I’ve been doing CBT for the last month or so. I started out very, very sceptical because to my mind, it’s patching over the problem by teaching you methods to quell your anxieties or the symptoms thereof, rather than actually ‘solving’ them.
And to be blunt, it is all common sense. There’s nothing in CBT that is a new concept to me. However, the sessions serve as a reminder; a bookmark that pokes me into TRYING when I’m faced with a situation that makes me want to back away.
It’s extremely simple: I struggle with anxiety in a social setting because of my inward focus. I’m thinking about ME – how people will view me in this situation, and that causes me to blush and makes my heart race, which in turn blinds me to anything but myself. But the truth is that no one much cares about how I look or come across. I would say that a person’s perception of me runs at about 30% compared to my own. I have a theory that people don’t look at the entirety of a face: they look at the eyes, the mouth; they flick between that and the space around the person they’re talking to. That doesn’t give much of a chance for study, the kind of study required to find someone lacking on the microscopic level that a person finds themselves lacking.
I knew this, or thought I did. But now I ACTIVELY know it – I think I was being very lazy before. I was allowing myself to wallow in my anxiety, because of course everything would go wrong. There was no point going anywhere because it would inevitably be awful.
The most useful thing I’ve achieved is the decision to not over-plan. I have a terrible need to plot out all the negative eventualities that could occur in any social setting – and those usually outweigh the positives in my head, so it’s not worth trying. But if I don’t plan, and things go awry, so what? I’ve only experienced one set of that negative, instead of suffering over it before it’s even come to pass. Now I am an adult, with money and a smartphone, there are very few occasions where I am truly trapped, so really – what’s the worst that could happen?
I’ve allowed myself to be wounded by minute trespasses against my super-ego, that the perpetrators are probably completely unaware of. I’ve let them fester in my mind and grow their own mutations. But I am trying to regrow my world now and make a history of experiences that don’t make me feel twisted up inside.
So while CBT might not have impressed me, it has certainly helped me. Having someone say to you “But does it really matter that you’re not in control?” or “Does it matter if you say something silly to people who know you’re not or to someone you’ll never see again?” and finding that you actually don’t have a clever, bitter, negative answer is very good for perspective.
This morning I read the transcript of a speech David Foster Wallace gave, on the inward focus that causes so many of our anxieties and prejudgements. He killed himself, so perhaps he didn’t manage to live the concept he put into such great words – but what words they were.
Read it, it’s sad and uncomfortable and beautiful.