guest post

Guest Post: My World Is Shrinking

I think my guest poste today, LadaMcManus, is discussing something that many of us struggle with. It can be very therapeutic to find people who feel like us on the internet, to be understood, but it’s also very easy to forget or ignore the rest of the world because it’s a scary place.

I have a long history of anxiety and depression. My first experience with therapy was when I was about 10. I spent most of my 20s in therapy. Despite that I’m still a wreck. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to need to have weekly or monthly appointments just to maintain my level of functioning and when I last left therapy there was real hope that it wouldn’t be necessary.

I know all of the self-help things I’m supposed to be doing. Some are easier than others and none of them are a panacea. So, I try to have a routine, sleep at least 6 hours a day, eat balanced meals regularly, take my medications as directed and otherwise care for my physical health, and do exercise as appropriate for me. That’s the basics of self-help for me.

Then there’s the harder stuff like form and maintain social support in addition to my husband, get out of the house preferably to socialize, have some fun daily, limit stress and cope with what stress I do have in a healthy way, monitor self-talk and steer it in a positive direction, and focus on the positive.

Those things may seem simple to you but they aren’t for me. Because we live in a rural area without public transit almost all of my socializing is done via the internet. For a while this was much easier than dealing with people in person and I had hopes of building social skills and confidence through my online interactions that would translate to in person. Sadly, the opposite is occurring. I have lost almost all of my confidence in my ability to communicate using any medium unless I have hours to edit and even then I’m not so sure.

I know, from therapy and reading more self-help books than is probably good for me, that I need to keep trying.  There’s no hope of improving my social and communication skills if I don’t use them. I’m told that my skills aren’t as horrible as I think they are but I’m told that by friends and so I’m not sure if they’re being generous.

Since my confidence is shot I’m starting to change how I interact with people. I’m still taking in about half of the stuff I did on twitter. If I see something I might reply to my next thought is ‘you’re probably too late and you’ll screw it up anyway.’ If I type up replies to tweets or blog comments at all I tend to delete them.

Things online that I used to take in stride are starting to bother me. Like noticing when a comment I’ve made somewhere didn’t get approved. I’m also catching more and more spelling and grammar mistakes after I hit send rather than before no matter how much time I spend editing. When someone replies to me I often feel like I didn’t manage to express myself clearly.

I’ve also become aware of some common points of complaint on the internet. One is poor spelling and grammar. Since I’ve never been good at either and I’m having more and more trouble proofreading my own work I’m afraid to raise the ire of a ‘grammar nazi.’ Poor writing is also coming under fire and excessive use of ellipses is almost always mentioned. My writing is normally peppered with ellipses and I wouldn’t call it good. I’ve also seen objection to the use of FML and complaining in general. I don’t want to bring negative attention to myself from that camp either and I’m never quite sure what will count as complaining or what is sufficiently non-trivial that I’d be ‘safe’ even if I did complain.

Yes, I said ‘safe’. The internet is not a safe space. Some specific sites make a point to use things like trigger warnings and highly value politeness during heavily moderated interactions to help members feel as safe as possible. That’s not reasonable for the entire Internet and I’m so fragile at this point that even a very polite and controlled interaction that seems entirely fine to someone else can leave me sobbing. I don’t want the ‘net to be a ‘safe’ place in its entirety. I want to learn to help myself feel “safe enough”.

This is especially important because I keep pulling away from things after one bad experience rather than repeated ones. Part of this is trying to manage my stress but I’m not sure that’s really valid. Yes, bad experiences with a person or medium do cause me stress but when I cut myself off from that person or medium after one incident I’m losing opportunities and I have the added stress of knowing this isn’t normal.

So far I’ve stopped attending a support group on Second Life and another via IRC, mostly abandoned a Twitter account, haven’t written in weeks, haven’t even opened my instant messaging client in weeks and if I do and someone messages me I suddenly need to go, and more I might not be fully aware of.

I can see myself pulling away from people and on the surface it is so simple to tell myself ‘stop doing that.’ Being aware of the problem and being able to solve it aren’t the same. I’m not sure what tools I need. More confidence perhaps but I won’t get that without doing it. it’s times like this I can see why there might be a need for ‘putting on my big girl panties’ but I just can’t do it right now. I’m too afraid.

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