Flip the coin.
It’s a motto I have. I don’t speak about it much (in a serious way) but I suffer sometimes from social anxiety. Something as simple as meeting a new person, or going to a new job (which, as a photographer happens, like, twice a week, so yay life choices) can sometimes be a Big Deal for me. I wish it wasn’t, and I am SO much better than I used to be. Like seriously. But it’s still a thing.
So here’s a story for ya’ll.
In 2011, newly married and on top of the world, I was waiting my turn to jump off a bridge. I was about to bungee jump headfirst into the Colarado river. I like to do things that excite me and challenge me, just not… ya know… Social things.
Anyway, there I was, looking down, and the excitement hit a new pitch in me. It sort of went past the point of nice? There was a dash of genuine terror in there, and worse, the familiar anxiety that I usually only save for NEW PEOPLE AND NEW SOCIAL THINGS ARRRRGH.
So in that moment – this sounds like a line but I swear it’s true – I discovered how intertwined fear and excitement actually are. They basically feel the same, in their extremes.
Also: I’m telling you that going into a room full of strangers attacks my mind and adrenal glands like a 470ft bungee jump. So yeah, if you ever wondered what social anxiety feels like? It’s sort of like that.
Which brings me back to… Flip the coin.
I chose to do the bungee jump and I bloody loved it, once I told myself that this was supposed to be fun and exciting and not life-threateningly horrible. Somehow, the fear diminished to a more manageable – and enjoyable – excitement. I flipped the damn coin.
Fear? *flip* excitement. Simple? Almost.
It feels almost the same. Similar enough to trick my body and mind into thinking it’s real, in any case. So whenever I get nervous, or anxious, I tell myself: flip the coin.
All this stuff is basically hormones, right? It has to be. Lots of it is out of my hands. But how I choose to respond to said hormones can be trained, over time. That’s my goal, anyway. I mean, how can I LOVE sky diving and roller coasters and bungee jumps, and yet hate talking to a room full of people? It feels the same to me, in my blood. So worryingly similar.
So it’s hard. It’s far from perfect. But this is my strategy right now. I am so much better than I was five years ago, or ten. Back then I was all panic rash and stutters. I’m going to keep jumping off that bridge until it feels like nothing special. I’m going to kick anxiety’s arse. I mean it. I might be puny and unfit and perpetually, like, twelve, but I. Will. Kick. Its Arse. I want to be adressing rooms and talking about writing and chatting about books and generally mingling in this marvellous bookish community!
There was plenty of wonderful advice on this topic at the Sci-Fi Weekender book talks this year. Emma Newman and Peter Newman gave us all some wonderfully encouraging words.
When I tell people I’m a socially awkward weirdo, they mostly say they can’t really tell, which tells me either a) they’re being kind (THANK YOU!!) or b) I must be doing something right. So I’m going to carry on flipping the coin. Until one day I might not have to.