I’m Awkward and I’m Nervous: Being an Extrovert with Social Anxiety

I’m Awkward and I’m Nervous: Being an Extrovert with Social Anxiety

I know how it seems when I always sing to myself in public. I babble on like a mad man. I know how it seems when I’m always staring off into nothing. I’m lost in my head again. I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times. – “There, There” by The Wonder Years

I love people. For the most part, I get along with most everyone I come into contact with. I am typically outgoing, and love to make other people smile. Except, there is one huge problem with that: I am riddled with social anxiety.

This stands in stark contrast to what most people know about me. Usually upbeat, laughing a lot, cracking jokes every chance I get. I’m the guy that uses words like “rad” and “bodacious” like we still live in 1987 and have no problem skanking in public whenever I hear the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I talk to random old people in malls and for some reason, little kids love me.

The thing is, it’s almost a chore to be like this now. A few years ago, that was just me. It was how I was. Something in the last few years has changed though. Maybe it’s the insanely crazy few years my family has had and the stresses that came with it. Perhaps it’s the ever changing and saddening world around me. Maybe it’s just my mental illness adapting over the years to find new ways to interrupt my life.

Currently, I am diagnosed as bi-polar, struggling under the weight of PTSD, and riddled with social anxiety. Okay, so the doctor didn’t exactly put it that way, but that’s what it boils down to. So to struggle to be the guy I used to be kind of drives things deeper. I caution to use the word “faking my happiness” to describe how I am around most people. I’m not usually faking. I do wear my masks some days as most people with mental illness do. The more accurate term would be “struggling to be me”. Yeah, I like that better.

Awkward and nervous are not ways to live when you’re an extrovert. Social anxiety is a curse of sorts. Inside I’m all Dave Grohl and outside I’m Quasimodo. Total rocker badass by virtue, but awkward nerdy dude by pure damn chemical imbalance. I’m scared of my failing as a friend. I’m scared of how people will look at me with my strangely shaped body, and round face. My short stature and my shaky voice only seem to accent that awkwardness.

So what’s a dude to do?

I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to figure out at this point. My anxiety has stripped me of what I used to be inside and out. Daily interactions are strategically planned out actions. But I don’t spend my whole day just yapping my jaw on the phone. I have people sitting to my left and right. People sitting directly across from me and diagonally across from me. I have bosses, and people I interact with running errands. I have friends that I only see at their place of employment because honestly, the hell with even trying to ask people about hanging out. That shit is too hard.

But, it’s not hard. Well, it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be hard to go crack open cold ones with the boys. It’s not a difficult decision to say “Hey, let’s drink whiskey and play Cards Against Humanity until someone pukes.” My kids shouldn’t have to wonder what it would be like to meet the kids of people I know, and wonder only. Mainly because their dad can’t swallow it and say “We should totally take the kids to just jump after getting them ripped on Mountain Dew and Reese’s Cups.

I don’t laugh at the right times. I don’t cry at the right times. I don’t smile and frown at the right times. I can’t figure out how I can just overcome and not be so scared of being me. It is a job in itself to keep my anxiety in check. I keep thinking “Tomorrow, tomorrow is the day it just stops and I get back to normal. Tomorrow is the day I am finally cool with myself, down with my weird body.” I wake up and say “Today is the day I stop giving a shit about how people may perceive me on the outside, and show them who I really am on the inside.”

But that tomorrow and today never comes. Anxiety wins every time and I’m left a shell once again. I stare in the mirror and think “Ugh.” I get myself hyped up by be being heavily caffeinated and overly medicated. I run through my days like they are rehearsed and scripted until I come home, in familiar surroundings, around very familiar faces. And I unwind and stop worrying for a bit.And then I dream some more.

I dream of not feeling like I am going to hurl my guts out at the thought of being in a crowded room. I dream of firm handshakes with strangers and a comforting tone to my voice that lets people know I’m just your average nerd. I will think about how awesome it would be to tell my stories in front of a crowd without my legs buckling under the dosage of Xanax I take just to show up. I will rock out in the shower because that’s the only place it’s comfortable to anymore….

And I will wonder…

Is this what it feels like with wings clipped? I’m awkward and I’m nervous.

Five Tips After Five Years: The First Week of Chemotherapy

Five Tips After Five Years: The First Week of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy

Five years ago this week, I started my medical battle against advanced stage testicular cancer. Chemotherapy was a go, and I found myself in scary, unfamiliar territory. That day, my mom and dad were at the hospital with me while my wife held down the fort at home. We went through chemo education, blood work, tours, and finally, I settled into a chair at the chemo suite to take my poison. It would be the first of 28 total treatments.

Many cancer survivors and patients have found themselves in that familiar uneasy situation. No matter how much you prepare yourself, you find yourself overwhelmed, and facing incomprehensible physical and mental anguish. It seems that no amount of preparation and research can actually prepare you for what lies ahead. Scared and confused, many cancer warriors find themselves later saying that the first week is the absolute hardest.

Over the last five years, I’ve had the chance to speak to many survivors and patients, and act as a patient ambassador and mentor. I’ve learned many things from all of the people I have been in contact with, and it’s always great to be able to share my story, in the hopes that it helps someone else. This has given me time to contemplate the first week of treatment and what goes through the minds of so many.

So as I look back on five years since my first time in the chemo chair, I want to share five tips for surviving the first week of chemotherapy.

Tip #1 : Stay Hydrated

I know they hook you up to a million different saline bags, but that’s just to keep everything flowing good. Depending on what chemotherapy you are taking, some can cause metallic tastes in the mouth, and others can make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon. Besides that, the toxins in the drugs can build up quickly in your system. It’s important to keep drinking water as much as possible. Letting ice melt in your mouth, or chugging those Fiji waters.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, while they may help replace much-needed electrolytes, are not always the best for the chemo patient. They can be high in sugars, and your body’s ability to process it may be altered by your treatment. Drinks that are high in sugar are generally not a good idea with an already queasy stomach. Here is a great information source on dehydration and chemotherapy.

Tip #2 : Ask Questions

Write them down ahead of time, write them down as you think about them, write them on your hands and arms if you have to. Most importantly, just ask them. This is one thing that, if I could do it over (like I would really want to) I would do differently. I didn’t ask enough questions. It wasn’t that I didn’t have plenty of them, I just didn’t ask them.

As a patient, you are your own best advocate. Nobody can know more about how you feel and how the treatment is affecting you. You have to stick up for you. If you don’t understand a procedure, or a blood work report, or something like that, ask questions. Don’t let a nurse or doctor walk away until you understand everything you need to.

Tip #3 : Go For Comfort

My grandmother, Nana B, is a wise lady. After watching my grandfather go through his own battle with cancer, she sent me on to my first week with sweat pants, and comfortable long sleeve shirts that buttoned part way down. Everything was lightweight, and the buttons on the shirt made it easy for them to access my portacath. I quickly learned as treatment went on that the rule of treatment days was comfort.

Take changes of clothes with you. Too hot? Change into something cooler. Too chilly? Change into something warmer. Bring extra pillows and blankets. Hats for your head, comfortable shoes. You’re going through a tough medical procedure. The last thing you need is to be even more uncomfortable than you already are. The more comfy you feel, the better you will feel in general.

Tip #4 : Get Your Entertainment On

Are you a music lover? Sketcher or painter? Are you a writer? Whatever your biggest form of entertainment is, bring it with you. For me, I had a sketchbook, iPod full of music, and my computer. You could guarantee that I wasn’t bored. The days were still long, but I got to kind of control the flow of what I was doing. From playing games, to blogging, to jamming out to Skankin Pickle, I kept my favorite things close.

It’s kind of like the comfort thing. The more familiarity you have around you, the better and more comfortable you are going to feel. Do you like to knit? Knit something during treatment. Play board games? Challenge a nurse to Connect 4. I guarantee it will make your day AND theirs. Life is changing and different when you start treatment, but you don’t have to let it steal all of your fun.

Tip #5 : Keep On Moving

Physically, emotionally, and mentally. Keep on moving. Another thing I think I did wrong. I slept and laid around… A lot. While getting your rest is going to be extremely important, it’s also going to be important to keep moving as much as you can. This keeps your immune system stronger, and can drastically help prevent wasting syndrome. Walk when you can, do some light aerobics, play some pool or hold a dance in your own living room.

Mentally and emotionally, you have to keep moving too. Dwelling too much on the situation and the fears will wear you down faster than the treatment. The mental rock bottom is a hard landing zone. Keep in touch with family and friends. Hold conversations with strangers at the mall. Challenge yourself to learn a new language, or skill, or start doing brain teasers.

 

That’s what I’ve got for today. My top five tips for surviving the first week of chemotherapy. Are you a cancer survivor? Someone who is going through treatment right now? What are your best tips? Share them in the comments below!