Anxiety and Public Appearances
This weekend I’m participating in the Booking in Biloxi event. It’s my first big author event and my nerves are already shot.
I’ve done a couple of other small author events before – hell, I’ve even been a speaker at huge international scientific conferences in my day job capacity. None of that experience helps when you have anxiety issues though.
I don’t just have generalized anxiety (as if that wasn’t bad enough). My biggest mental problem is social anxiety. Put me in a group of people for any length of time and the voices in my head will be screaming in fear, drowning out my logical side as well as all conversation around me. Even acquaintances will trigger this irrational fear.
Fear of what? That’s a great question. One I don’t have an answer to. My best guess (for me, I can’t answer for anyone else’s anxiety) is a fear of being judged, criticized, or mocked. Even if I know logically I’m prepared and have done my best for whatever it is.
One of the ways I was always able to overcome my “fear of public speaking” in my day job was with logic and planning. Of course, it helped that my day job was scientific in nature and I was simply applying my working skills to my mental state.
However, creative works are different than a “regular job.” I don’t know of a single author who isn’t worried at some point about their writing being criticized. I believe this is because we all know that the value of creativity is subject, not fixed and quantifiable like the skills required in most J-O-Bs.
In my anxious, fearful mind, author events can feel like huge popularity contests. Readers are there judging your stories, your book covers, your promotional items, your clothes – in effect, YOU!
At the same time, the other authors are doing the same.
** At least that’s how it can sometimes feel! **
Who can honestly say they enjoyed that mess in high school, much less would want to go back there? Certainly not me.
Yet, here I am anyway, offering myself and my stories up to the masses as a sacrificial lamb. Just because I think my stories deserve to be heard. I always have been a glutton for punishment. 🙂
I have another reason to be anxious about a big event too. I have a significant loss of hearing. Being in a loud environment would be my least favorite place just for that, not even counting the social anxiety.
When you have hearing loss, your ears can have problems differentiating between background noises and close sounds. Basically, the filters on your ears quit working and everything becomes an overwhelming flood of information.
Imagine the roaring sound you might hear in a seashell as you hold it against your ear. Now imagine that sound in both ears while someone tries to have a conversation to you.
Energy and Mental Focus
It takes a huge amount of mental energy to focus on a single person’s words, interpret the sounds into meaningful words, connect the words into sentences, and come up with a thoughtful response. All in one second or less. Any longer than that and the silence becomes awkward and you can see the curiosity and hint of social judgement in the other person’s eyes.
Now imagine having to spend that kind of energy concentrating for HOURS. It’s hard work, and maybe you can start to understand why even without anxiety any outing can exhaust me beyond reason.
I’m not telling you all this to get your sympathy. I know how to live a good life within the limits my health has set for me. Even if I do push the boundaries occassionally. 🙂
Patience is a Virtue
I’m telling you all this to ask you for your patience if you meet me in Biloxi. If I take a little longer than normal to respond to your words. If it looks like I’m mad (that’s my *thinking-really-hard* face!). If I say something really stupid and confusing (that would be because I misinterpreted what I thought you said). If I need to step away from my table for a few minutes (or more) of quiet alone time. Or if I seem cold and closed off.
It’s not you, it’s me.
I would like to think I’m truly a likable person. Once we get to know each other. In reality, I know I’ll never win a Miss Congeniality award. I’m okay with that. And I hope you will be too.