it has something to do with the fact that there is more ethnic diversity in smaller towns now as well, and that there are more people with mixed backgrounds too. “Not looking German” just is not something which attracts stares anymore.

The Jubilee Post

Today, I celebrate the 100th blog post. If the counter didn’t keep track of the statistics, I most certainly would have missed the milestone, but I’m glad I didn’t. When getting started, I had no real direction to follow and was more concerned with not running out of steam early on than with developing a writer’s voice or any long-term goals for “Lugubrious Layara”: I simply talked about what was happening in my life, in therapy and in my head.
There also was (and still is) an educational facet to the blog, even though from a strictly personal, non-professional angle. I get a fairly consistent number of hits through people googling CBASP, and I’m really happy that I can provide links, information and my own opinion – when I was about to start the therapy programme, there was very little to be found online, and nothing in regards to other blogs. Even now, the situation changed only marginally. And despite knowing that there are other people being treated with CBASP all over the world, and even at the same hospital, I have never encountered any other CBASP patient, neither online nor in the real world. If I have accomplished nothing else with this blog, at the very least it added a new voice to the plethora of mental health blogs out there.

Blogging means walkig a tight rope. How much of yourself do you put out there? And how much of the people you write about? I try protecting the privacy of everyone I mention as much as possible, even if it means that my writing sometimes suffers from the vagueness. Occasionally, I don’t post because it would mean discussing the personal history of another person more than I’m comfortable with – I can decide to put my own history out there, but not my husband’s, for example.

Sometimes, I want to post, but don’t have the energy for writing. There’s a good deal of regurgitating going on when developing a new blog post – I type, erase, type again, erase again, scratch certain formulations, phrases or entire paragraphs. And there were a few incidents where I had an entire post ready for publication but never chose to put it out there – because the situation described didn’t exist anymore, or because it had taken so long to jot the story down that I had already moved on from it by the time I was done.
And then, there are the blog posts I would like to write, but that are too emotionally exhausting to go there: for example, my sister’s “borderline meltdown” the day before my wedding. Or the post about my husband’s immigration process I started writing back in September, but the 800 words on that which I got so far only covered everything prior to our marriage day and revisiting the events make me feel depressed, so the progress on that is very slow…

Despite and because of all of that, blogging is very beneficial for me. My therapist always urges me to become “more visible”, to put more of myself out there, and the blog is one way of doing so. My friends and my husband not only know of its existence, but some of them even are somewhat regular readers. This allows me to talk about my feelings and problems at length without pushing them on anybody – they can decide when to visit, and how often.
There is a similar effect to writing about depression as visiting the student classes had; it gives me a sense of not only dealing with it, but of making it a little less like I wasted all those years with the illness. At the age of 32 years, I have spent a minimum of 20 years with the condition, about ten of them severely depressed. By sharing, it does not feel like I wasted those.