Like all mental illnesses, an anxiety disorder can be experienced differently by all. No mental illness is a ‘one size fits all’. While two people with the same diagnosis may have some of the same symptoms and triggers, it does not mean their experiences will be the same. It’s also possible for two people with the same disorder to experience vastly different symptoms and triggers. It’s important to be aware that one person’s experience with a disorder may drastically differ from the experience of someone else. Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways. I want to share with you a trigger for my social anxiety disorder that, to the best of my knowledge, is not that common among sufferers of social anxiety disorder.
You may associate a fear of public speaking and a fear of being out in busy, crowded shops with social anxiety disorder. These are common fears among those of us with this disorder. However, you may not associate playing video games with social anxiety disorder.
It sounds utterly ridiculous, right? I mean, who’s afraid of video games? Well, I am. And it is all down to my social anxiety disorder. Some of my triggers include being watched, being judged, and failing. I am a self-confessed perfectionist and I suffer from a very severe case. Playing video games sets off those triggers.
While video games are a coping mechanism for some, for me they have resulted in extremely severe panic attacks. I’m talking the kind of panic attacks where you can’t catch your breath, your face is stained with tear tracks, your nose is running like you’ve got a bad cold, and you feel light-headed from hyperventilating that you fear you’re going to pass out. Even just the thought of playing a video game can set me off.
LIKE ALL OUR OTHER INTERNAL ORGANS, OUR BRAINS CAN BECOME SICK
For years I’ve been ashamed to admit I have a mental illness. I’m even more ashamed to admit the ways in which my anxiety manifests. There’s nothing wrong with having an unconventional trigger but there is with being ashamed. I can’t control how my anxiety manifests and what triggers it any more than I can control what eye colour I was born with. While my fear of playing video games may seem silly or stupid to someone else, it has a genuine impact on my life. It may sound like something to laugh about but just remember it’s a symptom of my mental illness. It’s no laughing matter to me.
My shame and fear over playing video games has meant I’ve avoided them as much as possible. Part of my social anxiety is the need to feel included, yet this is extremely difficult when many of your friends are gamers. Every Friday night friends would come over for a night of games. As much as I wanted to participate, I just couldn’t. The fear was too much. Would they laugh at me? Or judge me? Would they ever pick me to join their team in a multiplayer game? What if I fail? What if I have a panic attack whilst playing? It wasn’t a risk I could take. I was ashamed and I let that shame take over.
My other half is an avid gamer and it’s something I’ve wanted to share with him. Anxiety has not always made this possible. All my anxiety has done is prevent me the opportunity to challenge myself and move out of my comfort zone. He’s always reminding me that I won’t be at the same level as everyone else straight away because they’ve had years of experience whereas I haven’t. He reminds me that they once started off at my level so if they laugh I should remind them of that. Who cares if I fail? Fail and try again. I have an anxiety disorder and I can’t control what triggers it. So why should I feel ashamed or care if someone laughs?
I’m actively attempting to overcome my anxiety as much as I can. That means I have to continually challenge myself. So, last night, with much encouragement, I successfully completed three levels of a game that had previously resulted in a panic attack. We loaded up four different games for me to dip my toes in and try. Admittedly, some of them were easier than I thought they would be. My plan is to stick with them and practice. Practice makes perfect, right? No one ever became good at anything without having practiced. In the wise words of Jake the Dog ‘suckin’ at something is the first step being sorta good at something.’ Three levels of a game is not groundbreaking but it’s a start.
However your anxiety manifests is 100% valid, even if it sounds utterly ridiculous to someone else. You can’t help what causes your anxiety. You can’t control what triggers it. Anxiety is a mental illness so cut yourself some slack. You have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed.