Social Anxiety Nightmare Fuel and How to Laugh It Off: A Primer

Hang on errbody, this is gonna be a long one.

We have all, as humans, had moments in our lives in which we have stepped back and quite objectively realized “This is my worst nightmare. This is actually my nightmare fuel.” As a borderline socially phobic person, I experienced one of those moments last weekend. It begins with me upside down in a whitewater kayak in a swimming pool and ends with me red-faced and having just been “rescued” by a pissed-off lifeguard in front of 40 judgemental adults and a dozen hysterically laughing elite kayaker children.


Serenity, or something. Ie., a thing I will never have.

Amid all the laughing and being yelled at for my incompetence by Head Asshole, a bald-headed man in a red lycra shirt whom I hope never to see again, I took a step out of my brain and realized this was it. I had reached my threshold of embarrassment. I needed to step out of the pool and commit seppuku with my paddle, as soon as everyone stopped looking at me.

Now, whether or not you’ve experienced a moment of humiliation like the one I experienced above (and I’m sure you have, because my threshold for being socially humiliated is pretty low), you know that it’s pretty much the roughest thing ever and, if you’re like me, it will literally keep you up at night and have you cringing at odd moments at work or school for the next several days.

I decided I felt like I wanted to put all that nonsense to a stop, and here’s how I’ve resolved to do it.

In case you don’t want to read all the way to the bottom, I’ll put like 90% of the tutorial here, and the rest is just fluff you can read if you like me. The answer is this: it’s stalking hot people on Facebook and using them to make you realize you’re not such hot shit at all anyway and should stop taking yourself so seriously.

Yes. I came to this realization the other night while perusing ancient pictures of my kind-of-but-not-really boyfriend, and realizing that this incredibly intense and ego-driven dude I had come to admire is potentially the most hilariously ungraceful picture taker I have ever met in my entire life. There are albums upon albums of him (all untagged, hidden away in the photo histories of distant mutual friends from ages past) in viking getups and togas, wearing cosplay ears, mouth wide open in an anime grin, battling children and men (and losing). He looks incredibly happy in all of them, which took me by surprise because I have the privilege of knowing that the dude in those pictures was depressed and still reeling from a family tragedy.

I stepped back from the magic of his super-hot abs and into a moment of realization. Crap, I thought to myself, I don’t look that happy in any of my pictures. In fact, if you were to beam through the intertubez and into my bedroom right now you would probably judge me for my chronic bitch face. It’s not because I’m a bitch (depending on whom you ask) but rather because I am continuously feeling stressed out by my no-longer morbid but still rather crippling social anxiety. Yes, I have an excuse. No, it does not excuse me.

Yes, I’m sure you’ve been there, denizen of the internet. We’re all the same here; we all understand.

You know social anxiety, even if you’ve only lived it for the barest moment. You know the tight-chested panic, the darting eyes, the hyperventilation. Feeling like you can’t get enough air, chest hurting at your attempts to breathe evenly. You know the clammy hands, the cold sweat seeping into the armpits of your teeshirt. You have, I assume, like me, huddled against the wall of a crowded mall corridor watching for a break in a swarm of people seemingly without order to your eyes, a continuous crush of bodies threatening to brush and poke and jostle you and judge you for the panic you wear so plainly.

Which returns us to the beginning of the story of last weekend, when I endured one of my worst triggers as a socially anxious person.

Allow me to set the stage: it is winter and I have been out of my kayak for nearly 5 months due to work, cold, and travel (and, let’s be honest here, a hint of the ole Lazies). I realize that the c-to-c roll I worked so hard to achieve is slipping away, so I sign my unmotivated butt up for the nearest indoor roll session – a municipal swim center in a neighboring state.

When I arrived, the joyous clamour of children’s voices immediately met my ears. Surely I wouldn’t have to deal with them, I thought, they would be in another part of the building. Who buys their 10 year old a whitewater kayak? But sure enough, as I set my kayak down on the edge of the pool I saw that it was already lousy with a gang of approximately a dozen 8 to 14 year olds, who (little bastards) were throwing their kayaks around like it was the easiest thing in the world with no PFDs on and helmets with GoPro mountings stuck to the top.

Rich little fucks, I thought, and resigned myself to two hours of dodging ruffians and tuning out their racket. It would be fine, I thought. There was still enough space to avoid them.

Over the next 15 minutes the pool filled far beyond the capacity it should’ve been filled to. There was no more than 50 square feet of pool space per kayak, and with everyone jostling and smacking each other in the head with paddles and jockeying around for space, my brain started to trigger off. The darty eyes set in, the entirely unnecessary PFD I was wearing started to feel tight around my chest. If you were watching me, you would’ve seen me constantly edging towards the center of whatever space I was in. You would’ve seen me darting out to wherever the biggest free area was whenever I could find it.

And, if you were a maybe 19 year-old life guard just waiting to have something useful to do, you would’ve seen me underwater, too flustered to properly execute my newly-acquired sweep roll, and blithely set up for a t-rescue from an imaginary person who apparently wasn’t coming.

Now, I am a pro at the t-rescue. I can hang out waiting for one for a minute and a half if I’ve had a whole breath of air, and it’s a naturally comfortable position for me because it’s like you’re secret and underwater and no one can see you. To an uneducated bystander, however, (like our hero lifeguard) it probably looks like a pending corpse trapped inextricably beneath a brightly-colored death trap.

Now, you can hear underwater when someone is coming for you. You hear the sometimes frantic tempo of their paddle in the water, which is exactly what I thought I heard, but when my rescue arrived and I flung my arm out to receive it, it was not the hard bow of a kayak which greeted me but rather the fleshy appendage of the lifeguard, who began clawing (yes, CLAWING) me into an upright position, quite against my will.

I surfaced immediately into my personal hell, a pool with 50 people in it all staring, the red-lycra bald man screaming at me to make more noise next time for a t-rescue, the life-guard stalking back to her post to call off the Coast Guard by walkie-talkie, the gang of children all gawking and starting to laugh. All the humorless adults looking at me and thinking how little an idea I must have of what I’m doing and silently making up their minds NEVER to go out on the water with someone so incompetent.

Being too embarrassed to commit seppuku, I lurked by the outskirts of the pool for the last 15 minutes of the session, willing myself to become invisible and essentially becoming so, since everyone was shunning me after that anyway. As soon as the bald-headed man announced the end of practice, I hauled my kayak out and rushed back onto the interstate.

That night, I laid in bed and cringed and tried to block out the memory. Today, on Monday, amid stalking my sort-of boyfriend’s old Facebook pictures, I realized that despite the social anxiety, despite the chemical imbalances or deep Pavlovian influences or whatever it is that made me this way, I still have the choice to defy them and react the way I want. I have the option of tacking a big old cheesy as hell smile on my face and just rolling with it and realizing I can safely tuck this experience into my repositories of dumb stories that are probably more embarrassing for that dumbass lifeguard than for me (yes, I have a repository for those).

The ending lesson is basically that if I refuse to make a big deal out of something, no one else can either. Take THAT, society.  

Unknown Icelandic slot canyon – 800×600

Unknown Icelandic slot canyon - 800x600

After the flooded glacial stream incident from approximately 2 posts ago, our guide in the Thorsmork region of Iceland took us to this slot canyon whose name he neglected to mention. This little waterfall was pictured near the end of a 10-20 minute scramble from rock to rock through the stream at the bottom of the narrow canyon.

The thin grey line at the bottom left of the picture is a hand rope facilitating the climb over slippery rocks to the 25-foot sheer waterfall just out of sight. Because of the close quarters and poor lighting, the larger waterfall was almost impossible to photograph, but I can assure you it made quite an impression falling through a sun-lit, moss-lined keyhole at the top of the gorge 25 feet to the rocks below.

Because of the ridiculous lighting conditions, I had to edit the levels a lot on this photo to make it visible. I’m clearly pretty new to it. Give me tips if you got ’em.

The Path to Leiðarendi – End of the Road Cave

The Path to Leiðarendi - End of the Road Cave

I had a free Wednesday in Reykjavik so I impulsively signed up for a guided cave tour in one of the many lava tubes beneath Iceland’s volcanic tundra.

More than the actual cave itself, the experience of which was tempered by a rather inexperienced tour guide (a story for another day), I was struck by the character of the landscape. A thick rolling fog hung over everything, tempering the deep blacks and browns and greens of the moss-covered volcanic rocks, and giving the impression that each mountain stretched infinitely. That imagining, to me, is more exciting than a clear day.

A glacial torrent in Thorsmork, Iceland

IMG_1731Turns out while I was in Scotland I was in Iceland, too. Thorsmork has the most capricious weather I have ever seen. Furiously storming and spitting rain one minute, then sun shining brilliantly with dark clouds rolling in the background the next. Our tour guide was initially going to have us cross this glacial stream and head up the valley, but upon seeing the water level he declared it impossible. I, being an obnoxious American, declared that we should do it or die trying, but no one else was quite as excited about that as I was.

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands

So I went to Scotland awhile back and was blown away by the Tolkien-esque highland landscapes. Here, have a picture. Have it in super-high resolution!

Adavivek: T-Rescue Prodigy


The New River Gorge: most awesome of gorges. (No, that’s not me) [Photo credit to the Navy.]

Well it’s been awhile since I posted on this blog. Long story short, I procrastinated, and then I forgot my login information, and then I forgot I even HAD a blog for awhile.

But now because of the government furlough and all I figured I’d better try my hand at social writing again in case the ole’ job stability thing goes down the tubes.

So, since you guys seem to like adventure stories, here’s one where I fall over a lot and imperil myself! A quick update – when last I published on this blog, I was a burgeoning whitewater kayaker trying to develop my skills as a beginner with no gear and a rather preoccupying fear of drowning.  Read More…

Lessons Learned Beneath a Capsized Kayak

photo by curtis.mchale

Let me get one thing straight: I am not an experienced kayaker. I will not soon be seen bravely leading any of my friends through the rapids, I will not be rescuing any stranded swimmers or anything like that. I have done maybe 4 or 5 actual river trips, have not mastered my roll, and am furthermore slightly terrified of capsizing.  Read More…