On Anxiety (1)

October 31, 2012

A penance post for my extended commenting over the past few days! I still owe an Ada Lovelace day post (I want to post on Suzanne Langer). But this is a nice segue for the On Anxiety series.

I’ve several annoying long term medical conditions. To pick a simple example, I’ve had a form of arthritis since I was about 30. It’s mostly controlled by medication but, for example, my hands are a mess and degenerating. One of the more annoying ones is my anxiety, particularly my social anxiety.

People find this really hard to believe because, ahem, I come across as a rather confident person. I speak up a lot (a lot of a lot…too much, probably) and I’m willing to ask questions all the time. I’m a pretty relaxed looking speaker and I can put together a talk out of thin air with no prep that sounds like a heavily prepared lecture. My stamina in comment threads and email threads is substantial.

So when I tell people that I’m painfully shy (about some things) and have difficult to overcome social anxiety they often just deny my claim. They can’t believe it. Which is funny and a bit annoying. (I am, indeed, annoyed a lot but all this. It’s a much better attitude to cultivate than sadness.)

My anxiety really makes it hard to write. Writing is a perpetual struggle. I’ve been trying to write some tiny bits of text for a grant proposal and Robert, my poor co-proposer, has been doing everything he can to extract a mere few words. (Useful words. I know exactly how they should go, usually. But putting them down just doesn’t happen.) Many of my usual tricks (e.g., staying up late/all night) aren’t working.

This certainly was a big deal for writing my thesis (hence the X-teen years it took). But it’s also the case for papers, email, exams, comments, blogposts, slides…

I find it really weird to be simultaneously such a voluble, articulate person and yet utterly mute in key contexts.

3 Responses to “On Anxiety (1)”

  1. Bijan Parsia Says:

    Upon publishing this, WordPress tells me:

    Every writer I know has trouble writing.
    Joseph Heller

    WordPress, I hate you and your snark quotes!

  2. Anita Burkam Says:

    They recommend that people who stutter “sing” their words. A way of fooling the brain into thinking it’s doing a different activity than the one it gets hung up on. I’m always looking for ways to fool my writing brain into thinking it’s not hung up on whatever piece of writing needs to get done. But lately I haven’t been writing at all (except for reviews) so clearly it hasn’t been working so well!

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      Yeah. It’s clear to me that different modalities work very differently for me, but alas it’s usually modality + situation and not modality alone. That is, I can “write” a paper verbally if I’m explaining it to someone, but if I try to write a paper verbally (e.g., by dictation) it all falls apart.


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