Mental states, mine in particular

A new kind of post for me

This is going to be a whole new kinda post (not that I post a whole lot to begin with, but why not, right?)

“I’m so quirky around people, lol, it’s because I have social anxiety”

I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of focus on mental health in the tech industry of late. I like to think I’m a part of the tech industry. In some cases I’ve observed a strange romanticized approach to it on social media like sites. The concept of “I’m so quirky around people, lol, it’s because I have social anxiety” is one that bothers me, it feels disrespectful towards those who are actually dealing with varying degrees of issues them selves.

I have social anxiety, my doctor once worded it as “social anxiety triggering depression” (which means that if I get anxious, I’ll get depressed, the worse my anxiety gets, the deeper down I go), and I want to share a bit about how my days are, I don’t know why… perhaps for my own sake, perhaps for someone else, who knows.

First things first

I’m fine, and you?

To start things off, I am currently getting help for it. I have been for over a year now, and I feel ready to share a little about it.

I had what I called a breakdown a while back, I’ve since come to learn it wasn’t truly a breakdown, at least not in the view of medical professionals, but it scared me. I’ve never been scared like that before. I didn’t know what to do. I always have an answer or a solution, but not this time.

At that point I had been suppressing everything for years, and gotten quite good at hiding it. The questions of “how are things” seem to matter little. I shrugged them off, “I’m fine, and you?”. You can only keep doing that for so long, how long depends on the person I would say. I’ve been saying I’m fine for years on end, somewhere in the 15 year time frame. I just couldn’t say it any more, I was worn out, the constant attempts at conforming and being happy.

So what is going on?

I had (and still have) a pretty clear mind. I can, to a large degree, organize my days around the aspects that make it worse for me, there are those far worse off than I.

I’m lucky to have an employer that let me organize my day around this, I can get to and from work outside of rush hour when there’s a lot of people around, as I use public transport to get around, which helped me suppress it for some time longer than I probably could have held on if I had to be around too many people.

I go to the store right before it closes (if you plan ahead, a trip to the store will only take you 5-10 minutes).

Why do I take these steps?

Control.

The store holds a large group of people gathered in a generic location, unknown entities that you do not have any control over.
My mind works overtime, it registers everything, it keeps track of everyone, where are they, what are they doing, are they a threat, are they at danger, how do I react in every scenario possible for every person here.

The scenario

It’s taxing, it wears you out.

I recently share an example of how this works in a single scenario, you’re going to a mall, picking up something at a store and leaving. It’s the first store inside the mall, but you still have to enter the building. You’ve got a bunch of teenagers having icecream on a bench, you’ve got a caretaker replacing a lightbulb. Potential dangers and escalation points:

  • The caretaker falls off his ladder
  • Escalation: Hits his head on the way down
  • Escalation: Hurts him self in a way that’s visible (blood, broken limbs etc)
  • Escalation: Teenagers freak out, shock state
  • Escalation: Panic, people don’t know how to respond, what to do
  • Escalation: Screaming teenagers attract security, causing what is known as the “glare effect”, people massing to glare at what is happening

At this point, it’s escalated to the point of no return, new people, potential new threats, they’re piling up. So then you need to work backwards, I know what paths are more likely than others based on surroundings, I start planning for each escalation phase. I have the training, I can take control of a medical situation, I can control the flow of people, but then you get a new set of problems, you need to solve it, keep track of previous solutions. It’s taxing, it wears you out.

At one time me and my brother went to a store right after work, it was during summer, far fewer people around, but by the time I had managed to pay for my groceries my hands were shaking. I couldn’t control it, it was a hiccup in my programming, I was using so much of my power on that mental storage of everyone in the store and the scenarios that I couldn’t bag my own items without help.

Public transport is OK when there’s not too many people around, but during rush hour they are always packed to the point of you expecting them to break down from sheer over-weight. In those situations I again focus on everything.

My workdays used to be worse, when I knew that leaving to get home would put me around people, half my workday would be a lack of concentration as my mind started preparing my self for the task to come.

Frustration

The most frustrating part of it all, is how it affects everything else.

I use so much of my capacity just staying collected, I feel drained both physically and mentally, it has made me tired, so very tired.

And a tired mind is a mind that makes mistakes.

A lot of mistakes.

Dumb mistakes, mistakes that shouldn’t happen.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good developer, I can find both simple and complex solutions to problems depending on what is required, but as soon as you start making mistakes that doesn’t help much because your solutions take excessively long to be implemented properly (and correctly).

Socially

In social settings, I don’t feel like I have the control I need.

Hitting the bar on a Friday evening, not happening.

I like conferences though, I love WordCamps and wish I could attend more of them. I even attended the very first WordCamp US last year after starting my treatment.
WordPress, and the community around it is, to me, a safe space.

Do I still need to collect my self when I am at a Camp?
Oh yes, but the resources I need to allocate to that task is substantially lower when I’m feel safe.  Being out among strangers in a public space drains me much more.

But why?

You may have noticed I didn’t mention anything about cause. I may do a follow-up post covering that though, and how it has impacted my personality and demeanor. But for now, sharing just a little bit is a big deal. This short text alone has taken 4 months to write.

2 thoughts on “Mental states, mine in particular”

  1. I posted this elsewhere too, but for any readers here…

    Thank you! I’m intrigued about the cause, but I guess I’ll have to wait.

    I’ll put my cards down because it (may) be relevant…I recently discovered a trait caused high-sensitivity. I suspect that a good number of people who code and solve problems and are creative have this trait and don’t know about it, so I’m kinda on a mission to make people aware of it: https://rosswintle.uk/2015/07/highly-sensitive/

    Yes, there’s PROBABLY some confirmation bias in reading about this trait, and…well…it’s not that the evidence for it doesn’t exist, but there seem to be limited studies on this thing specifically. Though whenever I’ve gone looking I’ve mostly found the same – or a similar – trait going under different names.

    But understanding that not everyone sees the world in the same way that I do – or that my kid does – was a real revelation.

    Thank you again. I hope it’s as helpful for you to share as it is for us to read.

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