Returning to a retail job and feelings of social vulnerability after the UK pandemic lockdown – interview from England

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), Gerald Brazell, Flickr

A young woman living on the south coast of England shared some experiences of returning to working in a bookshop on April 12, 2021, as part of the phased re-opening of the country from a partial lockdown. She talks about difficulties with anxiety, depression, home life and early experiences.

Returning to work after 4 months in lock-down came as a shock. Everyone who had been shut away must have felt it, but when teamed with social anxiety and depression, it had an additional edge. However, perhaps surprisingly, the readjustment period was relatively quick. After only a couple of 9-5 days in the shop, it felt like I’d never been away, but not necessarily in a good way; not in the welcome-return-to-old-company sort of way. The joys of being back in public for me were weak at best, and the familiarity was that of an ache so persistent you come to forget its impact after a while. Its absence is alien. It becomes a painful part of you.

At first, it felt overwhelming to be faced with people again, and to have no choice but to deal with queries and issues as they arose, to look people in the eye, to attempt to effectively communicate, get the right tone and intonation, right expression, all through the barrier of a mask. Lock-down had acted as a cocoon, creating a situation in which you didn’t have to socialise or communicate, and you didn’t have to feel guilty or weird about not doing so. Suddenly, I had to be in public again, with no escape. No more enforced solitude. It was back to the reality of life with anxiety, and the tensions associated with this environment rapidly returned.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be talked down to. While tucked away inside, strangers really hadn’t had the opportunity to make me feel worthless for my position of status, and without even realising it, my self worth had risen through not being subjected to what is run-of-the-mill in customer service. It is considered part of the job to have customers angry about the benign, to be aggressive when you don’t have what they want, to treat you with casual contempt, to bark at you and demand things from you, a general rudeness that insidiously seeps into your everyday.

Social judgement was another sensation that had faded into obscurity over lockdown. How you presented yourself, what clothes you wore and how much they were worth, your posture and gait, your accent and your delivery, your vocabulary and projection. It had been so long since these elements came into play that, for a while, I forgot that mine were not ‘right’, and that peoples’ response to your mere existence could dehumanise so subtly yet so completely.

To be socially dismissed on sight was something I had come to forget the sensation of, and there was a strange resignation towards returning to such a dynamic. In this world, there are those who have the position and the authority to diminish others who exist on a different plain. They are the apex predators, and society offers no way of escaping this social hierarchy and no way of protecting yourself when you are the gazelle, your worth extending only as far as how you can serve them.

Of course, for the most part, people don’t intentionally set out to implicitly degrade or devalue, and for a lot of people these micro-expressions and aggressions are water off a ducks back. It is only when you read every movement of the brow, aversion of eyes, tightness of voice – a hypersensitivity that comes with anxiety – that they begin to choke a fragile sense of self like ivy on an oak. Society is not designed for us, people who drive through a storm with the windows open, no protective barrier between ourselves and the battering elements. We have no choice but to subdue the persistent onslaught that is everyday life with medication, both prescribed and self-prescribed. But this is no cause for complaint; as we are reminded everyday… that’s life.

~

I’ve found that looking after things other than yourself, be it plants or animals, can make it much easier to experience feelings of love, compassion and caring, which can so often get lost when focusing solely on yourself, when you don’t necessarily want to treat yourself with love. Self-care is something I’ve struggled with, often even feeling selfish to take time to look after myself mentally or physically. Plants and pets are dependent on you for their survival, to grow and thrive, and it is rewarding not only making other living things happy, but as they give a lot back.

Plants cheer up the environment, making it feel full of life when it might otherwise feel bleak or stale, but they also improve air quality (especially peace lilies, which remove toxins from the air). A lot of plants don’t need much tending to be happy, so they can be a great place to start if wanting to cultivate that ability to care for something outside of yourself. Also, seeing a beautiful plant wilt if you leave it without water for too long, and perk up once watered, is a great reminder of how little can really improve life in a major way. Gardening is great for mindfulness, being calming and grounding, but for those who don’t have an outside space like me, house plants are a perfect way to still connect with nature every now and then.

Animals rely on you to deal with all their needs, from feeding to grooming to walking, and they are the one thing that will push me to go outside or get up in the mornings when anxiety is really hitting, because their quality of life depends on me. Not only are they motivating to do the things I sometimes dread, but they offer a great deal of support. They are sensitive to your moods and will comfort you when you are low. They also cause me a lot of joy and are constantly making me smile; without the dogs, exercise, laughter, nurturing, and physical closeness would all be very difficult to make myself do.

I have always loved nature and animals. Somehow, they seem more significant than a lot of the things in this world. Animals are uncomplicated, and nature just gets on with it. They are the perfect reminded of what actually matters in life, when it’s flooded with anxiety and fear.

Arts and crafts have always been a good way to centre and soothe myself when I’m stressed. Crafts like knitting have actually been proven to reduce stress. The repetition and focus on the tactile activity at hand is perfect for people who have anxiety or are restless and need to find something to focus on. I also find it hard to just watch TV and relax, so having something to ‘do’ helps me to feel like I’m doing something productive.

Live music is one of the few events where I don’t experience high levels of anxiety in a public space, which is ironic considering it’s crowded and noisy which are two elements I typically avoid. It’s the fact that when you’re in the audience, no one is looking at you, and you’re not expected to talk or socialise; it’s all about watching the band and a shared appreciation of their music. The noise and immersion has actually become something I love, as it takes me out of my own mind for a couple of hours, and acts as a release from all the pent-up fear and stress.

Sometimes people will try and engage or get you to dance, but the mood always seems to be good humoured. It’s not something I would have considered as being good for those with social anxiety, but it has been a great help for me, and could be a good step towards facing intense situations without the expectation put on you to talk or perform.

~~

I suffered from Selective Mutism, so I was talkative around a very small family unit or close friends, but completely mute in any situation that was unfamiliar or threatening. I was then homeschooled between the ages of 11-16, so it’s difficult to say how much character developed over this time.

I do experience some of the effects of Selective Mutism. It is known as a children’s disorder, as people supposedly ‘grow out of it’. I think people just learn to adapt with it and ‘present’ as normal. Often, if I feel like I can’t make my voice heard, I will feel my throat tighten and I was emotionally shut down and zone out.

I would describe selective mutism as a physical manifestation of your anxious thoughts. The tension causes your throat to constrict to the point where you feel like you physically can’t speak. It’s debilitating, and completely shapes the way you experience the world, much like looking in through glass. People learn to tune you out and you become virtually invisible. Homeschooling was a last resort. I wouldn’t say it was hugely positive, but I don’t know where the alternative would have lead me.

AA, 2021

A teacher in Turkey on a healing journey from traumas – interview


A young Turkish teacher, living in Turkey, shared her experiences of social anxiety and health problems connected to traumas and her ways of managing and treating her symptoms, as well as her hopes for the future.

Watching movies with others helps in communication. I wonder how I would react if I was in his place I can not do without thinking. Watching movies or TV shows with ordinary events is boring to me. Because the world we are in is boring and there is no difference. Reading books draws me to other worlds. The world that I want to be or where I should be. While reading a book, I always imagine myself there. Both movies and books keep me mentally calm.

Taking care of animals and cleaning up makes me feel comfortable. Because I’m just focusing on it. And of course listening to music. Music is the biggest part of my life. While listening to music, I find myself living with the song. Dancing amuses me.

I have cats, chickens and cows. Taking care of them makes me happy. Because I know they are with me every moment. They love and embrace me. They can express their feelings just like us. I can notice when something happens to anyone, in the same way, if something happens to me, they can also notice it. I think this is my favourite form of communication. I don’t think of any problems in the fresh air, I just live in that moment. There is a lot of greenery where I am, I really like it. It always gives me peace.

I have friends with whom I am very sincere and I have along with them no problem getting. Because they know me well. My mood or it they immediately understand what I’m feeling at the moment and act accordingly. I’ve been with them I met in the environment and I realized that my blood was warming. There is such a different situation; If I am warmed to a person, I do not break my bond. At the moment I can decide if I get along with a person.

~

I had a big trauma and a few more traumas. After breaking up with my boyfriend, he started threatening me and I couldn’t eat for 2 weeks. Besides he tried to make me look bad to my family. I am having trouble sleeping and eating when I am stressed unconsciously. It was 5 or 6 years ago. Constant jealousy and pressure was beginning to wear me down. I started experiencing psychological disturbances. I said I couldn’t take it any longer and wanted to leave. But he kept telling me that I was sick and that I had to get better. After a while, I was completely disconnected from him. I really said it’s over now and I was happy. Then he started threatening me, wanting to denigrate me against the people around me. I was anxious and scared, but I got over it thanks to my friends whom I love and value, they are always with me.

I have friends that I feel close to if I have had a difficult situation. They are always supportive. I am grateful that they really exist. The online world is somewhat inadequate to help. Because they are not with me and I do not know if I can communicate in daily life. I wonder if there are people I can really trust. There are many times when I want to close everything and go.

~~

I wrote a story about drama and a little bit of love. I shared this story in the form of chapters in a facebook group. But then I could not continue due to my busy class schedule. The draft of my other story was ready, but I did not dare to write it again. In my school the lessons were heavy and I had to find a tool to write what was in my head, so I wrote a story. Since last year I have written a diary regularly, but I left it too. I started writing due to severe trauma and I felt bad while writing.

My first 2 years at university was empty. My 3rd and 4th years were more meaningful and happy. My 4th year was my favourite year. I socialized the most in my 4th year. That year, I realized the value of the friends I have now. Finding friends was difficult in my first year, but later, the more I stepped, the faster I made friends. Later, I found myself in positive communication with people. Of course it was not easy for me, but I succeeded.

There have been many times when I lost my hope. Thanks to the people who always supported me, I got through. But I said I would always have problems and I had to face it. I completely removed this person from my life and said that if I keep my calm, I will surely go. But I always kept my willpower and I kept telling myself that this problem would be over. Time is the best healer. Logic is always guiding.

I was constantly having problems and feeling pressure. I have no problem eating, but I am suffering from hair loss. I returned to my normal life again, but the effects of traumas still continue. When I went to the doctor, instead of listening to and understanding me, he preferred to just give medicine (antidepressant). After taking the medicine for a while, my brother said, quit this medicine, it will not help you. So I thought to myself, can only medicine be the solution for me? Of course, medicine was not going to solve anything. Because he was not talking to me, listening or guiding me. Then I decided at that moment, I quit. We are the most effective medicine ourselves and there is no more effective medicine. Listen to your inner voice, listen to your logic.

I think a lot about whether he (or they) will talk behind me or if I said something wrong. but then I came to the conclusion that this was a delusion. now I’m just thinking if we can really chat. I came to the conclusion that I should always dare. I adopted the idea that the person in front of me is a human and will not always have the same results.

~~~

It was a really tough work experience for me (working as a teacher two years ago). Here I had to deal with constant pressure and stress. I’ve experienced mobbing, acne, hair loss from stress. but the idea that I had to work did not go away. I was subjected to mobbing (internal psychological violence or pressure) by a higher person than me. He wanted me to act like him. He used to say I had to do things he didn’t want to do. I had health problems due to pressure. I continued this business thinking that these times would pass. But there was no improvement and I quit my job.

The better living conditions push me to work abroad. Especially people their understanding and respect impresses me. Staying attached to a place for as long as I can remember makes me uneasy. Because I’m a free-spirited person and being restricted makes me more angry. Continuous I cannot suppress the feeling of learning and exploring. Researching and learning new things are my favorite things. I would like to go to places with lots of greenery and fresh air. It attracts me to get lost in places I have not seen before and to observe it in a unique way. I’ve always been like this, but I couldn’t tell anyone about it. There are so many things I want to tell that I want to talk about myself constantly.

Gizem, April 2021

Affirmations to protect my sensitivity against hostile work and social interactions

Vincent Valentine, a software developer of British Pakistani background, writes about his approach to protecting himself against being hurt in the workplace and managing confrontation and his emotions. The piece was first published on his site, VincentTheMuslim.

Often in the workplace (and in life), we come across people who try to belittle us, dismiss us, insult us. People do this for many reasons – because they feel insecure or anxious, because making others feel “small” makes them feel “big”, and sometimes because they have simply misunderstood who we are. Either way, dealing with such behaviour can be very difficult if you are a sensitive person such as myself. It is not only because I am a sensitive person that I am affected – I also suffer from social anxiety, which comes from my childhood baggage to do with being called “weird” or “mentally weak”. Thus, words that insinuate I’m stupid, weird, or incompetent, words that intend to shut me down or are unnecessarily hostile, can be very hard for me to handle, regressing me back to my childhood self.

As you can imagine, constantly regressing to a traumatic period of my life is extremely painful, and repeating this process everytime someone slights me has got to the point of exhaustion. Naturally, I have had to come up with steps which help me to navigate society without being triggered by every insult, to allow me to function better amongst insensitive people, and to protect myself against those who purposefully try to trigger me.

I attempt to do the following before every social interaction where hostile behaviour might occur. This includes when meeting with friends, work colleagues, or family. It includes work meetings, family outings, dinners, gaming sessions – anything really where someone might “attack”, ridicule, or insult me.

  • Put up my emotional, mental, and spiritual “armour”
    Before every relevant interaction, I consciously prepare myself for the prospect of someone being “mean” to me. I’ve learnt that if hostile behaviour comes when I am not ready for it, it catches me completely off guard and I often end up spiraling. This makes it difficult to compose myself or respond to the behaviour in a reasonable manner, as well as causes me a lot of unnecessary pain. Therefore, I try not to feel too comfortable or relaxed when going into relevant settings, as this makes me extra vulnerable to the effect of the “low blows”. I then spend a lot of energy attemping to calm myself and regress to pretending I was not affected by the words, which later makes me feel worse because I denied myself my emotions and did not confront the behaviour. By mentally preparing myself for the possibility of hostile behaviour, I am then ready for it and can manage and respond to it in a calm honest manner.
  • I am normal, I am smart, I am strong
    I reaffirm to myself that I am smart, that I am “normal”, that I am (mentally) strong. I remember that if people attempt to insult me, or dismiss me, it’s because of their own insecurities and fears. It is a way for them to feel “big”, because somehow I have made them feel “small”. It is not personal to me, or a reflection on me, it is a flaw in them to reflect on and fix, and not one I should internalise based off their projections. Remember people are often just “lashing out” and trying to deal with their own pain – remember hurt people, hurt people.
  • Being rude, hostile, belittling, or demeaning is not okay
    I reaffirm that it is not okay for someone to be hostile, and I should call out such behaviour. Often when someone behaves in a “hostile” manner, my first reaction is to want to pretend they were not rude, and then be hostile back in the same way. Reading this out loud now, it sounds petty, it sounds childish, it sounds silly, but it is a common response to hostility as it gives the illusion of “strength”. However, ths often creates an environment where the “worst” person in the group / team sets how low the bar is, and people feel uncomfortable coming forward when they are upset by the behaviour for fear of appearing “weak”. It is just better to call out the behaviour directly, so to avoid playing silly games and reinforcing unhealthy cultures, and to deal with the problem at its core.
  • Having emotions is okay
    I reaffirm that it is okay to have feeling, to be hurt by the hostile behaviour of others. As mentioned above, the “go to” reaction when someone slights me is to pretend there was no slight, as though that gives me some sort of “strength”. However, all it leaves me with is unresolved feelings, with feelings of disappointment at myself for not having been honest about my feelings and not having stood up for myself. I always feel better when I am honest about how the other person’s behaviour made me feel, it allows me to maintain composure and tackle the problem at its core, whilst not getting caught up in a cycle of passive aggressive baviour.
  • If triggered, remain calm and don’t react with more hostility
    I reaffirm to remain calm if I am triggered. Sometimes we cannot help but be “triggered” – we are after all only human. The best thing to do in such situations is to confront the behaviour itself, or do nothing. Even to say “that wasn’t a nice thing you just said” can be an appropriate and powerful response – and if you cannot regain enough composure to do that then it is better to do nothing. The immediate reaction can be to want to respond to the hostility with more hostility but this will only escalate the situation, and escalating the situation will only resort to the burning of bridges, and – specifically in a professional environment – can even result in job loss. You do not want permanent reprucussions for emotions which – no matter how strong they feel at the time – are going to be temporary. It is better to reflect on the emotions and if required express them to your friends and loved ones (my wife is a common victim of this), as this will help you better understand yourself and better protect yourself for the next “incident”. If you cannot regain composure, or the hostile behaviour does not improve, it is okay to walk away from the situation – “leaving people on read” can be an appropriate response even in real life.

So that’s it. I hope you have found the above helpful, and it helps you navigate future tricky social situations.

~

To read more by this writer, check his WordPress website, VincentTheMuslim.

By setting stores in competition against each other for customer ratings, Walmart is placing greater burdens and threats on workers

The writer, who works as an online grocery dispenser at a Walmart grocery store in the US, and experiences social anxiety symptoms, discusses how increased demands and threats are being placed on workers to achieve customer ratings in surveys and to compete in store rankings. This article was first posted on Cherry Northern’s WordPress blog, RaisedByOwls.

In a previous post, I revealed the culture that permeated my workplace. It’s a culture based on company image and competition against other Walmart stores. What this means is that people in my position–online grocery dispensers–must perform their primary roles (deliver customers’ goods to their vehicles in the parking lot) and arbitrary, yet obligatory, roles (convince customers to review their experience in order to boost the store’s rating among the local market and nation). But lately, it seems as if there’s been a shift. Now, the role we thought to be secondary in nature is starting to feel much more essential–both to the future of the department and the future of our very jobs.

Let me explain something through an example. If I were hired as a salesman, but couldn’t land a sale, what do you think would happen to me? I’d be fired, and rightfully so. Now, imagine if I were a salesman and–without much warning–my boss was demanding that I drive an eighteen-wheeler truck to deliver groceries to a wholesale store. First, this would lead to consternation since driving a truck was never part of my job description, nor what I signed up for. But imagine doing the job you signed up for and STILL not being good enough because you’re not performing well in a task that was never supposed to be yours anyway.

Just as in my last post, I still take issue with being pressured to ask customers to fill out online surveys referencing their experience with my customer service. To me, this is salesmanship and is not something I find inherently important to my role. If I had wanted to persuade customers to take action, I would have aimed to become a salesman. Prior to the fetishization of 5-star customer surveys, my job seemed simple and straightforward. You gather the order and take it out to the customer. Done. Easy. Simple. The way I like it. But now, there’s a new social element that is both bothersome to the employee and the customer. And things have become worse.

The boss of my department is a man I respect, and in general, has had a logical head on his shoulders. But something has changed. While I don’t mean to drag his name in the mud, my boss has tasted a bit of success (our store’s ranking is #1 in certain measurements) and has never seemed to come down from the high. I can imagine the stress of trying to stay on top. And of course it must be stressful to lead an entire department. Again, my aim is not to trash this boss of mine.

But I also think that my boss is blinded and has failed to consider the value that we, as workers in the department, bring.

So, where to begin?

Well, lately, we’ve been sloppy. It turns out that some customers have been getting items with poor quality. Things like brown lettuce would rightfully upset any customer. As a result of the sloppiness, we’ve been getting bad reviews. A 1-star review sets us back in a major way when you consider it takes 20 perfect reviews to make up for the damage one 1-star review brings. This metric is sadistic and unrealistic. It only serves to stress people out more. If you ask me, it’s arbitrary.

The boss was not happy about this and left an ominous note on the whiteboard. The note acknowledged the sloppiness and the mistakes. Since dispensers like me are the closest to the customer, dispensers take on most of the blame. For instance, we’re supposed to catch items that lack quality before they’re delivered. The problem is that we can’t catch everything, especially when it’s really busy in the afternoons. And I guess the “pickers” or shoppers hold no responsibility at all? If someone saw brown lettuce, then the lettuce shouldn’t have been picked in the first place. I digress.

A slew of bad surveys has brought down our CSAT score. CSAT is a fancy way to say, “Customer Satisfaction.” This metric is composed of the surveys that customers willingly complete after their experiences with picking up groceries. As you can imagine, the score is low. In fact, our boss made it clear it was the lowest it’s been since the opening of the department. Great. Let me think of something truly sad so I can at least shed a tear and pretend that some Walmart metric matters to me.

Oh, but it matters. It matters more than we know. CSAT is like a holy grail. It is the standard to which we must live. A string of bad surveys and a lower CSAT than usual prompted my boss to really get after the dispensers. He suspected that people weren’t asking for surveys. Or, that people were asking for surveys in “the wrong way.” Now, I’ll admit that I never ask customers to do surveys because my job isn’t to be a salesman for a company that doesn’t treat its employees well. Again, that’s not what I see as my role here.

I think what really bothers me is that I’m being asked to take part in a war I never signed up for. I don’t care how well our store does in comparison to other stores. I also don’t care about corporate reputation or company benchmarks–shit like that is above my paygrade. I don’t worship at the altar of impressing market managers or even the store manager. Yet, we’re supposed to be super involved in the process of making the store look good when customers really only care about getting their groceries and getting the hell away from Walmart.

And now, here comes the worst part. My boss implied that if we don’t get the CSAT back on track, we may see reduced hours. Let me just take this in. Let me soak this information in. Basically, if we don’t get enough good surveys, our wages will be impacted. Less hours equals less income. This, despite the fact that we’ve been one of the fastest (if not the fastest) online grocery departments in our region. This, despite our boss praising us in better times, making us feel valued and treasured. This, despite our hard work, sweat, and issues we’ve had to go through in our time here.

I have my doubts that they would actually reduce our hours. It isn’t like online shopping is going to slow down just because of few bad surveys from isolated incidents. The demand for online groceries and delivery will only continue to climb. So, uh, how can you reduce hours when demand is only going up? That doesn’t make much sense. But you know what? It doesn’t matter whether the threat has substance or not. The very fact that the implied threat was written on the whiteboard in the first place is what I mostly take issue with.

Say they actually did reduce hours. In my opinion, that’s a crime. Once again, there is no indication that business is going to slow down. My boss makes it seem like the very future of the department is in jeopardy because we don’t get enough good reviews. What my boss doesn’t seem to grasp is that bad reviews are not the end of the world–certainly not the end of an industry like this. The utility of the service we provide is worth more than one million good reviews combined. Do you think that people who have had a bad experience at Burger King will swear off Burger Kings forever? Well, do Burger Kings still exist? Do people have bad times at Burger Kings every day? Yes and yes, but at the end of the day, the restaurants provide a valued service that compensates for any bad reviews. A little bit of critical thinking could make this shit so easy to reconcile.

But let’s get to the threat. Because no matter how many times you read that note, it is impossible not to identify the threatening undertone. Of course the note was written in a “professional” way, but we’ve worked here long enough to read between the lines. There’s nothing in that note that proves a causality between a lower CSAT score and reduced hours. Regardless, I’m taken aback at the nature of the note.

As a boss, you don’t do that to employees you supposedly value. That is a crappy way to show your appreciation of our work. Using fear to drive the team to perform in the way you envision? That’s manipulation. Cutting hours for such a minor reason? We’re verging pretty close to “deducting wages” since less hours at work will mean less money earned. You don’t get the respect from your team by beating each person over the head with a pointed message implying dire consequences for refusing to sell one’s soul for a soulless corporation.

Then again, maybe cutting hours was the plan to begin with? After all, we all recently got a raise to $16 an hour. So, we get more per hour, but less hours? Wait. But doesn’t that just mean we’ve evened out? What use is a few dollars more per hour when you work less hours than usual?

Fine. Go ahead and play that game. I don’t really think any hours will be cut. I just don’t see how that would work. However, it’s your conduct that bothers me. What you wrote was disrespectful to all of us. Are we going to have bad times? Yes! Will we always be perfect? No! Have we made mistakes? Yes. Can we improve? Sure, if you let us. But what we could most certainly do without is the micromanaging, the fear-mongering, the pressure you put on us. If anything, you’ve now ensured that I’m not putting in any extra effort. I will do my job. I will do enough. But I’ll be damned if I play into your games and the pissing contests between stores.

To read more from this writer, follow their WordPress blog, RaisedbyOwls.

Accidental beginnings – being an activist for reproductive rights whilst experiencing social anxiety – an account from the United States

A writer in the US shares how the experiences of intimidation at her local women’s health clinic and music concerts helped her to become an ‘accidental activist,’ for reproductive rights of women, and push beyond her shyness and social anxiety. First published by the author, Sam Simmons, on her blog.

When I look back on concerts I’ve attended, there’s usually one strong image that sticks out in my mind. Paul Stanley flying on a trapeze over the crowd to perform on a giant turntable on the other side of the arena, video footage of the horrible aftermath of the atom bombings projected at the Dir En Grey show, Ben Faust of Goatwhore flashing me an “okay?” sign during their last song when I was in obvious pain from my legs getting slammed into the edge of the stage….you get the idea.

This is a story of how a mental concert image turned me into an activist for reproductive rights.

I never imagined being an activist of anything let alone something that’s so shrouded in controversy. I’m shy and timid with a profound lack of confidence and dislike for confrontation to the point where I avoid it whenever I can. I’m also afflicted with social anxiety and certain situations cause an overwhelming sense of terror. When I reflect on it, I find it so strange that I’m doing this activism. Though I’m supportive of many causes, in most cases I’ve never done anything more than donate a few dollars to show that support. Probably the most activist thing I’ve ever done up until this year was wearing a handmade shirt that read “Homosexuals have rights, too!” after coming out quite publicly in high school and was getting made fun of for being bisexual, an act that earned me a trip to the principal’s office and a warning not to wear the shirt in the future.

So what happened? It started with my women’s health clinic and ended at a concert.

I started going to the local women’s health clinic about a decade ago when it was called Western Dairyland. The staff there was helpful and kind so I have trusted them with my vagina ever since. They’ve been there when I’ve had pregnancy scares, vaginal infections, and one cancer scare after a pap came back abnormal enough they referred me to a doctor that could do biopsies. They offer exams, birth control, testing, and treatment for little to no cost and don’t turn anyone away because of an inability to pay, which was certainly my situation when I began going there. The clinic became Essential Health Clinic (formally Options Clinic) shortly after our governor made budget cuts to family planning, but thankfully nothing changed in terms of receiving care and contraceptives.

However, one thing did change in 2016: anti-abortion protesters.

In mid-March, I went in to schedule my annual exam. Not only did I find the clinic had changed its hours and were already closed for the day, but also found a middle aged man standing just a few feet from the entrance holding a sign that said “ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN”. I was greatly confused as the clinic is NOT an abortion provider. Not that I ever needed/wanted an abortion anyways thanks to them offering birth control pills along with a never ending supply of condoms after my first major pregnancy scare.

I passed him and his large, intimidating sign as I headed back home. After nervously passing him like a scared little rabbit, I stopped. To this day I still have no idea what compelled my brain to override my social anxiety protocol so I could turn around and timidly inform him, “They don’t do abortions here and they help a lot of people.” It led into a half hour conversation. “Conversation” being a figurative word as he did most of the talking— about God, Christianity, Hell, and apparently how the clinic does “abortion referrals” while questioning me on my beliefs—and I barely got a word in. During the conversation he gave me a card: one side with six “facts” on about abortion and the other side begging me not to kill my baby and surrender myself to Christ.

Probably as this one-sided conversation occurred, a Los Angeles based metal/rap artist/activist by the name of Otep Shamaya was preparing to release her seventh album “Generation Doom” and planning out a tour to support its release.

The week I bought the “Generation Doom” album, which I admittedly became obsessed with, I had an appointment for an annual check-up at the Essential Health Clinic. The protesters hadn’t given up since my first encounter with one of them. There was still the one lone protester standing outside with his sign, though I had heard of more showing up at other times. After going through the usual routine of going through my medical history, determining that I didn’t need a pap smear that year according to the new guidelines, and renewing my birth control prescription, the RN informed me about my rights as a patient and the rights of the protesters. Basically, thanks to Free Speech, it’s well within their rights to harass patients outside the building as they please as long as they don’t physically block entrances or physically harm anyone. She told me its best to ignore them, a statement I’m sure her superiors told her to say, and that I shouldn’t let them bother me.

Ignore them? How do ignore someone that stands near the door of your healthcare provider so you’re forced to walk past them? How do you ignore someone that puts a large anti-abortion sign in your face while trying to get you to take literature and talk about Jesus while criticizing aspects of your faith and/or life? When I was a kid, I was told to ignore the bullies that tormented me based on the logic that they would eventually get bored with me and move on, but such advice never worked. Why would it be any different now that the bullies were now grown men on the sidewalk?

I found it upsetting that I had to be told my rights as a patient because of stupid, old zealots who think they can tell women of reproductive age what to do with their bodies and their faith. I figured there had to be a reason why the RN was telling women of their patient rights and to ignore the protesters.

I asked, “Are they…scaring women?”

She went onto explain that there had been patients who were intimidated by their presence, including a young woman whose relative had called to explain she was afraid to come into her appointment because the presence of protesters scared her. I never imagined women not coming to the clinic for help because of a group of men demonstrating outside the building intimidated them. I asked about the abortion referral claim and learned they have nothing to do with abortions other than providing information about it as part of their all-options pregnancy counseling (which also includes parenting and adoption). “Refer” can mean “to mention or allude to” so technically they do refer to abortion, but they don’t do “referrals”, meaning a medical facility transfers your care to a recommended provider. I’m not entirely sure which one the protester really meant.

I quietly slipped out the back entrance after my appointment. It only occurred to me after I had gotten halfway home that the reason I sneaked out the back was also the reason why there were women who admitted they were scared about coming in: they didn’t want to be confronted or harassed by the protesters near the entrance.

Two days after my appointment, I saw Otep perform in Ringle, WI. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen her perform yet something about that show lead me to the activism I do now. Without this catalyst, I’d probably still be sneaking through the back door of the clinic to avoid being harassed by protesters about abortion and religion.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s usually one strong image in my mind when I reflect on the shows I’ve been to. The mental image that sticks out in my mind when I think about this show is strangely not of Otep herself. Instead, it was something not as obvious and extremely peculiar: a microphone stand.

Yes. A microphone stand.

Otep had two of them (I’m guessing for aesthetic rather than necessity). They were positioned on the front corners of this box that she stands on. Both stands were wrapped with thick, orange rope light, but the one to my right had been decorated with a couple doll heads that were vandalized with black Sharpie marker. As the crew set up the band’s gear, I couldn’t stop staring at this stand. In the moment I was mesmerized by these decapitated doll heads, I recalled an article I read where anti-abortion protesters had pelted a woman going to get an abortion with torn apart and fake bloodied doll parts. The image of the microphone stand stuck with me even more than Otep raising her black gloved fist in-between songs and declaring “This…this is the universal sign of protest”. Not to say that the protesting imagery of her set had no effect on me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those doll heads and the story they reminded me of. Combined with her songs with themes of rebelling against tyrants and meeting the woman in all her bad ass glory after the show, I left the venue fueled with the desire to confront the zealots that showed up every Wednesday to harass woman.

The next day, I furiously typed out a Letter to the Editor about the services the clinic provides and the actions of the protesters. To be honest, I was terrified about submitting it for fear of retaliation, but felt I needed to send it in. There was a part of me that hoped it would convince them to leave these women alone and let them go to their appointments in peace, but they are extremely stubborn so they continue to demonstrate, lie, mislead, and bully.

But I have been just as stubborn because I believe in women having the right to choose and, more importantly, I believe everyone should be to go to their health care provider without being bullied by anti-choice protesters near the door and that women don’t deserve to be lied to about their options. Thus, I have continued to fight despite being timid and shy.

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Otep with mic stand decorated with doll heads (Sam Simmons)

Read more by the author, Sam Simmons, at her blog, AccidentalActivistAdventures.wordpress.com

The challenges of a voice condition, anxiety and working as a waitress – interview from Japan

A young woman living in Kanagawa Prefecture in central Japan, the country of her birth, having grown up in Malaysia and studied in Australia, shared her experiences of her life with her partner in Japan, including her experiences of her voice condition of spasmodic dysphonia and the effect of this on her social anxiety symptoms. She also shares her personal history of returning to Japan as a non-native speaker, having had to abandon her hopes of pursuing a life in Australia and the effect on her emotional well-being. She currently works as a waitress in a busy restaurant, a job role she has gained experience in, including, in different countries. Please note, this account contains references to suicide.

I see working as a waitress as my first step in building my social/people skills and self-confidence. I’ve taken on the same role in other countries, but there is no restaurant that operates the exact same way as another. The general flow of work (escort, take order, serve order, clean up tables, cashier, etc.) remains similar, but some require more communication skills than the others. Moving countries has made it hard for me to step up in my career and I find myself having to always re-adjust to my environment and start from zero. Due to reasons related to relocation and toxic managers, there is no restaurant where I worked for over a year at one go.

Regardless, waitressing gives me comfort as it’s what I have built the most experience in so far, and there’s a lot of flexibility to it – having more control over my shifts, less burden of responsibility and being able to quit at any time when I feel ready or whenever necessary (i.e. with a 2 weeks notice). If I accumulate my work experience from all of my workplaces, I’d have almost 3 years worth of experience as a waitress.

If I am still new and have many things to learn and get used to, it can be hard to relax at home after a training/working day. In this situation, I spend most of my free time at home learning whatever I can to perform better at work. For example, studying the menu, preparing questions to ask the next working day, organizing and re-reading notes written down during training, etc. Only after working a certain amount of time and when I feel like I have adapted well to the workplace and coworkers, I can easily forget about work and relax at home. Though from time to time, if I experience communication problems at work (stuttering, for instance), I go over what I wanted to say and practice at home. Interpersonal problems, such as rude or angry customers, micromanagement at work, other staff who slack and lack cooperative skills, etc. tend to stick with me longer and it can feel stressful even after coming home.

Relaxing at home, to me, is just doing whatever I feel like doing at the moment – napping, watching entertainment, cooking, cleaning, etc.

In my past workplaces in Malaysia and Australia, English was the main language used and there was more cultural diversity. That made the work environment comfortable for me as it was easier to fit in, and I was frequently in a position where I had to assist staff with low English proficiency. This helper role came to me very naturally and it was satisfying for me. In Japan, work is more formal and I feel like the odd one out. In particular, communication problems that arise from language barrier is a challenge that I feel is a high hurdle to overcome as well as problems related to my anxiety. At my previous workplace in Japan, I had to give an explanation of the menu to customers after escorting them to their seats. That made me feel nervous and uncomfortable as it felt like a mini-presentation with all eyes and ears on me. The challenge at my current workplace is having to talk into a microphone when calling the next customer in line after a table is open.

All of the workplaces I’ve worked at are very busy businesses, especially during peak hours. Although I get overwhelmed, I manage well during these periods as I get very focused on my work and act according to the priorities I set. There can be many things that need to be done at one time but I do one thing after the next quickly in the appropriate order. Also, busy hours are the only time when I can tweak my work a bit so that I work swiftly. For example, in the previous workplace where I had to explain the menu to customers, I would put the menu on the table and let the customers know to call any staff if they have any questions and move on to my next task.

~

He [my father] supports me with taxes and health insurance but there is definitely pressure coming from him. While he knew I developed and struggled with my voice condition, he says comments like I am still a kindergartener and questions me if I know how much money it costs to pay for taxes and health insurance. It feels demeaning and it makes me think that he is only supporting me out of obligation without any genuine worry or compassion. Because of this pressure and also my own will to be independent, I manage my money well enough where I have never needed to ask him for extra money.

From all my previous workplaces, I never earned a lot of money but also never earned too little (as there is flexibility and control over my working shift) to not be able to pay for my expenses (rent, utility bills, phone bill, food, etc.). Rent and utility bills are fixed to a certain amount, and I budget my expenses for food to a specific amount each month. This allowed me to spare a good amount of money which I usually keep for savings or spend on eating out or on gifts for birthdays. This has been the situation up until my most recent work.

Currently, I am living with my partner (and is the first time living together with someone) and this new lifestyle has lifted a lot of financial burden off me. I no longer pay for rent and utility bills and, fortunately, this happened when my voice quality began to deteriorate to its worst state. After relocating and moving in with my partner, I was unemployed for several months and used this open time to find a diagnosis for my voice condition. I relied on my savings when I needed money during this period and after getting a formal diagnosis, I gathered my courage to look for a temporary job that required minimal communication while I thought over the treatment options. Financial stress is a big focus in my life now due to this voice condition in addition to anxiety and low self-confidence. Being financially independent is an immediate goal for me and I wish to achieve it as soon as I possibly can.

~~

Before this voice condition [spasmodic dysphonia] occurred, I did not have any major issue in socialising and as my anxiety was at a bearable level, it was still possible for me to challenge things that were out of my comfort zone. I think the best way to describe it is that I had high-functioning anxiety – where on the inside, I’m constantly nervous and tremble from fear but I put on an act to perform well and behave appropriately. There were a few times, however, when I physically struggled and my nervousness was clearly visible to the people around me. I never intentionally ran away or avoided social situations nor did I make a conscious effort to put myself in them.

Around the time when my symptoms deteriorated and my voice quality changed drastically, I withdrew from talking as much as I possibly could. While my family could hear the change in my voice and when I expressed to them that it was difficult to talk, they continued to push me to go for job interviews (for professional work positions/full-time jobs) and dismissed my concerns. I became so quiet to the point it seemed like I underwent a personality change and there was a lot of frustration towards my family who pressed on their judgements and lacked understanding. I lived with my eldest sister during this time and worked at a restaurant. I pushed myself hard to pull through every working day and the action of talking itself became very fearful and tiring at both work and home. Every shift, customers would ask me, “What is wrong with your voice?”, “Is that your normal voice?”, “Is your voice alright?” etc.

Suicidal thoughts were on my mind very frequently as I felt extremely isolated, scared and hopeless. While living with my sister, I could not do what I needed to do for myself – taking a break from everything and to look for a diagnosis. I applied to jobs just to show them that I was trying real hard as they would constantly ask questions if I’ve applied to any and to how many. But with this voice where I cannot speak clearly and can be easily mistaken for sounding very nervous or appearing unconfident, failure was only met with failure. There was only one interview I passed, where the interviewer asked if I was sick and wished me to get better. I got a job offer from that teaching company and while I know my family would have wanted me to accept it, I declined it because I could not see myself working comfortably and felt that my spasmodic voice would cause many issues at work. 

Spasmodic dysphonia robbed me from expressing and presenting myself the way I want to. I do not sound professional at all and trying to make a good impression, especially in interviews, is extremely difficult. Even basic, day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping, ordering food at restaurants, etc. are much harder than usual and I feel dread when a staff asks me questions to which I have to reply with more than three words.

~~ ~

I chose to further my studies in Australia because I wanted to immerse myself in white culture and saw it as a way to gain experience in doing things on my own. Distance-wise, it was not too far from Japan or Malaysia for visits. Adapting to Australia and familiarizing myself with it’s systems (transport, health insurance, accomodation, etc.) was, thankfully, easy for me as I had a mutual connection – my father’s coworker’s son studied in the same city. Although I had never met him before I moved to Australia, he was very friendly and was there to guide me and answer any questions or doubts I had.

I studied my Bachelor’s in Health Sciences (Public Health major). I actually wanted to study Physiotherapy or Veterinary, but due to my insufficient grades in high school/pre-university, my options were limited.

In general, my life in Australia was sometimes lonely, but peaceful and steady. I was very focused on my studies as I knew that if I failed even one subject, I would not be able to retake any without going through a miserable, intense talk with my father. When I was outside of the classroom, I was alone most of the time and I made only 2 good friends from university. Many things I did in Australia was for a specific goal – to land a full-time job and get citizenship. However, it was a little far too late when I realized it was an unattainable goal due to the unrealistic nature of the criteria to be fulfilled in order to be eligible to apply for citizenship.

There were a lot of oral presentations I did in university – usually in small classrooms and once in a big lecture theatre. Often, I hear people say that in the beginning they feel nervous but after speaking for awhile, they feel more relaxed and used to it. Strangely, for me, I get more and more nervous the longer I have to stand and speak in front of a crowd. The presentation I gave in the big lecture theatre was extremely stressful. I accidentally read the same line twice and I went into full panic mode. My chest was pounding, my legs were trembling and I was trying hard to control my head tremor. My vision started to get blurry and the last thing I wanted was to faint in front of everyone, so I stopped talking and squatted. This was my first time experiencing a panic attack and I was unable to continue my presentation due to the fear of having another attack and also because of embarrassment. The impact of the experience sticks with me until today, and I avoid job applications where presentations are involved in the interview process.

Financially, my father covered all of my university fees and my living expenses. I would receive a sum of money that was meant to be used for a whole year at one go, and so I built a habit of keeping receipts then noting down the prices for the necessities (toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.). Eventually, I made a weekly budget for food and a total monthly budget, and stuck with this routine the entire time in Australia. This financial management, as well as small income from my part-time job, enabled me to save up a fairly good amount of money which I prepared in the case of being unemployed for some time after graduation.

Post-graduation period was stressful and there were some dark moments here and there. A lot of my worries were around getting a full-time job and the reality of moving back to Japan as the only appropriate solution was hitting me harder at a gradual pace. This was at my conscious level, but at my subconscious level, I was emotionally struggling from the impact left from a physical fight I had with my father when I visited Japan for a while for my coming of age ceremony. I found myself in unbearable loneliness and misery at times in Australia, and I made a suicide attempt. The sort of thoughts that ran through my head right before the suicide attempt was, “I am completely alone and I want to escape from everything”, “I don’t want to see another day”, “My death might bring new meaning and inspire my father to change”, “My death might inspire people to be kinder and bring more awareness and openness towards mental health”, etc.

The decision I made to return to Japan was based on logical reasoning. Instead of focusing on my feelings (how much I did not want to go back due to my fears), my focus strongly pointed towards an objective perspective (what I should do, what I will be left with if I continued to stay in Australia and what other opportunities I would be missing out on). Only after making the decision, the fear of the unknown reality that was waiting for me slowly started creeping in. I kept myself busy from negative emotions as much as possible with my part-time work, self-study in Japanese and packing. Regardless of the fear, once I made the decision, it was 100% set and it never swayed. I recall breaking down and crying on my final day of work.

*Note: the decision itself did not contribute to my suicide attempt. The anxiety around the awareness that things were not going well for me (the job hunt) and how moving back to Japan was becoming a more and more realistic option contributed to it.

When I left Australia, I made a visit to Malaysia where my mother was, before returning to Japan. Being in Malaysia again felt very nostalgic and made me think of the carefree days of my youth. It was nice to catch up with my mother again, and I got to meet with a childhood friend after many years. On the day of departure, I had lunch at the airport with my mother and I remember feeling like it was my “last moment” before going face-to-face with whatever was in store for me. I broke down crying and I couldn’t help but feel mentally and emotionally unprepared for it all. My mother was on alert with the time but I insisted on heading to the departure gate near the time it closed. When I felt it was time to make a move, I said my goodbye to my mother in front of the departure hall. While I was walking towards the departure gate, I looked at the list of the flight information and found out the gate had already closed. I panicked knowing I missed my flight – but at the same time there was big relief. And so, I got to stay in Malaysia for a while longer until I was at the airport again – but this time, I felt more prepared to leave.

I think my past suicide attempts has made me more susceptible to suicidal thoughts. To this day, I still struggle to make full sense and accept/embrace various things, such as my identity or my father’s behavior. There is a constant lack of peace within myself and an inherent dissatisfaction about life due to believing that life is hard and tragic. The feeling and thought of “wanting to get away from everything” is still there, but the awareness that taking my own life will indefinitely hurt other people keeps me away from doing it. 

This is all I can write although there are more things I wish I can write. It feels very suffocating and painful trying to process everything into proper words and sentences. Thank you for letting me write up to what is comfortable for me 🙂

~~ ~~

In general, making friends or close bonds is hard for me due to several reasons. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to approach and talk to people with the purpose of building personal connections (i.e. friendship). I tend not to take initiative as the process is tiring and I rather leave it to happen naturally. I find it uncommon to “click” with people beyond surface-level, and so, for these reasons my social circle has always been very small. When I do initiate conversations, it’s usually for the purpose of building surface-level, positive relationships in order to get along with classmates at school or coworkers at work. Outside my social circle, I appear to be very rigid, agreeable and polite/nice to a fault. I smile as much as possible and it feels very unnatural. I hold myself back from saying things that are actually on my mind, and because I try to please people (even in subtle ways, like making firm eye contact when people talk to me to show them that they have my full attention), social interaction is exhausting and draining. I fear of being disliked by people and want people to have a good image of me. 

My social life, right now, is still very small. My partner is the only one whom I happily interact with everyday, and his family a few times a month. Especially with my voice condition now and the burden of future expenses, I’d rather avoid expanding my social circle at least until my voice has made a recovery.

Support groups for returnees are most likely non-existent here in Japan. I’ve heard of schools for returnees to catch up or brush up on their Japanese skills, but I have never physically seen local support groups or institutions that offer social support. Maybe, they exist online, which is where I, fortunately, found a support group for my voice condition. Most of the members there have been diagnosed with the same condition and other members are friends or family members who have joined to be more involved and learn more about the condition. The group is very active and people post questions or share their experiences to spread knowledge, uplift others or to simply vent.

Anxiety, however, does impact how I utilize social media to make or maintain social connections online. I have a weak presence on social media due to my fear of people making judgements on what I put up. I feel afraid to share my feelings, thoughts and life experiences to people I don’t know well. I am particularly sensitive to photos and can become flustered if I find out other people have put up photos of me. My quietness has resulted in losing good connections I once had and overtime, it has enhanced the fear of posting things online.

~~ ~~ ~

Preparing the next steps for my voice condition required an in-depth research in understanding the condition and the options available. As the voice condition has no cure, it does make the pathway to a smooth road more complicated than it seems to be. Even though there are plans in place, there is still uncertainty if it will be successful or if it will fall right into place. 

Currently, I am taking botulinum toxin A (i.e. botox) injections which helps to relax the muscles of my vocal cords, thus, reducing the spasms. The effect of this treatment is only temporary, and so, multiple visits to the ENT is needed when the effect has worn off. Due to the inconvenience of multiple trips and side effects that initially occur, and the high-cost in the long run, my next step is to attempt surgery. The surgery does not restore the voice completely, but improves the voice drastically in comparison to the symptomatic voice for over a course of years. Whether the improvement will last for a lifetime is unknown, but the level of satisfaction from patients who have undergone the surgery is relatively high.

Given that the surgery is successful and my voice becomes free of spasms, I will start looking for full-time jobs. The area of interest will be teaching English to children and if there is low recruitment, I plan to utilize an employment service center to look for other jobs that are suitable for me. If the surgery is unsuccessful and my voice remains spasmodic, I will make use of the employment service center to look for full-time jobs where speaking is involved little to none. Job interviews always make me very nervous and tense, but as I push myself little by little, I can give myself a pat on the back after every effort. 

Knowing that there is no quick fix for anxiety, I am aware that it will be a long process to get better and requires patience. I have reflected enough to come to an understanding that to fully overcome it, I need help from a counsellor/psychologist. Seeking help from a counsellor/psychologist has been in my mind for years, but as it is expensive, I plan to approach one some time after getting a full-time job. Currently, I don’t really know if I can say I truly have social anxiety or if I simply have had many experiences of the symptoms. That is the main reason why I feel the need to see a psychologist. I think seeing one can help me clarify many things, especially my mental state. It feels like it’s been many years that I’ve wondered and asked myself, “What is wrong with me?”. There are times when I have thought my anxiety is more linked to cPTSD as I’m certain my anxiety was triggered from past negative family events and harsh upbringing.

Apart from time commitment and high cost, I have delayed seeing a psychologist due to moving around as it seemed to be such a hassle to talk about myself from zero every time I saw a new one. When I was in my teens, asking my parents for permission to send me to a psychologist was absolutely out of the question. Because of this, I approached my school counsellor when I noticed my anxiety impacted my studies. The only place and time I could study with good focus was when I was at home or alone if I was outside. Learning at school (focusing on my teacher in class, class presentations, random questions being thrown at me during class, exam revision with the class, etc.) was difficult for me. For exams, when my seat was in the middle of the room or when the exam invigilator walked by me, I got too anxious to be focused on my paper and blanked out. As a result, my grades suffered. The conversation I had with my school counsellor pretty much sparked my awareness about the core problem of my anxiety. 

During the time when I moved into my partner’s home and was unemployed for a while, I tried online counselling, in hopes there would be high engagement and progress regardless of the cost and time. However, the counsellor appeared uninterested and the interaction was not engaging. It also felt too overwhelming because there was too much that has happened and too much to explain. After a few trial sessions, I cancelled my registration and withdrew from the program. 

At this point, I am unsure if I will overcome everything but I am taking things step by step without complicating things too much. Resolving my own problems (voice condition and employment/financial issues) and expanding my social support (making friends and getting to know people with similar life experiences) will hopefully decrease my stress and increase my overall happiness and wellbeing. Only then, facing and addressing my family problems (which I believe is the core issue) will come so that I am already on my two feet and less prone to being emotionally fragile.

I think I have noticed something interesting – how some people can remember a lot of things (in great detail too) while others, block it out and can’t recall much. Hm, I wonder why that is so and how different the journey to healing would be between the two groups.

***

Anxiety, art, the pandemic and job-seeking in Ukraine – a diary

Oil painting by correspondent, 2021 – if you would like to support the artist’s work, contact me

Between December 2019 and April 2021, a Ukrainian woman in her 30s, currently living in the Kyiv area, shared with me some of her experiences of challenging her anxiety symptoms, searching for work and her efforts at painting. She told me she prefers to listen to stories than tell them but gave me permission to share some of her experiences anonymously, saying: “You can embellish the story with different romantic stories, whatever you want, but only my photo is scary to upload) it is better not).” At the start of the conversation, from which I have deleted my responses and most of her questions for me, to focus on her experience, she is living with her parents, near Kyiv, helping at her father’s small local electrical goods store and selling religious books by mail.

~

Dec 18, 2019

Today is a sunny day. I argued with my father that I would find work after the new year, and he would stop drinking)). Maybe at least it will drive me out of the house.

…we bet that if I go to work my father will not drink). This is not a quarrel, but a game. Once I argued with my brother that if I go to work in Poland, he will quit smoking. I went to Poland, but he did not quit smoking 🙂

Dec 20, 2019

I have not had time to buy gifts, instead, I got drunk yesterday, could not stand it)). Because of this, the state of health is not very good. But she swore to herself that this is the last time)

no, I can drink alone). I feel good only the first half hour, and then it becomes very bad.

I also drank 2 beers). I have not bought gifts yet, I have a big family, I need a lot of gifts.

Dec 22, 2019

Yes, I’m better, I swore to myself not to drink anymore, although often I really feel like it. I choose which country I should go to work. But it will be in six months, it will take a lot of time to draw up documents) Maybe Sweden)

I will go through a paid agency. But this is not soon, a lot needs to be done for this)…this is work somewhere in the factories. It’s very difficult there, but i can earn more than in Ukraine. Since I haven’t been working for a year, I need to pay for it).

No, I’m very cowardly, but in extreme conditions it’s easier for me. When everyone is busy, all Ukrainians who go to work are in the same conditions). Although in Poland it was difficult for me, and I even had to change the city and work, right in Poland. But the second time I will behave differently, calmer.

Dec 25, 2019

Thanks! Merry Christmas to you too !!

Today I sent parcels to my customers)….We celebrate Christmas on January 7th, so it’s too early to give gifts. We have Orthodox Christmas)…. And I will celebrate 2 times)

Dec 27, 2019

Today I talked with my sister and my nephews. I prepared a lot of good for them) and we ate it).

Dec 28, 2019

They’ve brought different treats.) I’m looking for a job right now. Ever since I promised my dad I’d go to work if he quit drinking;)

Dec 29, 2019

Hi). I have not found yet)

Dec 30, 2019

Yes, fear fetters us in action, but we must go and not think about it, so that later we do not regret that we lost time)

Dec 31, 2019

I wanted to go to my nephews. but a little sick, I don’t know now, go to them or stay at home).

Jan 01, 2020

I went to a city near Kiev, to visit my father. But it’s so cold here, and I was returning back along the ice field for several kilometers. Barely reached home)). I will be treated.

Jan 05, 2020

…my nephew is a big fan of computer games. It is almost impossible to tear off the phone :). We also did crafts for their mom. We burned a drawing on a tree with a soldering iron, it turned out beautifully.

Jan 06, 2020

We have almost no snow, but it’s cold. Today I drew a little, but in the end I threw away my drawing, in the anger that he had failed). Tomorrow is Christmas.

Jan 07, 2020

Hi) I’m doing some cooking today, and I’m cleaning houses. We’re not celebrating Christmas). Well, we’re not celebrating this holiday, and everyone else is)). My parents are tired of everything.

I also decided to ignore the criticism. I will speak and do what I want, and even let everyone laugh)) At a new job, I will behave differently).

Yeah, I’ll try to say what I think out loud. Then the first impression of me won’t be that I’m a closed person.) No, I keep quiet like a fish at work. But I won’t be silent anymore.)

Jan 08, 2020

today the mood is so-so. I did not go to the city. I will go tomorrow. I watch a program about who misanthropes are)).

I’m becoming a misanthrope… Maybe I’ll leave this site for a while, take a break so I don’t get distracted. I’ll go back to reality.

Jan 16, 2020

Hi). Okay. I have periods of depression. But it’s better now.

Sometimes I talk about it to people I know, but everyone has a million problems of their own). So far, I’m handling it on my own).

Jan 18, 2020

I finally took the first step. and signed up for an interview, I know that I will not be accepted because of insufficient experience, but I will go to different interviews until I find a job.

This is a job vacancy in Kiev – assistant lawyer. 11 years ago, I last worked in this direction. But I decided to attend 20-30 interviews until they took me. I’m terribly afraid, and I’m sure they will point me to the door :). But I decided to attend a 20-30 interview until someone takes me. Nothing more to lose. You’ve been working at work all this time, but I just decided it now.

Jan 19, 2020

I worked, but not for long, several years. I will say that I wanted to try something new). I worked for myself for seven years, and lost the habit of working in teams, and I also feel terrible in offices. But old age is not far off, I need some kind of profession, experience. So we are colleagues? :). Our assistant lawyer has a small salary, less than the seller.

Jan 20, 2020

I went for an interview. And they told me to come tomorrow, for a 3-day trial period. At first I agreed. But then I called them back and refused. I was just scared !!! 😦 I thought that after 3 days anyway, they will tell me that I am not suitable for them.

We often have a trial period of 1-3 months. I am not satisfied with myself because I missed a chance. But I will search further, there is no other way.

Jan 21, 2020

I also spoke very poorly at the interview, I could not squeeze out the words :). But many employers realize that people are worried).

Jan 22, 2020

A stream of thoughts rummages in my unhappy head, where should I go.) Yesterday my thoughts brought me to Portugal, Lisbon :). I found a job in a factory, a sweet packer. The vacancy is paid, through the agency, but I’m afraid that they will turn out to be scammers. And besides, I don’t know either English or Portuguese. I would like to try, but I’m not sure if this is the right way). Although you can always go back.

Jan 24, 2020

Today I was thinking about working in Sweden). There is a lot more salary, if I could go there I would be very happy 🙂

Jan 26, 2020

But i so far from reading English, because until today i used the Google translater. But in soon i am going to have to try translate a short texts myself. For example took me half an hour to writing this text:). Even longer).

Jan 29, 2020

Our street is also very damp and foggy. But there were no such warm winters, the temperature is now mostly 0 degrees. Previously, in winter it was up to – 27 degrees.

Jan 31, 2020

Hi) Nothing new so far. I’ll see if I can go to Sweden on Monday. If not, I will work in Kiev at any job)

An acquaintance of mine found a middleman agency, if they’re not crooks, and if there are any openings, I’d like to go. But 90% of agencies are con artists, so let’s see.)

Feb 05, 2020

I have still nothing new. My trip in the Sweden will not take place. That firm, that “helps to find a job” is rogue. Because they want get prepayment, and this mean that they will disappear after getting the money). So my sublime plans was falled apart:).

Feb 06, 2020

I fall asleep at 2 a.m., and in the morning I can hardly get up. Internet is to blame for everything)

Feb 07, 2020

I think I’m too old to study). But sometimes I would like to be a student and to start life from the beginning. I would choose the faculty of foreign languages.

Feb 15, 2020

Yesterday I went to my friend, walked. I wanted to go to the theater, but there were no tickets anymore. And the day before yesterday I went with my nephew to the movie for the movie Sonic.

I wanted to go to the Nutcracker ballet. Yes, my nephew really liked the film, but for me it is too childish.

I’m used to being alone, it’s not so bad. You can do anything you want. And the other person will not help, on the contrary, it can become even worse with someone who does not understand you to the end. The main thing is to have a few friends or acquaintances, this is enough. I listen a lot on YouTube about loneliness, and I stopped being afraid of it.

Feb 20, 2020

I began to listen to Vonnegut Kurt’s audio book Cradle for the Cat. From the classics I really like Victor Hugo. Dostoevsky is too sad for me). My nephew also loves Harry Potter).

Feb 23, 2020

For the same reason, I almost do not communicate with relatives). Because they all consider me a failure).

Feb 25, 2020

…unfortunately, it’s hard for me to write anything about myself, probably because I dislike myself. This is very difficult for me, so I am not fit for the role of the person giving the interview. I like to listen more. It’s probably more pleasant to talk about your victories than about defeats. If someday everything changes in my life, then I will tell you how I came to this 🙂

I almost do not look for work. I can’t find a suitable job, not far from where I live. Sometimes I go to the post office send books. There is nothing new so far).

Feb 26, 2020

…But at least sometimes you need to look for joy in something so as not to go crazy

Feb 27, 2020

I don’t like dating, I even hate it) My hyper-shyness doesn’t allow me go to date :).

I think I found the answers to the questions that tortured me. Which job to choose? How live alone? Why is life not fair? Why do people get sick? Why all this?

Today I read a certain article about the meaning of life. It said that it is necessary to organize and fill your life so that you do not have time and energy to think about it!! And anyone who starts thinking seriously about the meaning of life ALWAYS will inevitably come to the conclusion that the world is terrible and that it is better to die. And so I decided not to think about it at all anymore. Because I already know the answer). I have to do something, even meaningless work, and not break my head, and not doubt whether I’m doing the right thing.

And I thought it was good to have doubts. But in my case, doubt was a disease, a diagnosis. In this article it was said (the article is based on the opinion of famous writers, philosophers) that in any case, serious doubts and reflections of any person will lead to the thought of senselessness and cruelty of this world!!! Then why think about it at all. These thoughts prevent me from doing anything and slow me down. If there is one end waiting for everyone, it is better to do something in your life without even knowing and understanding why and for what.

I didn’t know what kind of job to do, but I’ll go where they take me, let it be a terrible job, but I won’t think about it. My free time must also be loaded with new work so that my doubts don’t creep up in my head. In short, I have decided not to think about anything, let fate take me wherever it wants. Because my own thoughts have led me to a dead end. In general, those who have too much free time think about the meaning of life and the meaning of suffering.

Mar 02, 2020

Hi) It is also cloudy here and it rains all day. Today was the birthday of my niece, and I went to visit them and gave her a notebook with bright sparkles, and other little things.

Mar 03, 2020

Yes, she is very creative, plays the piano, draws, and also did gymnastics). Now I need to take care of my health, I always put it off because I’m afraid of doctors. But now I need to go to the doctor. If the doctor does not find anything bad with me, I will be in a good mood and I will not think about anything bad.

Mar 06, 2020

Today I resumed my tour of the doctors.

I went through one doctor, there are a few more left). Yes, a private doctor is expensive. But there are state hospitals, not a lot of money, but there are long lines, and not always good doctors.

Mar 11, 2020

Hi) Because I sold books on religion, sometimes I had to hear about different religions. The Orthodox religion condemns other religions, and I don’t like it.

Mar 12, 2020

Yesterday i worked in my father store all day. And what do you do today? I hope in your town is no panic of the new virus? In Kiev all people talks about it, because the quality of care in our country is very low, thats why people are a bit scared. But i try don’t think about it)

Mar 13, 2020

Yes my cat and two dogs sat with me and slept near the hot furnace. Today i also siting at the store, but i don’t very like this, because i need to communicate with people:). And i know goods no well, and always to ring to father to ask where lies goods. It’s absurdly:). At this moments i would like to be in desert Island).

Mar 14, 2020

Yes, many products have no price tags. It’s already hard for my father to work because of his health. But I think I’ll get used to it). Today I visit a doctor again, and tomorrow I will again work in a store.

Mar 17, 2020

I am not a big poetry lover, the only poet I like is Lermontov. His poem “Mtsyri” is my favorite). We are already starting to panic, my father and I also bought a lot of products today, because everything will be closed. I hope you do not have a panic. You also take care of yourself!

Tomorrow in Ukraine will close the metro. My father closed his store).

Mar 18, 2020

Yes, I also blame myself for that. All vacancies that exist do not suit me.

Mar 19, 2020

I understand. Despite the pain and fear, if we find a new job we will be proud of ourselves). Therefore, one must look…It’s so beautiful on the street, birds are already singing, but you have to sit locked up)

Yoga is very useful, and it must be soothing). It calms me to listen to various smart people on Youtube, including Indian gurus).

I have never done yoga, I am too impatient for this and lazy). And besides, I have no flexibility)

Mar 20, 2020

I’m not worried yet. I don’t think anyone will escape their fate. A friend from a school who lives in France have called me yesterday. She did not call me for 7 years, and yesterday have called)). This virus really unites people))).

Mar 21, 2020

She works for a real estate company. But now her firm is closed, and they all sit at home. During these seven years, she changed several jobs, was fired, changed the city. There were a lot of difficulties. She did not start a family during this time and suffers because of this. We were friends from grade 3)

Mar 23, 2020

I had friends at school, I was friends with those whom society did not accept. But everything changed in college, it was difficult for me to communicate there, and because of this I missed classes, in the end I was expelled from college :

Mar 30, 2020

I really don’t like to plan, and I do everything spontaneously, depending on my mood. So why don’t you worry, you live the way you know. If you don’t feel like writing, don’t write, I haven’t painted for a whole year. Yesterday, dad asked me to draw a picture for him, and I painted.

Mar 31, 2020

A very smart Ukrainian politician, told, that soon the economic situation in Ukraine will be so, that people will live as in the middle ages, every day without knowing when they die. But it will good for blossoming the creativity, because the best inventions of humankind was in a difficult time. While i was thinking what’s kind of job i want, now don’t have any choice at all:). A total Unemployment).

Apr 01, 2020

Hi)I can walk near the house in our garden. Today I was on the street, but a little frozen.

Apr 05, 2020

I became interested in gardening and planted for the first time in my life greens, dill carrots, peas. I hope that at least something will grow 🙂

…I did not use fertilizers as they are not sold nearby

Apr 09, 2020

Our black cat is already an adult. I would love to give you a couple of my cats :). Every morning, when I open the door to the street, five pairs of hungry eyes look at me)).

…All these animals are ours). Unfortunately, my landings did not grow, 10 days have already passed, a little upset 😦 I really want to leave for the city, but quarantine until April 24. Most likely the quarantine will be extended until May 15.

Apr 15, 2020

Hi 🙂 Today I started listening to online lectures on critical thinking, I really liked this topic. At the end of each lecture, assignments with questions are given. From boredom, I don’t know what to do anymore)

Apr 27, 2020

I have nothing new so far, I’m sitting at home. We also have quarantine until May 11th.

Apr 29, 2020

Hi, yes, the store is closed. we are forbidden to trade, for this the state can fine us $ 650. Our neighbor is already fined for trade. But the father sells goods to friends a couple of times a day.

May 02, 2020

When quarantine is over, the father will open the store again. People understand that. Only today, several bazaars were opened in Kiev. The minibus in my village still does not go, so I still can not get to Kiev

May 25, 2020

In Kiev, transport began to walk yesterday and the subway opened. But I am still trapped and cannot go to Kiev, because the minibus still does not go there. I open my father’s store twice a day for only half an hour…people themselves are looking for what they need :). On the door, I wrote the entrance only in masks, but many ignore this inscription.

June 01, 2020

Yesterday I tried to draw the sea, copied from the paintings of other artists. I show you two pictures, but they are not yet complete. Now I’m sitting in my father’s store and waiting for buyers).

Jun 19, 2020

I go out to the store twice a day for one hour. I have to communicate with people, I’m probably the quietest seller in the world, so I’m not very good. Almost all people come in without a mask, I no longer comment on them, it is useless).

Jun 22, 2020

Yes, we have growing potatoes, tomatoes. Today I will plant cucumbers. Unfortunately I have apathy today, I don’t know why).

Yesterday and the day before yesterday I drank wine right in the store, half an hour I felt good, and then worse). If alcohol did not cause consequences, I think I would drink every day, but I know that it is dangerous. I hope you do not drink alcohol)?

Jun 24, 2020

I translate the text separately in google translator. I refused to learn English because I no longer believe that I can learn it. Yes, I sometimes drink again, because it gives me a temporary feeling of lightness, then I become relaxed and even cheerful, but not for long.

I haven’t painted anything for a long time, there’s no mood). But mother draws, she never studied anywhere, she began to draw for half a year, and already painted a lot of paintings). yes, it is painted with oil paints) Mom tried to sell online, but in Ukraine they buy paintings badly.

Jun 27, 2020

I no longer have the mood to learn English. Now I’m sitting in a store, but there are no people. What is your mood? I’m ashamed to admit it, but I drank wine again.

Jul 2, 2020

Today. worked again in the store, there were many buyers. I stayed all day, but in the evening I bought wine again, I become an alcoholic !!!). There are a lot of people drinking in our village.

almost a liter. I did not drink for a year, but here I started again) This is terrible! While I can’t learn English), maybe later I will start to study. Yes, I like it when there are a lot of people, and I feel that I am helping my father. But I only work a couple of hours a day.

Yes, for the sixth day in a row, almost a liter of wine a day ((. I used to hate working in this store, but now it gives me at least some sense.

Jul 07, 2020

I decided not to drink anymore, although without alcohol my mood is terrible. I again feel insecure, sad, etc. Today I work in a store, there are very few people, because I am a sluggish seller, and I do not offer anything, and I do not joke with people. When I drink wine, I become a different person, but I decided not to drink anymore !!

but in general my dream is to live somewhere a hermit in the forest. I really don’t like people! Today, one customer told me why I’m sitting in a store if I don’t know the goods, at such moments I want to leave people far away. Sorry that I am writing you such a negative ((

I will try not to drink anymore). Because after that, everything hurts. Although nothing in life gives me such joy as drinking. I have several friends, sometimes I talk on the phone. Thank you for your support) You are very kind. I hope your mood is better than mine).

Jul 09, 2020

I think I can’t tell my psychologist my problems. I complain to my friends, each a little, and it’s easier for me. And I told you a little bit. Today I was dishonored again in the store, due to ignorance of the goods)). I found the remnants of wine, a little bit and drank to drown my shame)). But I will no longer buy wine.

I think not Kiev, not my nephews will help me anymore. My own family (husband) would help me. But probably it’s my rock to always be alone. Everything else is meaningless to me. I hope my nagging does not spoil your mood)

Jul 16, 2020

I still have little new. I go to the store every day. Today I went to Kiev to wish my grandmother a happy birthday. Her friend was visiting her at that moment, so I felt uneasy. Because I know they think I’m weird and wild)).

Jul 19, 2020

Grandmother’s character is terrible). But due to the fact that we see each other very rarely, we do not quarrel. But as a child, I often visited her in the village, it was in Russia. I was afraid of her, as she was very strict and always yelled at us for any reason.

Jul 26, 2020

I still work a couple of hours a day at the store. Mom went to rest on the sea, my father and I live together. Perhaps today I will go to Kiev, I myself do not know why yet).

You asked about my grandmother) She always had a very strict character, I think that my grandmother contributed to my self-esteem), but I am not offended, I rarely communicate with her and therefore we do not quarrel). But when we were children, she often took us to the country for the summer in Russia, there was an extraordinary nature, wild forests, … I still often dream of places where I rested with her.

Aug 06, 2020

I have nothing new yet. Mom called me to her at sea, but I didn’t want to. I need to look for a job in Kiev, although I can’t even imagine which one).

Aug 08, 2020

Are you asking why I don’t want to go to the sea ?. I think because it is not very interesting with parents)) control). Maybe later I’ll go somewhere alone.

I feel good) How are you? Yes, we also have these days very hot! Now I’m in my father’s store, but there are no buyers).

Aug 18, 2020

Hi) Today I am in the store since 7 am because today is market day. But today few sellers have arrived, so there are few people in the bazaar.

We had a strong heat today, but the nights are already chilly. I don’t want the summer to end. I didn’t sell a lot, because I don’t know how to offer a product, I just sell what they ask for. Unlike my father, he can sell anything)). My dad knows how to find an approach to any person, make him laugh and charm, here everyone adores and respects him. Also, many take advantage of his kindness, borrow and do not give it back). But I am the complete opposite)).

Aug 19, 2020

Yes, I’ve never figured out how to deal with colleagues who are rude. But now I realized that one cannot be silent and swallow an offense. I will also answer rudeness with rudeness, but a little with humor. After all, when you are silent, resentment accumulates inside, and life becomes very difficult. I will take an example from my father, he never takes offense if people start being rude, he always puts them in their place.

For example, my father recently worked in his shop. Because his legs often hurt a lot and it was difficult for him to get up, he sat. When the customer entered and asked about the product, the father replied that he did not know for sure if there was a product, and indicated to the person where the product might be so that he could find it. Then the buyer was very indignant why such a bad seller did not show the product itself. And the father said: “Okay, now I’ll show you,” and showed him the way out, and said “get out of here, boor))

Nov 09, 2020

So far, everything is still) I live with my parents, but I still dream of leaving. Sometimes I paint when I’m in the mood.

Nov 12, 2020

Unfortunately, I cannot show my pictures, since I no longer have Telegrams. I lived for several months without a phone (broke down), and I liked it, but my father gave me a new phone :), and now I’m surfing the Internet for days again. Today I had to go to the store at 7 in the morning, today is a market day, but I chickened out and did not go out, because I feel a strong feeling of awkwardness in front of other sellers, because I do not communicate with them, and they are all friendly with each other, and I hate myself for that :).

Nov 13, 2020

I feel fine with customers, but the informal setting scares me. It’s just that I’m not pleased with the fact that all the sellers think that I am an introverted person, unlike my father). I told my sister a little, but she does not fully understand me.

Dec 03, 2020

I rarely go to my father’s shop now. Since it gets dark early on the street, the store is open only until 3 pm, one grandmother works there, she helps her father. I’m looking for a job, although I don’t know where to go to work, maybe a salesman. If I find anything, I’ll tell you).

Dec 04, 2020

Yes, my grandmother is very friendly, she loves my dad very much, and has been helping him for 6 years, she works in the store every day, constantly brings him home cooked food. Today I am sitting in a store, and a customer just came in and said that the whole family had had a coronavirus. Many people in our village are already sick.

Dec 10, 2020

Hi, today I again did not go to the store at 7 in the morning, because today is a market day and there are many sellers) also because on market days you cannot heat with wood in the store, neighboring sellers complain that soot settles on their goods. At about 12 noon, the bazaar leaves and the stove can be re-melted, and if not heated, the store is very cold, so the sutra did not come out today. Are you still doing work from home? What is your mood?

Jan 11, 2021

Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! I have everything still. There is nothing new yet, perhaps in the spring I will move to Kiev, in anticipation of this, my mood is much better.

Feb 08, 2021

I hope everything is fine with you. I am already in Kiev, but I still feel anxiety)). Now I definitely need to look for a job, I am looking through the options, and I think I will soon go and any. I will not draw any more, since I really have no talent. It takes several years to study this craft hard in order to paint at least at an intermediate level.

The thought that I could help my parents and nephews with the money I earned, but I don’t do it, the thoughts about it kill me.

It’s good in Kiev, I am again among the people. I like to be around people, but not to communicate closely. But if I don’t go to work in the next few days, I’ll die of hunger)).

Feb 14, 2021

Nothing new so far). Yes, I am looking for a job on the Internet, tomorrow I will call employers.

Feb 15, 2021

Happy Valentine’s Day to you)

Feb 16, 2021

I’m not waiting for Valentine anymore) In Ukraine, girls of this age and without a family are considered old maidens, men choose younger ones. In addition, we have a lot of beautiful girls). Therefore, I think I will be alone for the rest of my life. But there are many advantages to this. You can fall in love with a new person at least every day. Be creative, and nothing will distract, etc.

Feb 17, 2021

Everyone has their own time. I even begin to rejoice at my loneliness, since most of my acquaintances and even relatives are very unhappy in marriage, and suffer, but they cannot leave the family, because there are small children.

Feb 24, 2021

I don’t know. everyone has different reasons. But it seems to me that before marriage, a person needs to be carefully looked at. For example, if a person likes to drink, then most likely they will become a drunkard. If a guy who has a girlfriend often looks at other girls, then in the future he will betray his girlfriend. But people do not pay attention to these small details, and they turn into divorce. I don’t understand anything about this topic at all. I begin to believe in fate, maybe someone is not given to have a family, and such a person would be better off alone.

Feb 25, 2021

My position is the same) because of this, the mood spoils. I really hope that we will find work soon).

Mar 02, 2021

Yes, I’m in Kiev, but I haven’t found a job yet….our salaries are too small to survive). Today I went to my niece’s birthday, she is 8 years old, this is the only thing that lifted my spirits.

Apr 11, 2021

Hi, Sorry that I rarely answer, because I have no news. I even began to drink sedatives so that it was not so anxious. How are you? Any changes?)

Apr 13, 2021

Hello, and I also sit at home and kneel with fear of going to an interview. But I’ll go soon) These are good sedatives, but you can’t combine alcohol with them, it’s dangerous.

Apr 15, 2021

I tried to repeat with oil paints like that of the famous artist Ivan Aivazovsky. It’s hard, because I haven’t studied anywhere, and I don’t know how to do it right. But I’m glad for that, though. I suffered for several days)… I am also looking for a job.

There is one pharmacy where these pills are sold without a prescription, but of course they are expensive. I’ll drink another month. No, I did not go to the doctors, my mother used to drink them. In Russian “Gedozipam”

From the pills, peace appeared in the soul. I feel bad that I do not work and do not help my parents, but they are not young. And my conscience gnawed at me. But this week I’ll go at least wash the floors, I don’t care anymore

I want to paint small pictures, and not with oil, but with acrylic paints

Yes of course)… You can embellish the story with different romantic stories, whatever you want, but only my photo is scary to upload) it is better not)

~~

Acrylic painting by correspondent, 2021 – if you would like to support the artist’s work, contact me

Social anxiety news and stories round-up

Blogs

The writer provides a personal insight into a difficult incident of social anxiety in the workplace and her efforts to manage and reflect on the experience: “Today I had to lead a meeting on a topic about COVID and did horribly. I froze up, rambled, and made no sense. My supervisor and two others noticed I was freaking out and didn’t really help. Then I sat in my office and basically just stared at my computer for 30 mins. I decided to just text my boss and said I was going home because I have anxiety and can’t focus. Then I went home and cried for an hour.”

A 27 year old woman describes the difficulties with socialising with family members with strong Trump supporting political opinions and attitudes: “I guess I need to learn to steel myself a little better to their remarks. I know full well that just because they think one way intensely doesn’t necessarily mean they are right. I know it’s not a personal attack against me, but sometimes their opinions make me uncomfortable. It’s that whole them being so right-wing conservative (so Trump brain-washed) that eats away at me because the views they espouse are like night and day from how I feel. And sometimes I sit there wondering how could they really think that?”

The post explores dissociation, with the writer giving personal examples of experiences: “I used to volunteer at a food bank before Covid arrived. I had just received a call from a shop asking if I would like to do two months worth of work experience with them. I said yes and thanked them before hanging up. However, my anxiety kicked in and instantly I dissociated, zoning out into space. I could hear another male volunteer trying to have a conversation with me, but I couldn’t pull myself out. When I finally came out of it, I felt embarrassed and instantly apologised multiple times, explaining that I wasn’t ignoring him and I was just experiencing dissociation. I’m happy to report that he just laughed and said he was okay with that as long as I was okay.”

Working at a grocery store in the US, the writer is unfairly moved into a new role but is able to appreciate the personal benefits, despite the injustice of the decision: “Ultimately, I found this new position to be a million times less stressful than my old position—to the point that I almost consider it enjoyable. Most of my week is spent up front at the doors sanitizing carts or counting customers as I’m one of the few that can afford to spend all day up there without it affecting my work. It also might have to do with the fact that I’m one of the few employees that doesn’t bitch about being up at the doors. I really have no reason to whine since door duty no longer takes me away from working an understaffed area that desperately needs stocking constantly.”

A ‘thirty something environmental scientist’ describes the challenges of a work field trip having started her role as a remote worker, facing challenges with training and interaction: “My co-worker even told me not to be so hard on myself and not to feel like I need to get everything right away because he said after 14 years, he still gets confused and unsure. Our job is nebulous sometimes and subject to arbitrary decisions. Maybe that’s the nature of regulation. We’re almost environmental lawyers, having to interpret what laws mean and squash environment and science into these boxes where they don’t fit neatly.”

Creative writing

i’ll take the long way home, and carve out a path along hiking trails and highways, all of my own. trace the geography of broken promises along my collarbone, and try not to dance on the walk home, a smile breaking out across my cheeks despite it all. despite myself. feel the bruises, and scrapes, and scars, the way my thighs touch, and just let them fucking exist.

a catalog of fears, a series of questions, reasons to disappear. ideally, selfless writing mimics the camera, in the antiseptic laboratory condition tradition, stripped of human emotion. a program which mimics nostalgia. the verb is missing but the lecture continues.

For a group of communinist dissidents, no-one seemed to do much. Young, fashionable people, people with long hair and flared trousers and slim-fit paisley shirts, came to the flat each night to smoke and talk about movies, people at the university, the state of the economy, politics. Ana knew about soil acidity and fermentation tanks. She knew a little about American fiction and her favourite singer, Josipa Lisac. Sometimes she wouldn’t know if they were talking about a film director, actor, politician, or a mutual friend.

Research

  • Social Anxiety and the Generation of Positivity During Dyadic Interaction: Curiosity and Authenticity are the Keys to Success – Kevin C. Barber, Maggie A.M. Michaelis, David A. Moscovitch – Behavior Therapy, online March 31, 2021

“Dyadic analyses revealed that participants’ affiliative goals during the social interaction predicted positive outcomes for both themselves and their partners, although the link between affiliative goals and positive affect was weaker for participants with high SA. Mediation analyses demonstrated that adopting affiliative goals may promote more positive outcomes by increasing participants’ curiosity and felt authenticity. Taken together, results illuminate the pathways through which people with varying levels of trait SA may derive interpersonally generated positive affect and positive social outcomes, with implications for clinical theory and practice.”

  • Response Inhibition, Cognitive Flexibility and Working Memory in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder – Ana Isabel Rosa-Alcázar, Ángel Rosa-Alcázar, Inmaculada C Martínez-Esparza, Eric A Storch, Pablo J Olivares-Olivares – Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 31;18(7):3642 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33807425/

“This study analyzed response inhibition, cognitive flexibility and working memory in three groups of patients diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, considering some variables that may influence results (nonverbal reasoning, comorbidity, use of pharmacotherapy).”

  • Social anxiety disorder and the fear of death: An empirical investigation of the terror management approach towards understanding clinical anxiety. Zuccala, M., & Abbott, M. J. (2021). https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2021-01861-001

“Emerging evidence suggests that death anxiety is an important transdiagnostic construct underlying a range of psychological disorders. Terror Management Theory (TMT) is currently the preeminent theoretical framework used to explain the role that death fears play in psychopathology. This study sought to examine the TMT approach to understanding clinical anxiety while addressing several methodological limitations associated with the existing empirical literature. Method: Semi-structured diagnostic interviewing was employed to recruit two groups of participants with either Social Anxiety Disorder or no anxiety diagnosis. All participants were randomly allocated to receive either mortality salience or control priming, before undertaking two tasks designed to measure social and physical anxiety symptoms, respectively. Results: The overall pattern of results failed to provide evidence in support of the novel hypotheses derived from TMT. Mortality salience priming did not exacerbate social anxiety symptoms for participants with Social Anxiety Disorder, but did exacerbate physical anxiety symptoms for these individuals. No such effect was observed for non-clinical participants. Conclusion: These results suggest that more robust theoretical frameworks may be needed to explain the evident, but likely complex, relationship between death fears and clinical anxiety. Directions for future research are discussed. “

“The relationship between separation anxiety and suicidality has not been explored extensively,” Stefano Pini, MD, of the department of clinical and experimental medicine at University of Pisa in Italy, and colleagues wrote. “One study found an association between separation anxiety disorder and increased risk [for] suicidal behaviors in a prospective study of 500 Indian adolescents in a rural community. Another study reported an association between severity of separation anxiety symptoms and suicidal ideation in a small sample (n = 31) of patients with social anxiety disorder, although the observed association was dependent on comorbidity with major depression and avoidant personality disorder.”

  • Candidate Factors Maintaining Social Anxiety in the Context of Psychotic Experiences: A Systematic Review – Warut Aunjitsakul, Nicola McGuire, Hamish J McLeod, Andrew Gumley – Schizophr Bull. 2021 Mar 29 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33778868/

“Prominent psychological factors maintaining social anxiety included self-perceptions of stigma and shame. Common correlates of social anxiety included poorer functioning and lower quality of life. In conclusion, stigma and shame could be targeted as a causal mechanism in future interventional studies. The integration of findings from this review lead us to propose a new theoretical model to guide future intervention research.”

News articles

A light-hearted look at the fears of a young woman and her friends as lockdown restriction easing in the UK allows her to meet up with five friends outdoors over Easter: “Staying at home eliminates the holy trinity of social anxiety: the fear of missing out, the fear of actually being there, and the fear of what you did or said that creeps in after you’ve left.”

A humorous take on common behaviours prompted by socially anxiety: “This is my favorite game to play. Peek-a-boo, you don’t see me. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve strolled into a store and out of nowhere, launched myself behind a rack for cover because I recognized someone. Did they see me? Oh God, I hope they didn’t see me. What if they saw me hide? What if they come my way now, what do I say? Oh God, why am I like this? Usually, I’m by myself, so I don’t have to explain my behavior to someone else and feel extra stupid. But when I’m out with my husband, I have to deal with him too because he snickers and leaves me to my own insanity. Hello, social anxiety. I trail slowly behind and intermittently ask him to check if the coast is clear. I keep track of that person’s whereabouts until they leave the store. Don’t ask me how much time I’ve wasted doing this.”

“Think about the biggest challenges you’ve faced and overcome. Looking at your strongest, wisest moments, do you think you could use that same strength and wisdom to prevail in this potential challenge as well?

What do you think you could learn from it? In what ways do you think you would gain strength as you face these new obstacles?

Thinking about your strengths and your best moments can help you to remember that, while you may not enjoy your current circumstances, you have the strength to handle what comes. You may find new strengths you didn’t know you had!”

Article on London based writer, Russell Norris, who experiences severe facial blushing as an anxiety symptom: “Norris has decided to confront his fears by being more open about them. He’s written a book, Red Face: How I Learnt to Live with Social Anxiety, about what life is like as a perpetual blusher. “It’s not easy, is the short answer,” he notes. “I became an expert in avoidance.””

Social anxiety news and stories round-up

“Taking LSD granted me a temporary lift off my anxiety, which, unfortunately, was chemically induced. I hoped that I would somehow be able to take those benefits into sober life by being in that anxiety-less state as often as I could manage to do so. I also noticed a great increase in my openness and creativity. I was enjoying music like I never had before and drew for hours on end. But it didn’t take long for the negative side effects of my consumption to manifest themselves.”

An insightful and inspiring interview with Vietnamese American mental health activist and travel blogger, Meggie Tran: “My organization, a travel and mental health blog called Mindful Meggie, normalizes the discussion about mental health and its illnesses. Being open about them is the antidote to the negative stigma. I hope that people will be encouraged to acknowledge their mental health struggles, seek help from a medical professional when necessary, and open up to supportive family and friends.

The travel aspect is there to liven up the discussion with fun and relatable content. (After all, lots of people love to travel, or at least, read travel stories). Many of my nonfiction narratives discuss both mental health and travel. I also have practical resources for travelers with a mental health condition, which equalizes the opportunity to travel.

I strive to make my Vietnamese American voice heard. That way, I can invite and empower fellow Asians in the travel and mental health fields, both of which are still not quite there yet in terms of racial and cultural inclusivity.”

On work commitments and health: “Here’s the thing – there are positives to where I work. I work part-time and mostly from home; I set my own schedule; I can take time off for illness or family emergencies whenever I need too without feeling any guilt; and I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck or micromanaging everything I do. It’s these things that make me stay. It’s about balance and what it important to me at this stage of my life. With my anxieties and health and family issues, the work environment and flexibility are more important to me than not being able to do my job the way I know it should be done. All I can do is do the best I can with what I am given, and of course keep good notes on the side. I don’t think I could handle a fulltime corporate job anymore, especially since it would pay less for more work.”

Reflecting on anger and emotional self-control: “One of the ways I’m still growing is in regard to my anger. It’s better than it was but it is still there, bubbling away just beneath the surface, raging into a fire when I’m not doing well. Sometimes, it flares so strongly that I become violent – not toward other people or living things, but still violent.”

News articles

“Social anxiety and depression symptoms were positively associated with participants’ extent of dating app use, and symptoms of psychopathology and gender interacted to predict various dating app use motivations.

Symptoms of social anxiety and depression predicted a lower likelihood of initiating contact with a dating app match among men but not women.”

“For the study, researchers from The Ohio State University and the University of Oregon set out to learn whether identifying with a fictional character is connected with the brain activity that occurs when a person thinks about themselves.”

“Individuals have conveyed that this trait identification allowed them to experience a greater level of self-confidence and self-compassion,” says Dr. Magavi. “For example, I evaluated a young man who identified with [“Game of Thrones” character] Samwell Tarly, as he similarly felt ostracized by society and his family. When Samwell Tarly found his calling and helped his friends, he was so touched that he found the courage to apply for a job, despite his debilitating social anxiety.”

“Stress hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine flood your body, which can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and the blood flow to the muscles in your arms and legs. All of these can cause you to start shaking.”

“By strategic experiment I mean doing something to test your assumptions about how others react to you. Your goal in conducting an experiment is to obtain new facts, data, information about how others see you to begin constructing a new, more realistic image of yourself – – NOW – – to counteract the old, negative self-impression stored in your memory from THEN.”

“A study out of China published in April found that 10.8% of people met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning to work. Following personal protective measures, like wearing face masks, reduced psychiatric symptoms and made people feel more confident. It also helped when workplaces listened to employees concerns and increased workplace hygiene.”

“Curb the urge to seek reassurance from others that you are doing the right thing,” Shannon wrote. “Getting reassurance reinforces the belief that if we do everything right, we will avoid criticism. True confidence comes from allowing for mistakes and accepting that we cannot please everyone.”

“I began smiling at strangers when I went out in public and noticed how relaxed I was when I got home. In my mind, I was smiling as a way to tell people I was non-threatening, kind, maybe even a cool person to know. Lo and behold, seeing their smile in return eased my own mind; quelling my anxiety. I became confident going places solo. I could smile at a stranger at the grocery store and the incessant buzzing in my head would quiet down. I started traveling to different countries on both solo and group trips. Smiling at strangers made me more confident and safe. It was every kind of reassurance I needed.”

Research

“Results suggest that distractor stimuli that are either threatening or faces impair performance of high SA participants. Results demonstrate a hypervigilance for threatening faces in SA but indicate that this happens primarily when cognitive resources are available, that is, under low perceptual load.”

  • From scanners to cell-phones: Neural and real-world responses to social evaluation in adolescent girls Stefanie L. Sequeira, Jennifer S. Silk, Elizabeth A. Edershile, Neil P. Jones, Jamie L. Hanson, Erika E. Forbes, Cecile D. Ladouceur – Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Oxford University Press https://watermark.silverchair.com/nsab038.pdf

“As hypothesized, associations were found between reactivity to perceived social threat in daily life and neural activity in threat-related brain regions, including the left amygdala and bilateral insula, to peer rejection relative to a control condition. Daily life reactivity to perceived social threat was also related to functional connectivity between the left amygdala and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex during rejection feedback. Unexpectedly, daily life social threat reactivity was also related to heightened amygdala and insula activation to peer acceptance relative to a control condition. Findings may inform key brain-behavior associations supporting sensitivity to social evaluation in adolescence.”

A 2015 publication considering role of obesity, body esteem and social anxiety: “The structural equation modelling displayed that obese individuals with sedentary behaviour and poor body esteem were more likely to show social anxiety. Body esteem partially mediated between sedentary behaviour and social anxiety. Our results highlight the role of sedentary behaviour and body esteem as promising avenues for reducing social anxiety in obese individuals.”

2016 study: “These findings indicate that single dose testosterone administration can alleviate gaze avoidance in SAD. They support theories on the dominance enhancing effects of testosterone and extend those by showing that effects are particularly strong in individuals featured by socially submissive behavior. The finding that this core characteristic of SAD can be directly influenced by single dose testosterone administration calls for future inquiry into the clinical utility of testosterone in the treatment of SAD.”

“Results confirmed that self-reported emotional tendencies of social anxiety and psychopathy Factor I (interpersonal-affective deficit) correlated negatively, but self-reported behavioral tendencies (social avoidance and psychopathy Factor II [impulsive behavior]) correlated positively. Furthermore, Structural Equation Modelling demonstrated that participants with higher social anxiety and higher cortisol levels showed an avoidance tendency towards happy faces, while participants with higher psychopathic traits showed an approach tendency towards angry faces. In sum, the notion that social anxiety and psychopathic traits are opposing ends of one dimension was supported only in terms of self-reported emotional experiences, but a comparable relationship with regard to behavioral and endocrinological aspects is debatable. The current findings stress the necessity to study emotional, endocrinological and behavioral factors in unison in order to better understand the shared and distinctive mechanisms of social anxiety and psychopathic traits.

  • Cognitive therapy compared with CBT for social anxiety disorder in adolescents: a feasibility study Cathy Creswell, Eleanor Leigh, Michael Larkin, Gareth Stephens, Mara Violato, Emma Brooks, Samantha Pearcey, Lucy Taylor, Paul Stallard, Polly Waite, Shirley Reynolds, Gordon Taylor, Emma Warnock-Parkes, David M Clark, Health Technol Assess 2021 Mar;25(20):1-94 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33759742/

“Objectives: To train child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) therapists to deliver cognitive therapy for SAD in adolescents (CT-SAD-A) and assess therapist competence. To estimate the costs to the NHS of training therapists to deliver CT-SAD-A and the mean cost per adolescent treated. To examine the feasibility of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to compare CT-SAD-A with the general form of cognitive-behavioural therapy that is more commonly used.”

“If empathy is impaired in socially anxious individuals, appropriate emotional reaction to and interpretation of social cues is hampered. This in turn, might negatively impact social interactions thus reinforcing the socially anxious individual’s fear of acting inappropriately. An alternative line of reasoning might be that being unable to correctly infer the other persons’ emotional state provokes uncertainty and anxiety in social interactions (Hezel & McNally, 2014), thus fostering fear in and avoidance of social interactions. Altered empathic functioning might thus play a role in both the development and maintenance of SAD.”

Social anxiety news and stories round-up

Blogs

An artist studying art therapy gives an account of her life and experiences of bullying, judgement of her physical appearance and of subsequent social anxiety: “The pain and loneliness I felt from my social isolation was beyond imagining, so I drew to feel less alone. I am no stranger to heartbreak, betrayal and disappointment, and rather then let the pain defeat me I used it to create something beautiful. Heartbreak actually inspired most of my artworks. I use my emotional pain as a major source of inspiration in most of my works. I like to focus on the themes of life and death, nature because it brings life to my heart, and death which represents the suffering.”

A series of clearly written suggestions for using our senses to de-stress, highlighting sound, smell, feel and touch: “Figure out what sounds bring you a sense of peace or help relax you and begin using them to your advantage. The most commonly suggested method for this would be through listening to music, as this can have a positive psychological impact and has been shown to help ease low moods. Whether you are a fan of upbeat pop or more melancholy ballads, music can help us explore our emotions and ease our stress very effectively.”

A succinct post, describing emotions, particularly, feelings of helplessness: “Went for a walk with Sherri yesterday…and came back just full of social anxiety…I just have such a proliferation of thoughts after social encounters, even with people I trust. Why is it so hard to be straight forward? I’m so fed up with myself…”

The writer presents succinct descriptions of childhood friendships, which provide an insightful perspective into character and bonds: “From my infant friend Lincoln, I learnt in humans that I like those who complement my personality, but that’s not to say I atall dislike people similar to me. In fact a certain threshold of shared ethics is necessary. If you ask me when I juxtapose all of these friendships, I see very little in common. Maybe that’s the point. I build myself strong allies of a diverse settings.”

Research

This is a 1990 publication which suggests that social anxiety or phobia has a high incidence amongst the Saudi population and compares it to “the West” where “agoraphobia is the most common phobic disorder and constitutes about 60% of all clinically diagnosed phobic conditions, while social phobia is relatively rare.” The article goes on to suggest some possible reasons for this, including sociocultural.

I have included this article in this list particularly for the following quote: “Social anxiety seems to arise in people who are unduly sensitive to disapproval and criticism and who have inflexible ideas about social conventions which cause them to expect criticism unnecessarily.” This is attributed to a 1974 journal article which I could not find online: Nichols KA. Severe social anxiety. Br J Med Psychol. 1974; 47:301-6.

This quotation suggests an objective judgement of social fear based on an unspecified general standard, without reference to individual history, vulnerabilities or capacities. This objective standard may be helpful for identification of the need for treatment or support, but as a definition of social anxiety, it denies the subjective experience and condition of the person with symptoms and thus denies a holistic treatment approach. The definition also denies the reality of social power differences and social harms, beyond disapproval and criticism. I believe that this narrowly focused understanding of social anxiety disorder is found in modern medical understanding and treatments.

“Social anxiety is a highly prevalent and impairing condition. Understanding prodromal features of social anxiety in infancy can facilitate early intervention and mitigate negative long-term impacts. The present study is the first to examine social anxiety risk markers across multiple indices in infants with fragile X syndrome (FXS), who are at elevated risk for comorbid social anxiety disorder. Evidence suggests that infants with FXS display both behavioral and physiological markers of social anxiety that are detectable as early as 12 months of age. However, these findings were nuanced and not consistent across all measures, highlighting the importance of a multi-method biobehavioral approach.”

Articles

Australian freelance writer, Marnie Vinall, describes the positive experience of joining and integrating into a supportive Aussie rules football team: “I managed to make it a whole three weeks in before needing to sit out a training session because my anxiety got the better of me. It was in a regular drill called “chaos”, which involves a series of balls going in any and every direction. The purpose to practise kicking, marking, calling for the ball and making yourself open and available. “The aim,” the coach said, “is to get your hands on the ball as many times as possible.”

“For some, it will be hard to quiet the ‘threat brain’ and as a result, we may actually see a rise in OCD type symptoms. It’s important to understand that with OCD it is actually anxiety and fear at the root of the problem, it’s just the OCD are the symptoms we see.”

Another article looking at the fears that reopening of countries may bring, with particular attention on those most vulnerable, such as people with anxiety disorders: “Experts say it’s important to acknowledge your stress during this transition. It’s normal to feel nervous. People shouldn’t judge themselves too harshly for their anxieties.”

A deeper look at foods beneficial to emotional and physical health: “Serotonin has a calming effect and also promotes sleep and relaxation, McKittrick explained. In fact, low levels of brain serotonin, research has suggested, can lead to increased vulnerability to psychosocial stress.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is necessary for the production of serotonin in the brain. Complex carbs including whole grains and vegetables can help boost levels of serotonin because they make tryptophan more available in the brain.”

Very frank and insighful account of a woman fearing social interactions after the lifting of pandemic restrictions in the UK: “Fortunately, I found a career where I could escape those feelings for a couple of hours. As a nanny, social anxiety dissipated as the focus was on the children and I was able to forget about me. I worked long hours and did something so fulfilling, that I realised when it came to caring for others – such as the children I worked with, or taking my husband to hospital – the feeling of being needed, the purpose of doing something for others, overtook the dread and fear.”

Prior to the lockdown in the UK, she had started a new job role: “I don’t currently know if I will be able to go back to it – the most I can achieve is going to a chemist to collect my husband’s medication once a month and that is a mammoth task that takes a lot of psychological build-up.”