Openness is the way forward
Updated: Jan 3
From an early age I seemed to have an issue speaking in public. This could be attempting to deliver a prepared speech, reading in school, talking on the phone or even just asking a question somewhere that I might be overheard by other people.
I wasn’t so much incapable of speaking. I was terrified of my ability to panic.
If you have never experienced a panic attack, I am not sure it sounds real or makes much sense. I guess they do sound a bit ridiculous, but when you are experiencing them they are not much fun.
At a physical level the most notable symptoms for me include massive palpitations, cold hands and legs, a feeling of weakness and difficulty breathing.
Probably most frightening of all, is the noise of thousands of thoughts bouncing around in my mind that don’t really make sense. But, if I was to sum them up in one word, it would be a loud NOOOOOO!
I experience this incredible fear that I am losing control and a sense of reality. If I don’t pull myself together within a few seconds, people will know and my secret will be out forever.
I spent a lot of time consumed with this fear. Consumed with the idea that my panic would present itself in public situations. I became obsessed with trying to fix this deformity in my nervous system before anyone noticed.
I tried diet overhauls, vitamins and supplements, exercise, meditation, medication, therapy and public speaking courses, all with the intention of fixing this broken part of me. This obsession persisted for years. I thought about it constantly. If I walked into a room with people, immediately my mind went to wondering what could happen that would turn this into a public humiliation for me.
If I went to a social event, I imagined all the ways I might suddenly have to give a speech.
This became thoroughly exhausting, I couldn’t allow myself to be seen incapable by others.
I didn’t feel that I could confide in anyone that this was something I felt uncomfortable with. I was suffering in silence.
However, this need to hide it from everyone was more detrimental than beneficial.
Somewhere along the line, I realised this is not something I can overcome. I have this ability to panic. I am capable of inducing stress within myself over very little. The more I was trying to overcome this, the more I was obsessing over it. It was playing a bigger part in my life. It was constantly on my mind.
As I started to lessen my need to control my panic, it began to have less of an impact on me. I adapted my mindset as opposed to altering my nervous system.
As much as I can, I try to accept the anxiety. I accept the discomfort and do not try to calm myself as I become aware of it. Deliberately trying to calm an anxious mind for me is like trying to put out a small fire with petrol. It turns a situation that is not ideal into a huge problem.
It is still there to a degree but it doesn’t consume my mind the way it used to.
As you might guess, the very fact that you are reading this now means that I am very open about this aspect of me. People don’t treat me any differently. And I feel much more comfortable within myself and among others. I am just me, and not the person I was trying to be. This is a relief in itself.
As I started talking to people about this, I realised how common a feeling this is.
In time we might be able to talk about these perceived negative emotions as comfortably as discussing physical injuries with friends and colleagues.
For so long I believed I was helping myself by keeping everything within my mind and stoically presenting myself as some invulnerable concrete man to the world. But all it ever did for me was make me second guess myself even more. It made me worry about whether people really saw me as I wanted them to and exhaust myself trying to be a person I most certainly am not.
Openness is the way forward. Being a little more open with others can be energizing. We don’t have to be expressing our vulnerability to everyone we meet, but moving away from this need to cover up all our insecurities can be a step in the right direction.
I spent a lot of time and money trying to fix myself.
Over time I realised that I just needed to accept myself for who I am.