Anxiety and twitter

Title: Anxiety and twitter
Date: January 28, 2014
Synopsis: I wrote a bit about my issues with generalized anxiety disorder and how social media can make it far worse.

The first anxiety attack I can remember having was in kindergarten. It was stupid, of course, as most anxiety attacks (and childhood behaviors) seem in retrospect. I’ll spare you the details, but it was bad enough that I faked off sick for school to avoid the issue.

I don’t remember if I was a particularly anxious kid or not. I had lots of friends and played travel hockey and got good grades. But I can remember instances, and I had “behavior issues” in elementary school that led to a few suspensions and trips to a psychologist/psychiatrist (I can’t remember which).

After grade six, my family moved to a new subdivision, with me heading to a new school. I spent, literally, the entire summer cooped up in my room because I was terrified of trying to meet new people or being an outcast at my new school (at my previous school, I had been the odd combination of occasional-bully and occasional-victim).

Anyway, the specifics don’t matter so much as the fact that anxiety is something I’ve been dealing with my entire life and only recently had diagnosed (in spring of 2010 – “generalized” anxiety disorder, not “social”). I take anti-anxiety medication now and I can live without it – this summer I moved across the country and started a new job while off of it – but I’m better on it.

The most frustrating part of dealing with anxiety, I think, is knowing how silly it must seem to an outsider (Read this article, but specifically start where the fish dies, it sums this element up). A lot of the time, it renders me incapable to take criticism or take jokes at my expense, which is unfair because I like to dish that kind of stuff, too. Not sharing that it bothers me is one way to deal with the outside perspective, but it’s still frustrating to feel a way when you know you shouldn’t. Tweets criticizing my over-use/over-silly (or over-whatever the issue is) or shaming a bad joke probably weren’t meant to be harmful, but they will bother me all day long, probably in to tomorrow, and probably curb my twitter usage until I forget about it.

Maybe that’s a good thing considering my twitter brand, insert your own joke here.

Twitter is obviously a terrible invention for someone with anxiety, a veritable “do people like me and think I’m funny” test at the ready whenever you have a thought. I tweet because it’s fun and I consider it part of my profession, but it’s also a source of validation – and, conversely, a source of negative punishment and negative reinforcement. I should probably #logoff forever, but I won’t.

Here are some examples of how my anxiety manifests itself on twitter (and as an internet journalist/blogger). They’re not always present, probably not even a quarter of the time, but they creep up on a bad day:

Someone doesn’t reply when I tweet them? Hate me.

No RTs? Dumb tweet, delete it.

Article doesn’t get RTs/shares? Was terrible.

Article criticized? Nobody will take me seriously as a journalist.

People I know tweeting at each other? Left out.

Specific tweet criticized? Person hates me, therefore, all people hate me.

Critical subtweets? Must be about me.

Maybe this is common among all people on twitter, I don’t know. It happens for me some days and it can be really frustrating and debilitating, especially because my actual job requires me to be on TweetDeck 40 hours a week and my career goals require me to maintain a strong online presence. There are things I can do to fix it – tweet less, tweet better, go on less – but they’re marginal, I think.

My anxiety has gotten far better in my personal life since it was diagnosed and I found ways of coping with and managing it. It was nearly impossible to date for a while, first because I was a fat guy and then because my confidence was obscenely low. My current relationship of four-ish years started off rocky in large part because I was way too anxious, all the time, to just relax and enjoy life.

I’m hopeful it will continue to get better over time, specifically in the professional realm. I’m confident it will, because every day I learn more and have more experience dealing with it. There are going to be bad days, of course, and I’ll probably never deal with abject criticism all that well in the short-term (I actually really appreciate it once the moment has passed), but it could get better.

I’m not sure why I wrote this really, except that it was recently corporate-get-tweets-for-a-good-cause-but-also-brand-affect-day and because it’s therapeutic on a day I was feeling very anxious. No idea if I’ll post it publicly, though sharing with a friend helped validate some of my feelings. If I do, I understand some will probably make fun directly and others out of earshot, but whatever. Talking about it supposedly helps but I’m not very comfortable doing that. Writing about it seems to help some.

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