in soviet russia, social anxiety overcomes you

I know the video from my presentation will be online eventually, but I really want to share the message now instead of later because patience is not my strong point. The slides have been posted, but without my notes so there isn’t much meat to them. Also, I’m better in text than I am in person. If it helps, you can read this in a slightly shaky voice and picture me trying not to wet myself while I talk too quickly. Feel free to skip this post if you’re tired of hearing about Northern Voice – I have to admit I’m getting there myself (I’m ready to move on to the next terrifying chapter), so I want to write this all down while I’m still energized and stuff.

ironically, shan is not afraid of you

At it’s very worst, my social anxiety was about an 8 out of 10. I could be convinced to leave the house, but it would take a long time to do so and I had to have someone glued to my side and/or standing in front of me in a corner, blocking me from terrifying eye contact with other people. It sucked ass – I hated having no friends, but was in no condition to meet new people. I was as emo as all get out and it didn’t feel like I’d ever get to have any fun.

My refusal to leave the house and be social led me to miss out on a great many things. Among the fun times I’ve missed out on are two Northern Voices, two Twestivals, every single tweetup, every single Sin City, concerts, and friendships. The last one is particularly scary, because Miranda is one of my best friends – yet she was about to give up on me altogether, because I kept bailing on her invitations to do things. It’s not that I didn’t WANT to; I was just too scared to. I’ve had so many adventures in the last three years with or because of Miranda that the thought of almost missing all that really freaked me out.

The quote in the slide above is from the song “Lonely Planet” by The The, and it speaks to the idea of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You can’t make all people collectively less scary, so instead look at yourself – WHY are you feeling the anxiety? CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviours, rather than external things like people, situations or events. If we can change the way we think, we can change what we feel – even if the situation itself does not change.

What’s the deal with the pants? They’re my crutch; my main excuse – I would never go outside because it was a HASSLE to get dressed and ready to go outside and interact with others. Why bother putting on pants when I can just stay home and be naked and comfortable? It took me a very long time to realize that I wasn’t just being a lazy naked slob but rather I had major issues with meeting new people, and not wanting to wear pants was just a convenient and hilarious way to get out of doing things.

mug not included

So, now what? We’ve established that there’s some social anxiety at work here, but you still want to get outside, meet some new people, and maybe make some friends. “Social Media” is the new pet buzz word of the moment, but it’s actually an extremely useful way to connect with people in your community. Don’t worry about the “media” part – interviews and speeches will come later – just focus on being social and coming out of your shell.

Vancouver and Twitter are BFFs. Vancouver has a thriving scene on Twitter, and it’s chockfull of other people who like the same things you do. Think of something you enjoy – anything, legal or not – and chances are there’s a bunch of people on Twitter doing that very thing and talking all about it. Connect with these people. Look up Vancouver locals. Use Twitter lists. Talk with these people on Twitter first, then extend the socializing to Facebook if you want. Twitter is great for meeting people; Facebook is more to connect with people you’re already familiar with.

baby baby baby baby baby baby babybabybaby

There are a lot of people on Twitter – how can you possibly make yourself heard over all that noise? Three words: FIND YOUR VOICE. Stand out in a crowd. Don’t disguise who you are. You have a voice, an opinion – use it. Don’t worry about others, or trying to be someone else – we already have one of that guy and that girl already; we need one of YOU. BE YOURSELF, for crying out loud. Let people meet the real you, even if just over Twitter, rather than some false face.

I have a rule for reciprocal following on Twitter: if your timeline looks interesting, I will follow you back. What’s interesting? ACTUAL CONTENT. No page after page of RTs, no spam links or offers to sell me something. Follow the blogging rules: no one cares what you had for lunch. Conversations with others? Golden. Witty or passable interesting tweets? Fantastic. If you look human, aren’t some kind of killer sales robot, and tweet with some regularity, I will more than likely follow you back. Bonus points (not really, there are no points) are given to people who use their Bio properly – tell the world a little about yourself. Where are you? What are you into? I’m almost guaranteed to follow someone back if they’re in the same city or area I am, and if their website or interests catch my eye, all the better – I’ll try to engage that person about something that piqued my interest.

Twitter lists are a great place to start when you’re looking for new people to check out. Start locally, then work your way outward. Find people who share common ground with you; who have the same hobbies or interests. There are dozens of lists filled with Vancouver people who are active on Twitter; check them out.

Then what? Say hello, that’s what. Engage others. Don’t be afraid to say hi. I can’t guarantee that everyone will always reply to your greeting, but some will – and those are the ones to start with. I know firsthand how difficult and “cliquey” Vancouver’s SM scene (not to be confused with Vancouver’s S&M scene) can be, but not everyone is like that. Sometimes it takes a little digging to find the good eggs, but they’re out there – I promise.

The most important thing I think I can tell you about Twitter is that it is NOT instant messaging! Private conversations should be in DM, and anything that isn’t is free for jumping in. If you see a conversation that interests you and you want to say something, go for it. Opinions, thoughts, jokes, observations – these are all awesome things. Don’t let chatter between two or three people scare you away; join the conversation. If you can see it, it’s not private. Jump in!

i choo-choo-choose you

When it comes time to actually go outside and mingle with the terrifying others, start small. The Vancouver Twestival, as great as it is, is the perfect example of an event NOT to attend if you suffer from Social Anxiety or are not good in crowds. Instead, look for events or workshops that aren’t focused on 1-on-1 interaction; something in which you will not be the focus of attention. The Forensic Workshops put on by the Vancouver Police Museum are perfect, because they’re small, intimate, and no one is paying attention to you. There’s no time to stare at others when you’ve got a coconut full of fake blood to bash in with a hammer – people won’t be looking at YOU, they’ll be mentally planning the perfect murder. Mighty Ugly workshops are another perfect thing – you’ll get to meet people, but the focus will be on creating ugly things and not gluing your fingers together. Find events or meets that interest you, but have some sort of activity or thing to watch. Bring a friend, if you’re not comfortable going alone – but GO.

Remember: no one out there is cooler or more important than anyone else. Contrary to popular belief, you ARE a special little snowflake – just one who is no better and no worse than anyone else. We’re all the same, and you should never be afraid to approach someone in the local SM scene because “they’re so famous!” – that’s utter bullshit. We’re all the same, and no one is better than anyone.

(Funny story – the text “drink a lot of alcohol beforehand” is stricken out on the slide, but when projected onto the huge screen, the line through didn’t show up – so a good part of my presentation is me telling people that “get drunk first” was supposed to be tongue in cheek and to NOT drink before going out because it sooooo won’t help you in any way.)

dave would like to be your friend

It’s okay to be a little crazy – we all have issues. However, you need to learn that there’s a time and place to announce those issues to the world, and that time and place isn’t during your first face-to-face interaction with someone. Very few people have time for additional drama, and it’s far easier to walk away from someone unloading on you if you’ve got nothing vested in the relationship. I’d do anything for my friends and they know that, but if I just met you, I don’t want to hear your problems or have you cry on my shoulder. It’s just awkward. Once we’re friends, absolutely – I’m here for you. If we’re barely acquaintances, I don’t need to hear about that weird sore you found down there or how you’re deathly afraid of sandwiches. You don’t have to hide who you are – but using a little discretion at first is a very, very good thing.

.. I think I told a rambling story about milk, Ed, and Derek at this point here.

might as well jump (jump!)

A funny thing about making friends – the more friends I made, the easier it got. I routinely refer to my friends as my safety net (aka “human security blanket”), and I know I can count on them to hold me up if I’m having a particularly bad day. The more people I can count on, the easier going outside gets because there’ll be a whole host of people I can hang out with if I don’t feel up to socializing with strangers.

Growing up in Victoria, it was inevitable that I would know some people in Vancouver before I moved here from Calgary – old friends plus people who read my blog. However, even with that foot in the door I found it agonizingly difficult to make friends. The people I hoped or assumed I would be friends with are out there, but the people I can count on are all people I met after I had arrived. It took some time – nothing worth having will occur overnight – but if you can make even one solid connection with someone, it could branch out into meeting  dozens of others. Some of my favourite people are ones I met through friends of friends, meaning I’d never have met them at all if I hadn’t connected with the right people at some point in the past. Having a safety net is invaluable when you suffer from social anxiety, because these people won’t judge me if I want to run away and hide in a corner or strip off all my clothes and dance on the table (which hasn’t happened yet, but it might).

wheeeeeeeeee!

.. I had nothing to say here; I just wanted to use this picture.

a perfectly cromulent word

My presentation can really be boiled down to two main points: there are some awesome people out there, and don’t be an asshole (more on this was said during the presentation; I can’t remember how it came up). It’s scary and terrifying to come out of the warmth and comfort of your shell, but it can be SO REWARDING if you do – there’s so much in this city to experience; so many wonderful people to get to know. Take a deep breath and promise yourself you’ll try – you’ve already come this far; just go a little further and see what happens. You deserve awesome, incredible good times and those are unlikely to happen in your living room (but if they do, please invite me). Say yes to everything – within reason, if you’re the cautious type. Try new things – the opera, volunteering, a museum, crafting. Get outside your comfort zone and have some fun. There’s so much out there just waiting for you to find it, and you deserve ridiculous happiness – so go get it.

hobo rainbow!

There IS one surefire, fail-proof way to make friends – if all else fails, give people presents! (swag bags were handed out here)

love you guys

.. thanks!

That’s a lot of words. Even though the Twitterverse sort of exploded yesterday and everything sucked and people were being mean to one another, I stand by what I said – Vancouver is filled with beautiful, amazing people and everyone deserves awesome.

EVERYONE.

Okay?

Good.

So, go get some awesome. Here’s a good place to start, or this, or this. Summer is coming; soon; there’ll be more fun things to do. Come to the beach and blow bubbles with me for my birthday. Be a zombie or a zombie hunter or a zombie DANCER. Go taste some wine, or smell a morgue. Miss 604 constantly lists Vancouver events and going-ons. See some shoes! GO HAVE SOME FUN! DO IT! DO IT NOW!

.. I’m pretty sure I didn’t yell that much during the actual presentation, but I haven’t seen the video yet – there’s a chance I went all Tony Robbins on everyone. If I did, sorry ‘bout that. I was nervous, is all.

Next year, I wanna be on the sex panel.

22 thoughts on “in soviet russia, social anxiety overcomes you

  1. Aww, you know this already, but I wish I’d been there! I can’t wait to watch the video :)

    Also, “the people I can count on are all people I met after I had arrived.” Boo! What about us peeps that you met in Calgary? We don’t count? Unfollowed!

    ;D

    • You know what I mean! :P I met you in Calgary, but we were once-in-a-while friends, barely over acquaintances .. now it’s All Shan All the Time, which is the best way to be :D

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  3. Given I wasn’t at NV this points to my not having been at this session. Which is a shame cause I probably would have gotten a fair bit out of it. My tagline of “I don’t have social circles I have social dots” kind of explains that one I am sure. But luckily I don’t balk when it comes to the pants issue, you know they don’t actually arrest you if your naked and walking the streets, I found this out first hand.

  4. Sooo…yeah. Thank you for indirectly calling me out (and I don’t mean that facetiously). Case in point: yeah, I wasn’t feeling well Saturday morning…and it was just easier to stay in bed reading and drinking tea, and not deal with new people who I’m sure would think I’m un-clever and annoying anyways, especially when I wasn’t feeling 100% (rationalize! rationalize!).

    Now I just need to work on convincing myself that you’re right and I’m not. Beating back a lifetime of awkward weirdness and lack of social circles should make that moderately challenging, but I wanted to say thanks for the proverbial boot in the ass, and I’m so sorry for wasting your generosity!

  5. Sometimes it’s a sad state of affairs when you look online and all you see if negativity, it’s really important to remember (like you said) that there *are* some awesome people out there. It makes meeting them and getting to know them that much more awesome too. Thanks for sharing this and thanks for the link!

  6. you really were the bell of the ball! :) i wish i could have snuck in just to see your presentation but then what would i have done with my button, i can’t give myself a deal on a monkey.

    i think the thing with my social anxiety which makes it really hard to build friendships is because once im out, im generally ok, i was always the class clown so i’ve sort of adopted that to whatever destination i end up in as an adult. but because i cancel so much people get upset, but it isn’t easy to do that. geesh, we had tickets to the white stripes once and i panicked and we didn’t go, it gets really bad. some people have stuck by me some of course haven’t, taking the cancellations personally.
    for me it really is the getting out part, adam does the blocking so i keep getting ready, i find SO MANY things that HAVE to be done RIGHT NOW, out of no where. im creative, i can make almost anything take time. it is almost better if it isn’t a surprise but i don’t have more than a day to think about it. if i say yes at the time i have every intention of going to whatever i say yes to, then the time passes and the day approaches and suddenly i am FULL of reasons why i can’t go and have a panic attack and think im an asshole and that everyone hates me anyway so why bother go.. total irrational headspace is entered and bam i can’t leave. the couch is actually indented where i sit.

    thanks so very much for bringing a lot of light to what can be a very debilitating disorder.

  7. Absolutely awesome! Great work Kimli, I never would have guessed you had such social anxiety. I’m glad that you’re well on your way. All of Vancouver is definitely thank you!

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  9. Thank you thank you thank you! This is honest, and real, and I feel more ok with being me out here in the twuniverse. Thanks for sharing this Kimli!

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  11. That was a good read, thank you! If you have social anxiety it’s so hard to get started making friends, because most of the people you meet online are looking for very superficial relationships – 140 characters of interaction, which is ok sometimes, but to build up a support system strong enough to get you through anxiety issues, you need to find people who are looking for a committed long term friendship, like the support system a healthy extended family would provide if extended families were what they used to be. But the article is encouraging, and we can create an extended family of friends, if we reach out and make the effort with a good heart! :-)

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  14. While this subject can be very touchy for most people, my opinion is that there has to be a middle or common ground that we all can find. I do appreciate that youve added relevant and intelligent commentary here though. Thank you! It’s easy to monitor those tweets and to see what people are up to.

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