Something about other people causes me to feel anxiety. It is a unique feeling of anxiety. I enjoy the fear when ascending the hill on a large roller coaster. I do not enjoy the feeling when meeting someone new for the first time, no matter how many times I do it. I’ve made it my goal to no longer feel anxious around people. My self analysis so far has lead to some interesting results. I have a great deal of psychological defense mechanisms that I believe are responsible for many aspects of my personality. These defense mechanisms serve no purpose and should be torn down. However, that may be tangential as I am still uncertain about the cause of my anxiety.
To be more clear, I can’t think of any reason, logical or otherwise, for having a flood of adrenaline whenever I am about to socially interact with someone new (I rarely feel much anxiety with people I already know, or perhaps already know me?). And secondly, if there is a subconscious reason, when did it start? What event triggered it initially?
I find it bothersome that I don’t know this. My hypothesis is that if I knew what this fear was, I could rationalize or otherwise face this fear so that I would no longer be afraid of it. I could reconstruct the fear much like for the roller coasters I now enjoy but originally found terrifying.
Complicating this effort is that I do not believe anything truly traumatic ever happened to me. I was never molested, I never witnessed any violence. My childhood was pretty great. I wonder if it’s possible that the extreme pleasantness of my home life made the shock of leaving it seem all the more traumatic? The earliest I can remember this fear manifesting was when I went to pre-school.
The Building with the L Shaped Windows
I sometimes joke that I failed pre-school. More accurately: I didn’t like it so severely my mother took me out of it. In truth, I don’t remember much about it, whether it was traumatic or not. I remember the building, It was grey or made out of bricks. The windows had a distinctive L rotated 90 degrees shape. I remember not liking this.
I remember I started wearing a mask to pre-school. It was plastic cut out of Snoopy from Peanuts.
I found this image on google, I don’t know where my original went. Looking at it, I do feel some lingering anxiety so I might be on the right track. But it also feels weird to me now. Why was I wearing a mask? Why would my mother let me do this? My only memory of this is that I wore it because I thought I was supposed to. I thought funny masks were what people wore when they went to pre-school. Perhaps this was my mother’s attempt to alleviate some psychological issue I was having?
I suppose this is a good point to bring up that my mother died a few years ago. These questions will not be answered. It’s likely my mother is somehow mixed up in my anxiety, and her death is certainly another experience affecting my psyche. But I’m not considering losing my mother as relevant in this case. I was anxious before, I was anxious after.
Back to pre-school. I remember there was a day, perhaps the first day? Where I was dropped off. At which point I was standing in the middle of the room with no clue what to do. And so I started crying. I did this until whatever adult lady working there comforted me. I believe I told my mother afterwards that it was okay because adult lady “liked crying”. This is another unusual point, why was it important to me that other people liked my behavior? I also don’t have a clue what set off my crying in the first place. Of my actual memories, I don’t recall it being that bad. There were bins filled with beans there were fun to squeeze. There were those cloth tunnels you could crawl through. There was even an unruly boy who I didn’t like for some reason. It was all pretty normal.
Regardless, my mother took me out of pre-school and I got to enjoy not going to school for a while longer. Unfortunately, children cannot avoid going to school forever. I can tell pre-school made quite an impact on me by my reaction to learning about kindergarten.
The Horrors of Kindergarten
Before I started kindergarten, I had continuous anxiety. If anyone asked me anything about kindergarten, such as “are you excited to go to kindergarten?” my response would be to run away and hide. I also had to go to the bathroom roughly every half hour. A response to stress that still plagues me today.
Eventually kindergarten did start, and I did get on that bus and go. My mother told me how surprised she was that I did it without a fuss. As if I finally got over my fear of school. But I worry that was the beginning when I learned the unhealthy ways of coping with stress. Mainly, by dissociating. I remember being on edge the entire time I was in kindergarten. I never really felt like myself. At nap time I never once dared to fall asleep. It was torture to me.
I’m not sure why I felt that way, but I never dealt with those feelings directly. I felt the same anxiety through kindergarten, through all 8 grades, through high school, through college, and then through working a job until I eventually had enough money that I could stop. Now I’m at today, where finally I’m happy that I don’t have to go back to school or work. But why didn’t I want to go to kindergarten in the first place? Why have these feelings pervaded through all my life? Why have They Changed my life in so many ways? Why have they driven me to such drastic measures? I don’t even remember what specifically was so terrible about kindergarten! We raised baby ducks. Baby ducks!!
I have some ideas, but nothing feels concrete or like a breakthrough to me.
First, we have the pre-school mask. Maybe I did have a desire for the security of anonymity, or I had a fear of people seeing me? I can relate to this today since I do not mind going out into crowds or informal places where people are unlikely to remember me.
Next, it was important to me that my behavior was “liked”. This could relate to the mask. In pre-school there were many more people and likely none of them interacted with me the same way my mother did. This perhaps made me self-aware of being liked or not, and I always wanted to be proper and well liked. If I wore a mask, whether they liked me or not was irrelevant, I was anonymous.
It’s possible, from my experience in pre-school, I knew that going to kindergarten would subject me to this same kind of personal analysis by others, and this gave me anxiety.
And finally, when I had no other choice but to go to kindergarten I began to wear the mask on the inside. I became not myself. I can recall other instances when I separated myself out of fear. When we would go to the natural history museum there was an especially fearful exhibit of a dinosaur taking a bite out of another dinosaur. It frightened me to be near this. But I did not say I was frightened. I said “my legs were scared”, because they were the ones that were shaking. My mind was separate and had no problem with being near the dinosaurs.
I believe this separation helped me get through school the same way inching into a pool helps you get used to cold water. It doesn’t, I never got used to the water. I never felt comfortable at school. Now it’s been so long I can’t remember what was so scary to begin with. But it’s still affecting me.
What Can I Do Next?
I will continue this self analysis. I still believe if I can somehow retroactively lose my fear of going to kindergarten I will lose my fear of social interactions since then.
While my memory of these past events are quite spotty, I do know of a primary source that can help. My parents recorded a video after “my first day of kindergarten”. I should have it somewhere in a stack of DVDs I inherited from my grandparents. I’ve been meaning to rip them to cloud storage, but haven’t gotten around to it because, well, I would have to face the grief of losing my mother.
I suppose now there’s no point in hovering above the water, might as well dive right in.