By: Stephen Webb
I started working on this prior to the tragedy in Paris. I truly hope this doesn’t come across as me making my personal things seem bigger than what is going on there. However, getting this out now is somewhat topical and time sensitive for another event that is going on.
I have social anxiety. I’ve made passing comments about it in the past, but I don’t believe I’ve ever taken the time to explain what that means for me personally. Sometimes I diffuse the severity of it with humor, but I felt compelled to discuss this as I just recently had a significant attack that impacted quite a few people I care very much about.
I am also writing this without proof reading or grammar checking because I don't want to overly edit or allow myself to go back and change the information that I spewed out of my fingers on the keyboard that clicks to loudly that I often times worry about annoying my wife with. In other words, this entry is more about honesty than it is perfection - and lets face it..life is better honest than it is "perfect."
It’s a constant battle.
My biggest trigger for anxiety is disrupting people from what they are doing. It’s why I have to sit on the aisle at the movies or at the theatre. I need to feel like if I need to get up and leave or do anything I can do it and impact the least number of people possible.
The first time I specifically remember the feeling of an anxiety attack coming on I was watching “Batman Begins” on an IMAX screen. My seats were in the middle of a row and about half way through I started feeling hot and uncomfortable. It welled up and all I could think about was what if I have to get up and make a spectacle of myself and ruin the movie for everyone else. I ended up getting through the film, but I’m not sure I can say the same for the arm rests of the chairs that were clinched so tightly.
A few months later I remember having what I like to affectionately call a “freak out” after driving up from Los Angeles to San Francisco to see the musical “Wicked”. This was the first full blow, I have to remove myself from this situation type moment. It was disruptive and I think solidified what I now almost view as why I’m constantly freaking out about having a freak out. From there I went to New York a couple of months later and the same situation occurred while sitting front row center for a show. This was November of 2005. I can honestly say that since that moment nearly a decade ago now I haven’t been able to just mindlessly enjoy one of my favorite things – going to the theatre. My mind is constantly churning with “what ifs” and ways I’ve learned I can calm myself down occasionally when these things pop up.
I take a medication called Lexapro, which you’ve probably heard about while refilling your drink or getting a snack during the commercials of your favorite TV show. This type of medication is called a SSRI. And no – that isn’t the thing you need to set up your wireless router, though 10 years in I still say SSID more often than not. SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. In layman’s terms it’s a “calm the hell down” pill. It is prescribed both to people with generalized anxiety disorder and depression – which often times go hand in hand.
I also take Xanax on occasion. Xanax is a benzodiazepine that essentially works very similarly to an SSRI except that it greatly accelerates the process of feeling better. I call this one my “shit just got real” pill.
More often than not – these medications keep the truly horrible freak outs at bay. Most days are more or less fine and I don’t dwell or stress over major things. Some days are fantastic and I don’t have any anxiety and just go through the day without feeling like how I look, what I’m wearing or etc isn’t a major obstacle. Sometimes the medicines don’t block off the things running through my head and I spiral into my state of freak out.
I can’t quite explain what a panic attack feels like. I suspect they are different for everyone. It feels like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. I can’t quite get enough air. Sometimes I break out in a cold sweat. Other times my body tingle and I get so hot I feel like I’m going to burn. Of course the real problem is all of the explanations feel a bit cliché. It’s impossible to truly articulate how small and terrified these feelings make me.
I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for a ton of people hitting like or even for forgiveness from anyone that I may have impacted both this weekend at Long Island Who 3 or over the years with what I know reads as flaky. I just feel like this is an issue that I find more and more have various levels of severity with and that it is widely not talked about or brushed under a rug as “yeah, no one likes that.”
I am writing this on November 14, 2015 at 8:00 am. A morning that as recently as 72 hours ago I anticipated would be very different. I thought I’d wake up in Hauppague, NY at the Long Island Doctor Who convention. Basking in the fact that two major scripts that I had worked on for months with lots of care finally went off. In this version of it in my head people really enjoyed them and my writing didn’t suck – let’s go with this version. I would probably be eating breakfast right about now getting ready to do a panel that I love to do on Barbara Wright. My body however had other plans.
I flew into New York City on Wednesday night. I met up with my best friend and was planning to have fun when the anxiety hit. And it hit hard. Suddenly there was no logical reasoning, there was no huge warning system and there was no solution that presented itself to me other than, “GO HOME.” I had struggled a few days before leaving with some anxiety, but I didn’t see this one coming. I even jokingly texted some friends as the plane was about to take off from Dallas to New York, “So, LI Who is on for sure now barring some sort of incident on this place that gets me incarcerated.”
I agonized over the decision to come back home versus trying to stick it out. I knew that if I continued on to the convention that there was a very good chance that I’d be of no use to anyone and get worse because I’d be even further segregated and “trapped” further away from home.
I started thinking about all of the people that I would be let down who agreed to be in my scripted pieces or do to panels with me. Of course, that wasn’t helpful because my trigger is letting people down…so the more I tried to rationalize that I’d be letting people down the more I was incapable of actually being there for them.
I also let down someone on a very personal and real level which honestly is the hardest thing about all of this. I wanted this person to know they could count on me and I let them down. That is the part that hurts the most for me. The money, the experience etc – I can deal with. The people who I hurt by not being there is the one thing about this condition that I can’t always quantify or “logic away” when I start to feel better.
There were a ton of random reasons that this could have happened this time. I suspect it was a cumulative effect factoring in my wife being out of town for a long stretch right before the con, a major stressful event coming to a head that week and more. Whatever the reason it ended my weekend before it even got started.
I am terrified that the very small place that I’ve carved for myself in the fandom has now been compromised. I worry that people won’t feel that they can count on me anymore and honestly I can’t blame them and I’m not asking them to. I will work hard and try to regain that trust the only way I know how. By showing that despite having this condition that sometimes makes it seem like I am not there for me I am actually fiercely loyal. I’ll do anything I can for my friends. I don’t have a lot of people that I truly call a friend and unfortunately I let a large majority of them down this weekend. I promise to all of you that I will earn back your trust to the best of my ability. I won’t give up.
IAccording to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. This makes these easily the most common mental illness in the world. Of course, we don’t like to say “I have a mental illness.” It makes people uncomfortable. It still has that stigma and it shouldn’t. The only way that we are going to eliminate the stigma is if we as a people start talking about these types of problems with more candor and sincerity than we have in the past.
I am not writing this to generate likes or shares or even forgiveness. I am just hoping to bring some understanding to my specific situation to the people out there that I've impacted and that I care about. This disorder occasionally impacts the choices I make. It makes my day to day living a bit more challenging than I’d like it to be. However, it does not define me. I simply won’t let it.
Please don't feel like anyone has to treat me differently. I'm not broken - at least no more than I believe we all are on some level. Most days this isn't even a big deal. It's a series of isolated incidents. You can joke about it. Poke fun, mock etc. It is very difficult to offend me and you all know that nothing is off the table for me.
Thanks to everyone who read all of this ramble. I felt I owed it to all of the people I care about as well as myself to bring this to the forefront rather than hide from what happened.