Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fear

Do you have a phobia of something so strong that just the thought of it sets you into a tailspin? I know I do. My fear is public speaking--I hate it. I have done everything I can to face my fears, including reading books like Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, but sometimes, I have to remind myself that pushing through fear no matter what is not always the answer.

The fear of public speaking started in high school; before that, I could get up in front of the class with some trepidation but I was able to do it. But that all changed in 10th grade English class. I had to give a report on The Canterbury Tales and when I got up to speak, I just lost it. I had already been ignored and/or verbally abused by half the kids in the class and facing them brought the fear I had been hiding for years to the forefront. I froze. Have you ever froze in front of a group of 10th graders? They burst into laughter--the teacher tried to put things into perspective by saying, "We're laughing with you, not at you." Yeah, right. I never spoke again in class until my last year in college when I was stuck giving a speech in a required class I needed to graduate. I stumbled through it the best I could--all the while feeling my heart pound and the room spin. I somehow made it through and even got an A with a comment from the professor, "try to look people in the eye when you speak."

My next bout with public speaking came in graduate school; I was really lucky as The New School for Social Research in NYC had a European style of teaching which meant very large classes where I could slink in the back of the room and then take one written test for my whole semester grade. It was impersonal and suited me fine--I did not have to interact or talk to anyone until my last semester in a small seminar. Again, I needed the class to graduate and had to force myself to attend. The class was taught by my worst nightmare--a strong-willed Israeli professor who seemed to get a sadistic thrill out of poking fun at the "dumb American students." This mean streak got even worse when she announced that in order to pass the course--each one of us would take our turn "teaching" the class on a different topic. You can only imagine the torment I went through trying to teach on language development in children in front of a malevolent professor who took pleasure in pointing out my every flaw. I rejoiced to get a B- in this woman's class and never have to deal with her again.

So, fast forward to today. Despite the weeks of anxiety beforehand, shortness of breath, and my heart beating out of my chest, I have perservered in the public speaking arena--and it has never gotten better. I have forced myself to give testimony to legislatures, talked to crowds of 500 about my film, and spoken to groups of professionals about kids who are violent. You would think that after all this--I would feel less fear. But I never do. It is there each time, as strong as ever. A colleague said to me once, "it is not necessary to speak because you think you have to, but it is necessary to be able to speak if you want to." I think this is the crucial difference. If we face our fears because they keep us from doing something that we want to do, that is one thing--but I have learned that I no longer have to face my fears just to prove to myself that I am not afraid.

Do you have any fears you could share--and if so, how did you overcome them, or not?

88 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Toastmasters, Dr. Helen. Trust me on this. Work your way through the basic manual in a VERY supportive atmosphere that will have speakers at all levels of accomplishment in it and you will no longer have this problem.

My very first speech - the Icebreaker "all about me" - I stared out the window the whole time but it got better and better with each one and now, as long as I don't have to get on an airplane (there's mine) I won't hesitate to give a speech.

Give it a try. Speeches are evaluated but by the nicest people - no one is out to get you and never will be.

Carol

8:53 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Hey Carol,

Believe it or not, I went to toastmasters--the people are nice, that is not the problem. I have a conditioned response from years of fear in school. It is within me and not something I have been able to reduce--although I can control it and do an okay job of speaking. Perhaps it comes from heart problems--or maybe the heart problems stem from forcing myself to face my fears.

9:02 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Teri Lester said...

I always wanted to teach music, and I made it all the way to my last semester of a music education degree doing a fabulous job at the music part and never really getting up in front of people to speak. When I did my student teaching, I was horrible - terrified of being in front of teenagers doing what I always wanted to do. My malevolent student teaching supervisor - who was the wife of a minister with long blond hair to her waist but determined to prove that she was tough - asked me after the first time she observed me, "You don't really seem to be cut out for this. Have you ever considered doing anything else?"

Well, no, I hadn't - being a music teacher was my one single determiniation from about the age of seven.

I managed to get theough the semester and improve, no thanks to her but to the great high school teacher I was working under, but I was still horrible in front of people.

My solution was to become a Tupperware dealer for a few years. I hated getting up in front of people, but I loved Tupperware and I was so enthusiastic about the product and about sharing the nifty tricks and unusual uses with people that it was enough to get me over my reluctance to speak. There was also instantaneous feedback of how well I was doing, in the form of party sales.

Also, Tupperware parties are usually small gatherings of people you may never see again, so screwing up, while embarrassing, really doesn't carry any long-term downside.

I did not stay with Tupperware - to really succeed you need to recruit and lead other people as dealers, and I do not love the "opportunity" nearly as much as I love the product. But I am now pretty okay with getting up and speaking in front of most sized groups of people.

I did try toastmasters several years ago, to try and polish my speaking skills, but I only lasted through one meeting. The group that I attended was extremely confrontational. I don't know if it's Toastmasters overall or just that group, but even at my first meeting as a guest they wanted to require me to give an impromptu speech about a topic they chose that happened to be very personal. I had to leave the meeting in the middle in order to decline the "assignment" - as a guest! I suppose that their extremely confrontation method may be good for some people, but it was certainly not the right thing for me.

Anyway, I'm not suggesting that you sell Tupperware, but the key for me was to find something where my interest in the subject was greater than my fear of speaking. It was surprising to me that music was not sufficient to do that, but in looking back, I think that the other key was that Tupperware was not such a consequential part of my life - I didn't mind failing, while failing at communicating about music would have been very distressing. So perhaps the key is to find something that you like intensely but don't care about very much!

Best of luck.

9:31 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Auld Pharte said...

I hated heights. Not small ones, stepladders and such, but situations like looking down from the top of a building. The fear wasn't incapacitating, but I would experience physical symptoms including the weak knees and accelerated heartbeat.

My self-inflicted treatment was rock climbing, which I initially undertook in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I made sure I was properly equipped, ALWAYS engaged a qualified guide, and never attempted any climb that was rated beyond my abilities - which were limited (5.8/5.9 level of difficulty).

The experiences were amazing. Intellectually, I knew that the risk was minimal as I had done everything I could to ensure that was so. While climbing, concentration necessarily focused on the small area immediately around my position - mostly looking for the next hand- and foot-holds and following the guide's route. And best of all were the constant feelings of accomplishment and the views. Standing on a tiny ledge hundreds of feet up the side of a sheer granite slab on a sunny day in the mountains affords a perspective that can't be matched. There simply wasn't room for fear among all the positives.

PS

NLP reframing is tailor-made for rapid treatment of phobias. I'm sure you know that and wonder if you have considered it. (Disclaimer, etc.)

9:54 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Bruce Small said...

Wow. That was a powerful post.

I overcame two fears the hard way.

When I was 20 I worked on the Miami Airport interchange, with multiple levels of bridges. I was frightened of heights and overcame it by slowly walking out on one of the beams that was only a few feet above the sand. When I had that down, I tried higher beams, always very cautiously. Bear in mind that the beams, which are narrow, had iron shear connectors sticking out at close intervals, so walking involved carefully stepping over and around the connectors. It took some time but eventually I was walking out on the beams 70 feet in the air. I was rather proud of myself. This was before OSHA and safety equipment.

My worst fear in school was speaking in front of the class. I remember in one of the grades giving a talk about Alexander Fleming that must have lasted all of ten seconds and I was on my way back to my seat. It just got worse, of course. In my senior year we had to explain a theorem on solid geometry in front of the class, and it didn’t help that the teacher was an unfriendly sort. It was pure terror and I nearly passed out.

In college we had to give a brief presentation in an English class, and the instructor was my former high school teacher. She arranged the chairs in a semi-circle and had us give the presentation while sitting, informally. That wasn’t bad at all, and was my turning point. Mrs. Shekmar was wonderful and I’ve always appreciated her.

Later, as a professional, I forced myself to talk in front of groups, and it helped that I was talking on familiar subjects. The fear of public speaking eventually disappeared completely and I got rather good at it, to the point that I missed the butterflys.

All that changed when I was given the drug Dexamethasone after my back surgery 11 years ago. Within hours I was hyper-sensitive and terrified. All of the old fears were back. I couldn’t make a presentation, and was too scared to fly (I love flying). It took years for that to fade, and even today I sometimes have relapses.

Fragile creatures, we are.

10:08 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous TurningPoint said...

I feared public speaking in school, too. My fear, though, was based on social anxiety. Of course, back 30 years ago there was no such thing as SA. But I did feel exactly what is described on the cover of this website.

Social Anxiety is hard to explain for those who have never walked its path. I sure couldn't explain it.

Naturally, as a teenager boy, I did not know what it was called. More, I had no idea of its existence. But whereas I agree with the symptoms of social anxiety, I disagree with the experts who claim that it is ... ALL based on irrational fears.

I am sure you have heard the phrase, "Kids can be cruel". They do make judgments and criticisms. To pretend these things do not exist, to pass them off as knee jerk reactions or to associate them with paranoia and/ or self-conscientious behavior - (although, I might add, these things may aspire or begat that later) - is irresponsible, and it is far from the term irrational.
 
Without question, I am sure there are a lot of people running around today with irrational fears, yet there are just as many that ARE rational, in my humble opinion.

Follow me through on this.

Let us pretend, for a moment, that a fat woman has approached the podium to give a speech before a group of her peers ..... Are we to believe that her fears of being made fun of are all in her head? Is she to assume that no one is critiquing her appearance; that her fears cannot be warranted as rational?

Oh, sure, I agree that half of her fears are perhaps irrational and unjustified, but could it possibly be that her fears are also warranted, that they originated from past patterns of rational and justifiable experiences? 

Mind you, I certainly agree that everyone should learn not to obsess over what other people think or say, yet that is the hard part when you are of a young impressionable age. A child's momentum is NOT something that should be taken lightly. Even "teasing and kidding" might create an emotional black hole in psychological momentum, thereby allowing the "target" to guess for themselves on whether the attack is vicious in nature and intentional, or whether it is just incidental play and intended as a joke.

And that is the struggle. And that is what should be stressed. There should be, I think, some common middle ground here on determining or defining what is rational and what is not by the pyschologist.

Often times, history can be rather brutal to the mind, and to suggest that NO ONE is thinking negative thoughts about this fat woman, that everyone will treat her with social kindness; now THAT is irrational.


To be fair, I do believe, as this article indicates, that a lot of what passes for SA is misdiagnosed and BS.

I suppose my symtoms were never on a grand scale, just public speaking. I learned to overcome a lot of timidity --- SA just by listening to motivational speakers less fortunate, such as, David Ring, who have problems far worse than my own.

~ TP

10:20 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also have a fear of public speaking and it has changed the direction of my life. While in college I considered myself to be "pre-law" and had a double major in Political Science and Accounting. I read horn books for fun and thoroughly enjoyed the concepts and philosophy of law. I also did quite well on the LSAT. But here I am working as a staff accountant at some mid-sized distributing firm for only moderate pay. Dammit, if only I wasn't such a coward. I'll never know if I could have conquered my fear because I never even tried. I chickened out. Dammit. Dammit.

10:29 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Zeuswood said...

I have exactly your same fear of public speaking.

10:32 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Anna said...

My college speech class cured me from fear of publc speaking. Before that, I would freeze up on stage and when I'd have to talk in class.

10:33 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Sissy Willis said...

You are very much the reversa of The Professor. The Master of the Blogosphere gets bloggers to bare their posts. You get people to bare their souls.

10:37 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Dave said...

I never had a fear of public speaking.

I have a fear of talking one on one with people. I find most people rather boring, and so I am always fearful that when I start talking to someone, all I will want to do is turn and run the other way, to avoid awkward silences.

But, talking in front of a group of people? Well, that's different. For one thing, I have lots to say on the subject, if I need to speak about it in front of people.

Further, if someone has questions, then I'm still talking to the whole group.

It's after I'm done with my presentation, and people want to come up to me and gab one on one that I hate.

10:43 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger ronin1516 said...

I used to be really afraid of public speaking. Scool was bad. I grew up in a very abusive home, my classmates knew( cuz, I used to show up to school with black eyes, swollen face etc, and so, they bullied me mercilessly!!!) Which made my phobia a lot worse. After moving the the US, i eneded up in college classes where I tried my best avoided doing presentations in class etc. What helped out was lifting weights in the gym a lot, getting stronger and fit, and I stopped worrying about if I would get beaten up, or bullied. Along with gaining physiscal strength, I also gained confidence, and that allowed me to be able to interact with people, either one-on-one, or in groups, without feeling any intense fear. It wasnt as if it was a dramatic change that happened overnight, but it happened over a period of a couple of years.
Nowadays, I can do public speaking without any problems, can actually be funny, and I can speak even if I have been lazy and havent prepared!!! Recently, I spoke at a Leadership/Missionary meeting of my Church, and I was able to hold forth for about 25 minutes, even though I hadnt bothered to prepare seriously, my "speech". Later on, one of our Church leaders,( a guy who is on sabbatical from a Senior VP position at a very big corporation), came up and said he was "impressed" with my presentation, and that was the highlight of my life. I know that now, I have finally been able to overcome my earlier , intence phobia of speaking in public.

11:20 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger ronin1516 said...

sorry about all the typos, folks!!

11:21 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Rita Schwab - MSSPNexus said...

When I was young our family took "theme" vacations in the summer, one year sailing, one year trains, one year caves.

The caves didn't really bother me, but that year we also went into a coal mine. I was overcome with (an only slightly irrational) fear that the beams would break, the ceiling would fall, and we'd be trapped.

Recent news events have brought that experience back to mind and made me wonder how anyone can work as a miner. As far as I'm concerned, they are among the bravest people on earth.

11:27 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Some years ago, the subject of phobias was so common that I felt I might be deficient, lacking in sensitivity, for confessing I had none.

Personally, I take a leaf from 1984. I wouldn't tell anybody.

I did encounter a girl who wasn't afraid of heights, but of bridges. Go figure. She could look off the side of a tall building, but got anxious when the vehicle went over a bridge.
We had a place to go whose only access was a large footbridge floored with perforated iron. She froze. I bored her with stories of heights and bridges and phobias until her desperation to escape this mindless chatter drove her across the bridge.
As with Dr. Helen's experience, she was not "fixed" by conquering once. It remains with her.

11:30 AM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Rob said...

I've gone through three fears over the years:

In high school, I was also afraid of public speaking. So, my speech teacher bullied me into entering an oratory contest (this was about 1973, when they still had such things). I had to write a speech, then deliver it before assorted Lions Club audiences. The first one terrified me, then second somewhat less so and so on. By the time I was competing for the Regional title, I was up to audiences of over 500 and had become bored with it (and very, very bored with my speech).

I was afraid of heights, so I went sky diving for one summer. I'm still a bit queasy about heights, but I know from experience that I can overcome the feeling if I want to, so it doesn't degenerate into panic.

I used to be a bit claustrophobic, until friends talked me into going spelunking with them. I went down into several caves and was doing much better. Then, I got stuck for about ten minutes in a tight passage about a thousand feet underground and that scared me so bad that no tight space can ever scare me again. Those particular scare circuits are completely burned out now.

I'm not sure we ever completely overcome any of our visceral fears. We just come up with different ways of coping with them.

11:51 AM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger jw said...

I can speak in front of any number of people; I have no trouble chatting with a small group of people. All as long as no one I don't know WELL touches me! Then I freak out. Badly so. Triply so if the toucher is female. This causes me no end of trouble.

I'm not afraid of heights or anything else that I can think of. I look at most anything and think of the safety aspects of the thing. Hey! I spent years as a safety engineer. No fear though. I was shot at in 1979 and suffered only what would be normal fear under the circumstances.

Touching an adult I do not know well? (sound of grinding teeth) ...

A dated a lot, but seldom had second dates. Second date means touching ... Oi Vei!

My wife wondered what was wrong when we were dating. She thought she was doing something wrong. Nope. I took a lot for me to get over it with her. Now, with her, there's no problem. Any other adult and it is freak out city, worse if it is female.

Grocery shopping can be a nightmare. That's why I shop first thing in the morning when there's no one in the store.

Funny thing is really big crowds don't bother me at all. I can bump into the people which infest big crowds and not think a thing of it.

Weird, eh?

12:00 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Timothy said...

Like auld pharte I have a fear of heights, but I sometimes climb to try and over come it. Even just indoors, I like the act of climbing, but I fear I'm going to fall. And I don't think a fear of falling is irrational...falling can kill you.

Public speaking was never much of a problem past a certain point. I've done badly at it in the past, like messing up a few perfectly fine parli sessions during high school due to lack of experience, but it's okay if I know the subject.

My biggest one that was the hardest to get over was dancing. That's right, dancing. In high school a bunch of my friends got into that nuevo swing business, and that had potential, but any time they weren't out on the floor they were saying snarky things about each other's footwork behind each other's back. Made me pretty afraid of what they'd say were I to try.

The first step to getting over it was auditioning for Show Choir...and actually getting in. The singing part I was okay with, but the dancing was scary. Then I realized that it was all coreographed so all I had to do was remember the order in which I had to do things. I also had a great dance partner who helped keep me sane and on tempo.

Step two was taking a ballroom dance class in college at the behest of this girl I was dating. She liked dancing, she wanted to learn ballroom...I was scared out of my mind. The instructor put us all at ease the first day by having us count to four then walk in a small circle, then take a step forward, a step right, a step back, and a step left: after we did all that she said, "See, you can all do that, you can all dance." The assistant instrcutor was this super cool Marine who was also a hell of a dancer, great guy, kept us all relaxed.

Other than the rhumba, which I had to get our instructor's husband (who was also a dance instructor at Oregon) to teach me in a couple of hours in his office, I had a pretty good time and discovered that when prompted I can actually dance. Of course, that girl and I broke up and my current girlfriend HATES dancing, but c'est la vie.

12:01 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen,

Long time lurker who loves the site!

Are there no prescription medications that can help one overcome these symptoms?

I've been putting off getting help with my rather severe social anxieties, but I've always had in the back of my mind that once I tried to address it there would be a magic pill. Is that a false hope?

12:13 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

Anonymous,

It's a morally bankrupt hope. Life is not about magic pills.

Personality is not something you get from a pharmacy.

12:21 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Duckman said...

I have a very peculiar fear of certain man-made things underwater. As a kid it started out with pool drains -- I was scared to the point that I wouldn't swim over them. Attempting the "overcome your fears" routine I forced myself to do it. Eventually as a young teen I'd swim down to the drain and put my hand over it and notice the suction of the cleaning/heating system and it didn't really bother me.

Unfortunately, the problem extends beyond pool drains. Water pumps, piers and certain large docks (think marinas) all bug me to the point that I won't swim around them. I'd have to say water pumps get me the most. These are the small floating docks with 6-12 inch diameter pipes which go down into a lake to pump water for purification and public use. I dropped while water skiing about 60-100 feet from one such pump on a lake that I live by and couldn't get my mind off of it. It wasn't a paralyzing fear -- I was in my teens at this point and imagine I had grown a little courage to face my fears -- but I still wanted to get the hell out of the water. Being closer would have been much worse

Dreams accompanied this fear. As a young kid, I vividly remember a dream where I was stuck in a pool with water jets of various sizes lining the bottom edge of each side of the pool. Occasionally they would shoot a jet of water at me and when I felt the current I'd squirm and feel a total dread. I couldn't get out of the pool but saw people walking on a sidewalk nearby who couldn't/wouldn't hear my cries for help. Somewhere in my early teens, I had a dream that I was trapped under water with a metal structure above my head just where the water's surface would be and I was staring at these gigantic (probably 10-30 ft diameter) pipes running down from the surface to the bottom of the lake/ocean probably more than 200 feet away from me. The entire area surrounding me was pipes and metal structures. I wasn't drowning nor did I fear drowning -- I just remember being absolutely terrified of the pipes.

Today I'm in my 20s. Today you couldn't get me in the water next to a water pump. The thought of being stuck near a water pump (50-100 feet away) or swimming around in a marina by the docks bugs me less, to the point that I could if necessary for pretty much any reason. But the thought of the more recent dream still scares me.

I have no idea what started the fear. I don't recall any event that triggered my fear of pool drains, but my early dream of being stuck in a pool with jets along the bottom might have been it. I remember being much more preoccupied with it after that dream.

12:22 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger RetiredSpy said...

Three fears: Snakes, Heights and confinement, in that order. I just hope I do not find myself in a compact car on the edge of Grande Canyon and see a snake on the floor ....

12:26 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger $CAV3NG3R said...

Interesting subject. I used to be the really shy sweaty-palms, stomach-knots kind of person up until what would be the equivalent of 10th grade around here. In hindsight this might be considered an unlikely impetus for overcoming shyness, but during the summer vacation before moving up to 10th grade I was doing my usual wolfing down of as many novels as I could lay my hands on and ended up reading Mario Puzos Godfather. It made a real impression on me, especially the little bits of mafiosi philosophy it tossed out all over the book. Primarily I took away the fact that Vito Corleone before he became a don was the quiet easily underestimated type and he changed that by a couple of decisions he made. I had always been aware that I always knew more about most subjects than my peers and during that vacation I decided that I was going to be known and respected by the end of the first semester of 10th grade.

On some level i was a bit prepared for this turnaround as I had read so much by then. I basically read any and everything from religion and philosophy to science and technical books. Indeed by the end of fifth grade I had read almost all James hadley Chase novels, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie and stuff like things fall apart, 39 steps, pickwick papers, a tale of two cities (yes I was an extremely voracious reader). This was partly possible because I'm the last of four and I basically read everything my siblings read (sometimes without their knowledge).

So I went back to school and drew upon all I knew about human nature and began to conduct tests. I'd say something and watch the reaction, and you can't begin to imagine my shock at learning how predictable a lot of people are. And I quickly confirmed a lot of stuff I had learned from books about human nature. I suddenly realized that a lot of kids would taunt others to avoid being taunted and it was their coping mechanism in a group context. it gave me a rare level of confidence that got me to start speaking up. Before this whenever a class assignment involved standing up in front of the class, my voice would be shaking and I had all sorts of fears.

Anyway to cut a long story short, I developed such a high level of confidence in my abilities that, I ended up going out with the smartest and prettiest girl in high school (this won't be a big deal until you realize that she was about 2 or 3 inches taller than i was, cause i was pretty short and still am at 5'5). I also learned how to drive on my own because of this new found confidence. In fact to highlight how popular I was, in my final year of high school my mom came to see me (it was a boarding school) and nobody knew my name until someone made the connection between my real name and my extremely popular nickname (Barzini - from the Godfather). You can only imagine how stunned my mom was, when everybody started going, 'Oh they're looking for Barzini' after the guy made the connection.

That period in my life has helped me to bounce back from a lot of disappointments. In fact since my height was never an issue with girls (although I didn't date much after freshman year since I became what might be called a bible thumper until sometime in 2001 - nonetheless i was always popular with the ladies), i was really surprised when I came to america and the girls would turn up their noses at me for all sorts of funny reasons especially my height. My self-esteem almost took a hit but then I regrouped and told myself all I need is a whole new approach.

I think some other things also helped. I had a whole store of quips and quotes with which I responded to those who attempted to put me down/silence me when I started speaking up in groups. I did a bit of writing so I started whipping up phrases of my own that most couldn't respond to. I'm pretty observant because my mom was the type to get on your case if she finds out you didn't notice a building, a sign that she's refering to when she's trying to send you on an errand. This meant that I learned to read people easily. Also being short, I had to create an aura around me that generally made bullies think twice. I guess it might also have helped that the only fight I was in I kicked the guys a** and he was at least 3" taller than I was (though to be fair to the guy I was just lucky to get a few good punches in before we got seperated). I personally think that if I ever have kids, that's something I'll instill in them - the ability to learn how to overcome whatever fear comes their way. Every kid needs to know how to overcome their fears on their own since they would probably need to put bullies of whom there's never a short supply in the world in their places. I also think dealing with fears as early as possible helps. Forgive the length of the post.

12:28 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a college teacher and a lawyer. It's important to me that my students engage in the discussion in class but there are those who are quite shy.

I tell them it's not that I don't have insecurities at times, even about speaking in public. But I think that is what such fears are about: insecurity. If I am nervous about speaking, it is because I am afraid that I am going to come off badly. And.... what exactly?

I tell them it is because they are taking themselves too seriously. I've done stupid things in public, and you know what? I lived to do another stupid thing. What's the big deal? Ultimately, I trust myself enough to know that, whatever happens, I can deal with it. I'm strong enough. I'm not the freaking President of the United States. If I say something stupid, I don't flatter myself enough to think that it matters in the big scheme of things.

I mean, isn't it a pretty irrational fear to worry so much about what a bunch of strangers might think? What little children did to you in high school has little bearing on your adult life. Most adults may think something, but they're not going to say anything. And who cares anyway? High school kids may worry about what their peers think of them and govern themselves to fit in. Mature adults do not.

Do I have any irrational fears? Well, I sure hate getting my annual breast exam. But I don't think that counts.

12:31 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get flu shots, I take anti-biotics when I get sick, if I had heart problems I'd take heart medication. From a pre-modern perspective some of the pills we take are effectively magical.

While the Tom Cruises and Dweebs of the world may see psychological issues as completely separate from physiological issues, isn't that a pretty discredited notion? I'm not a doctor (and given my fears, I would certainly NEVER play one on TV), but I DO watch House. It's amazing how often they are able to arrive at a diagnosis of some rare disease based on the personality distortions the disease causes on the patient. If a tiny tumor in the big toe (not an actual episode!) can make a frail nun start exhibiting extreme emotional responses, don't tell me that personality has no physiological basis.

When a diabetic can't process sugar you wouldn't say "Blood chemistry is not something you get from a pharmacy." Why would you say it in relation to brain chemistry?

If what you are objecting to is some kind of dystopian SOMA-regulated future, I agree that could turn out bad... But targeted medication is a different animal than the adoption of society wide calming agents.

Finally, if one's "natural" personality (and I dispute that my anxieties are actually worthwile components of my "personality")gets in the way of their quality of life, say one decides to forego law school and ends up dissatisfied with life (and as a lawyer Anonymous 10:29, I'd recommend you go back to school and try transactional corporate law - we're not all Perry Mason), then maybe the "natural" personality isn't the best possible personality.

My "natural" eyesight is almost legally blind, yet I'm not about to throw away my glasses because some nutbag Tom Cruise tells me to.

12:38 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger $CAV3NG3R said...

I guess I should add that I still hesitate to talk to a female I want to date. Other females I have no truck with stopping them on the street and asking a question or just plain starting a conversation. However If I'm interested it just gets a little well....interesting. Don't get me wrong I won't really call it a fear, but that's the only thing I might have second thoughts about doing, i guess being in the great northeast where people rarely smile doesn't help as I grew up in a place where everyone kids around and that usually gives you an entry point. It's however still fun to give it a shot.

12:44 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Anonymous 12:13,

Thanks for joining in. While there is no "magic pill" that cures social anxiety--there are medications and cognitive therapies that do work to reduce the anxiety and increase your ability to cope with fear. Paxil is approved by the FDA to treat social anxiety and works well for some of my patients. There are other antidepressants that also address anxiety that you should discuss with a psychiatrist to find out which is best for you. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also assist you with relaxation techniques and coping skills to deal with your anxiety. If your anxiety is keeping you from living your life in the way you want--I certainly suggest trying to get help sooner rather than later. Get recommendations from your insurance company for specialists in social anxiety or ask others who you know who have been treated successfully for the name of the professional who helped them.

1:03 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous DrumsNWhistles said...

I hated public speaking but eventually was able to overcome that just by doing it a lot. I hated it and was a little afraid, which is why I could overcome it.

Heights, on the other hand, or more specifically - fear of falling - that is a true phobia. I have no problem flying or being in tall buildings, but the mere notion of standing on the edge of any sheer drop such as a mountain summit (or a foothill summit for that matter) knots me up as tight as a snare drum head tuned to the high notes.

I'm not sure I even want to overcome it. If I did, I'd probably fall off of something. Perhaps it would've been good for me to be more afraid of public speaking to protect me from saying dumb things, but I'm afraid it's too late for that!

Love your blog.

1:12 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most people have some form of Math anxiety until they feel competent in Math. Most children have P.E. anxiety until they become more competent in P.E.. Both of these subjects are 'taught' every week throughout elementary school. Public speaking is absolutely no different....it is a subject. It can be taught with basic rules and practice just like Math, P.E., Reading, Writing, etc. If a person is taught competently when young, these subjects will be part of your skill set throughout your life. If your not a mathmatician you will probably always have a little Math anxiety --- but you will still use Math throughout your life. Likewise, if Public speaking is taught early and well (and teaching Public speaking includes teaching proper audience Listening skills as well) then most people will feel some Public speaking anxiety ---- but will still utilize the skills of Public speaking throughout their lives.

Dr. Helen apparently was not taught Public speaking in primary/secondary school, and her classmates were not taught proper audience Listening skills. She was just told to 'do it' (because we all talk don't we) which just exacerbates the situation.

Although Toastmasters has its place, it doesn't "teach" public speaking as much as it just gives you "practice". For some people that is enough.....other people need to learn the specific, didactic, western style public speaking rules to gain confidence and have something concrete to hold on to as a 'standard' that is 'good enough'. This helps the anxious individual to focus on the material and how to deliver the material well, rather than focusing on whether they are a 'good' public speaker.

You might not be able to give an 'A' presentation, but everyone can give a 'C' presentation or better by learning the basic fundamentals of Public speaking(just like Math and Reading are taught to everyone by teaching the fundamentals).

If a teacher does not teach basic Public speaking and listening skills (or require a Public speaking class before taking their course), the teacher should not demand or grade a student on a public presentation.

1:22 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. Helen!

-Anonymous 12:13

1:47 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Spring said...

My 11 year old is in fifth grade at a very small private school and last year they started a speech and drama class. The first semester they learn how to give speeches plus the research, taking and keeping notes up to the point where they can get up and give an extemporanious speech.

The second semester they do drama, obviously. Last year they gave a 'radio' broadcast in front of the student body and the parents and teachers (some of whom have children in the school). It was brilliant, they even wore headphones over their ears to complete the image that we were watching a live radio broadcast. However, what's remarkable about it is this is a school for kids with learning problems, especially severe dyslexia. Watching our children on stage in front of an audience, reading from a script, not being able to hear each other for cues but needing to follow along and keep count with with script... What a sight to behold!

I so wish more schools would implement programs like this. I am, myself, very shy and very extremely of getting up in front of people just to say my name. I can't imagine a whole speech. If I had the training from a young age this might not be a problem.

1:52 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

anonymous 1:22,

I do think public schools should teach public speaking--it is important. My schools actually did do that--but my phobia had little to do with my actual performance (I am actually a faily good speaker). I leaned how to speak early in life. My problem was at a deeper level--I had a fear of speaking to my peers because they were very judgemental and made my life a living hell. They belittled my family and put swastikas in front of my house--etc. I felt trapped as I could not get my parents to move out of the district and did not know where to turn so tried to make myself invisible--that does not work if you have to get up in front of people. I also felt intense anger and had no way to displace it (I guess this is why I understand and work with violent teens!) Now kids turn their anger outward--I turned it inward and became angry at myself and also afraid to talk to others because I did not want people to know I was afraid--it made me look weak. In fact, I rarely spoke until I was 30 and now no one can shut me up.

My point is that some phobias are far deeper than not having the proper skill set and competence to conquer them--these phobias are hard to extinguish but frankly if my class had been trained in speaking skills--particularly listening as you suggested, I might have gotten over the fear.

Schools now do seem to be doing more of the speaking and drama as spring above points out. We just took my daughter to a speech contest held at our local university--it was amazing that 9 and 10 year olds could do so well.

2:07 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Myssi said...

I am deathly afraid of public speaking, but I love to act. So, at some point in college, I decided that I would write my speeches early and memorize them completely. Then, I'd get up in front of the class and deliver a soliloquy on whatever the required subject was. It wasn't exactly "Hamlet", but it got me through.
My other fear was roaches. I still hate them, but I moved into a recently renovated dormatory in college and there were roaches in it (presumably from the packing material from the new bathroom & kitchen fixtures). Anyway, my suite mate would scream every time she saw one. I'm not sure if she was as terrified as I was or merely wanted attention, but two days into that first semester I made myself kill the bug to shut her up. Then I complained to Housing every day for a week until they sent the exterminators back into the building to kill the colony. I killed a bug every day that week and swept away all the little bug bodies when the extermination was over. I *wanted* the suite mate to shut up more than I was afraid to deal with the bugs. I still hate them, but they don't terrify me anymore.

2:48 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Michael Farris said...

I was forced to take a public speaking class while I was at a community college before transferring to a university (and my schedule worked out that I had to do so with the teacher everybody was afraid of).
I wasn't terrified of public speaking before but I certainly didn't like the idea much and was very nervous the first three or so weeks. But then it got easier and I've gotta say that class was the single most useful I've ever had. A few simple tricks and I've never been especially nervous even since. (Even speaking impromptu to an audience of about 300 people in a foreign language about a subject they were really emotional about).

Remember:
- Most audiences want you to succeed (your one experience sounds horrible but really was exceptionally rare),
- You're talking to them because you know more about the subject than they do (the occasions you'll have to speak to people who know more about the subject in question are vanishingly rare),
- Nervousness is normal, it is a performance of a kind and an absence of nerves would be highly unusual and not a good sign, try to channel your nerves into a giving you buzz to ride through it.


The closest I've ever had to a phobia was stinging insects. I stepped on a wasp as a child an got it right in the tender part of the sole of my foot and for over 20 years could not be calm around any stinging insect. The fear led to some irrational behavior including a near car wreck when a wasp blew in the car and flew in front of my face to get out. What finally cured it was getting stung again by a wasp (while visiting a Hare Krishna farm of all places). My hand swelled up a little and hurt like hell for an hour or so but it got me over the worse. I'm still not _calm_ when a wasp flies through the window but I don't panic either.

I also had a fear of dentists (the people, not the procedures so much) caused by a really unpleasant dentist I had as a child (skill level: drilled a hole in the wrong tooth, personality level: made his skill level seem sophisticated). But I managed to work through that one when I finally realized a) I had to do something about a couple of bad teeth b) dental procedures had doubtless advanced in the last 30 years and this probably made dentists nicer ...

4:43 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Teresa said...

To Teri Lester - I was a member of Toastmasters for several years... not all groups are like the one you happened to visit. As with any large organization - some groups are fabulous - others are very bad. Our group only asked that visitors introduce themselves. We tried to greet newcomers as they came in the door and chat with them for a few minutes before the meeting started - to try and make them feel welcome. After that - they were free to speak during the impromtu short speeches or not - it was their decision.

As for what I'm afraid of - speaking on the phone. I can speak in front of a group with far less trepidation. Once I know someone well and speak to them frequently - I'm okay. But the first time I call someone... my palms sweat and I'm very nervous. If I get an answering system it only gets worse as I stumble through a message! I know this is silly - but there it is. Oddly enough - all of my work is done over the phone. Go figure.

For instance - I need to call someone to come work on our humidifier... I've needed to do this for weeks now - but I keep putting it off. I'll do it eventually, just not today.

5:22 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Teresa,

What is this phone phobia? I know a lot of people with it--I don't like the phone but it does not make me nervous. Is it that you are interrupting someone with a phone call? Just curious!

5:25 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

Anonymous 12:13,

I never said you should throw away your glasses, or that a diabetic should forgo insulin, and I enthusiastically second Dr. Helen's recommendation of cognitive behavioral therapy. However, when it comes to the most common use of psycho-active medications, no one has demonstrated causality - i.e. that serotonin levels, etc. are causes rather than symptoms.

Your statement about SOMA is especially appropriate to discussion of using Paxil for "social anxiety disorder."
Some people are extroverts, others are shy, and people from all over that spectrum have valuable roles to play in society. The idea of using Paxil as a procrustean bed to bring everyone up to some arbitrary level of extroversion is frightening.

How about figuring out what exactly you fear as an outcome of social interaction, then go face it so you can realize it's not fatal? That's the way I've dealt with anything that ever gave me pause. Ask yourself - what do I fear? Maybe it's a reasonable fear - fear of getting squashed on the windshield of a bus motivates us not to dart out into traffic. Embarrassment is not a reasonable fear - what people think of you is not something to fear - what they may or may not do that impacts your life is. We live in a society that distorts our priorities so we fear that which isn't really harmful.

5:34 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous michelle said...

Another long time lurker, first time commenter here.

I was wondering if I would see some bizarre fears such as that of two people I know who are afraid of dwarfs/little people. If you are out in public with either of these people and they see a small adult you can say goodbye to them...if you get a chance. They'll be in the car and left you behind before you can turn around.

Personally I've managed to "conquer" my fears by facing them as much as possible. I have a physical reaction when speaking in public where I turn completely red from my neck to my chest and my heart beats to the point of feeling as if it will leap out and run for the hills. I always hate the introduction part when attending meetings/seminars. Hopefully the weather is such that I can wear a turtleneck.

5:52 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Acksiom said...

Y'all might try this: http://www.123eft.com . That's Silvia Hartmann's quick'n'easy intro/walkthrough to basic EFT.

Yes, I *do* know that it looks like fraudulent NuAgey nonsense. However, I've used it successfully; my stroke-debilitated father has used it successfully; a fellow intactivist e-friend of mine reports that she uses it successfully on herself and her autistic child, and I've received a few similar anecdotal "Thank You!"'s from others to whom I've recommended it.

Gary Craig's original EFT site, for those interested in more on the subject, is at http://www.emofree.com .

6:52 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dweeb, your grin and bear it, white-knuckled approach to beating your fears is certainly admirable. I'm glad it worked for you. However, it's a long step from your personal experience to determining that that is an approach that works for all people for any phobia or fear. It's an even longer step to get to it being a "moral failing" for somebody to not share your Tom Cruise/Christian-Science aversion to the use of medication for the treatment of psychological problems.

You write: "How about figuring out what exactly you fear as an outcome of social interaction, then go face it so you can realize it's not fatal?"

As far as facing my fears and getting over them, I've managed to get through a highly-socratic learning environment in a top law school, giving oral arguments in a mandatory moot court session in front of a real judge of the jackass variety, have given oral presentations to classrooms and even (in a foreign language) a group of professors in connection with an undergrad honors dissertation. I accomplished these amazing feats by simply forcing myself to do it.

However, it never gets easier. I've been thrown in the deep end repeatedly and while I rationally understand the mechanics of swimming, I still sink every time. My heart rate elevates, I flush a deep red and then, to top it off, begin to sweat (not to get too graphic, but we're talking a waterfall). The problem I'm increasingly having is that I'm running into more triggers for these episodes. Getting a haircut, going on a date, or even being in a crowd. I recently had an episode just sitting in the back row of a church during a friend's wedding. I'm completely willing to admit it's not rational.

The pernicious effect of all of this is the degree of life-avoidance it leads to. It's remarkably easy to simply not go out and interact with people.

Who are you to tell me it's a moral failing to hope that medication could allow me to snap the cycle and begin to put this life-derailing problem behind me?

You write: "The idea of using Paxil as a procrustean bed to bring everyone up to some arbitrary level of extroversion is frightening." Extreme shyness isn't a virtue, it's a defect. While you might find it an utterly charming trait for others to exhibit, I can tell you it's no picnic for the object. As far as "arbitrary levels of extroversion", I don't think it's too arbitrary to say that people should strive to set their extroversion at a level that allows them to accomplish their goals in life and to live the life they wish to live.

- Anonymous 12:13

As a side note, what an incredibly cathartic experience it has been to simply write all of this down. I've never tried to verbalize it before. Thank you for providing this place Dr. Helen.

7:00 PM, January 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Helen,

I am 60 now, and remember the day I "lost my mind" as if it were yesterday. I was a 20-year-old college student ( straight A's, very verbal, good speaker) and had to give an oral report in a Library Science class taught by a mean old battleaxe. I thought I was humming along fine when she got up and shouted at me: "Miss X! THIS is the best you could find on this subject??" I froze, my heart started to pump, I felt I had gone in to shock. I ran from the room. Within 2 weeks I was having one panic attack a day. Eventually I had to leave college for a semester. There was NO explanation (Phobias were something you got over snakes) NO medication! To make a long story short, It was not until 1981, when I went back to Grad School, and was nearly throwing up from fear of being asked to say something, that I found a doctor who knew about Beta Blockers. This literally SAVED MY LIFE. It took me a while to learn to trust the pill, which I took one hour before a presentation, but what it does is prevent that physical RUSH, the pounding heart, etc. Without those "symptoms," I am FINE. It was the Symptoms of FEAR that I FEARED (that I would have to run away or that others would notice my fear). This drug is commonplace now, often used for stage fright by musicians. After about 10 presentations WITH it, I began to return to my old self....I lost about 25 years of my life hiding because of this (I STILL blame that old woman for setting off a chemical explosion that was dormant, waiting for the fuse to be lit). Of course, my mother years later confessed to anxiety attacks, my sister has it, and my middle daughter started at age EIGHT. It's chemical. Better living through chemistry. Get drugs. I spent 20,000 on therapy. The drugs worked. The therapy was lovely, illuminating, but it did not fix my phobia.

DO it...you'll never regret it.

11:38 PM, January 10, 2006  
Blogger dadvocate said...

As a super-macho, alexithymic male, I don't have any fears - as long as the ladder doesn't reach past the second floor.

9:46 AM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in grad school, I was offered the choice of a research fellowship or a teaching fellowship. I requested the teaching fellowship specifically because I knew I had a problem speaking in front of groups, and wanted to get over it.

I was terrified my first day in front of a class (Introductory Trigonometry). Thirty pairs of eyes looking up at me -- I very nearly turned around and ran out of the room. Fortunately, I had the class list, and ran through the roll, which steadied me enough to start with a few definitions.

By the end of the semester, I was comfortable being in front of both of my Trig classes, and by the third semester (Beginning Calculus), I actually enjoyed it.

I now speak in front of groups all the time -- meetings, committee hearings (I work for state government and have to present my budget to the appropriations committees), classes, etc. In fact, I'm a bit of a ham.

I have constructed an outgoing public persona that I use at work. Now if I could just do the same for social situations...

11:38 AM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous MikeTheLibrarian said...

I was terrified of public speaking all through elementary school and into college. It wasn't until my 3rd year that I go over it, and I have no idea how. I had to stand up and give a speech on a topic I was interested in for a rhetoric class, and funnily enough, I did the topic of fear, including that of public speaking. It was about the ways people try to minimize their fear of things by using tricks and, with death, personifying it. I got up, scared that I wouldn't be able to do it. People were chatting in the class, and had been for the last couple of speakers. My first line was "DEATH! (big booming voice) (pause) It is one of the top three fears that people report, after public speaking and spiders." Everyone pays attention to you when you shout DEATH at them, lol.

12:43 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

Anonymous 12:13 (and why can't you just choose a unique pseudonym?):

You said:

"Dweeb, your grin and bear it, white-knuckled approach to beating your fears is certainly admirable."
There's nothing white knuckled about it. It's called self control/self discipline. You do what needs to be done and get on with it.
"I'm glad it worked for you. However, it's a long step from your personal experience to determining that that is an approach that works for all people for any phobia or fear."
The relativism you're leaning on here is a post-modern cultural artifact. There are societies where "just do what needs to be done and get over with it" is the ONLY option available, and people manage. I might add that some of those societies currently seek to destroy our society, and that if we continue on our current cultural path of victimhood and learned helplessness, they may well succeed.
"It's an even longer step to get to it being a "moral failing" for somebody to not share your Tom Cruise/Christian-Science aversion to the use of medication for the treatment of psychological problems."
I'm not a scientologist (they're a whacked out cult) and I'm no fan of Tom Cruise. It's a fallacy that any objection to our medicated/therapeutic society is based on Hubbard's bizarre theories. There are plenty of neurologists, biochemists, and yes, psychologists who share such objections.

"As far as facing my fears and getting over them, I've managed to get through a highly-socratic learning environment in a top law school, giving oral arguments in a mandatory moot court session in front of a real judge of the jackass variety, have given oral presentations to classrooms and even (in a foreign language) a group of professors in connection with an undergrad honors dissertation. I accomplished these amazing feats by simply forcing myself to do it."
Well, then, there you have it. You CAN face it without "mother's little helpers." You just don't WANT to. News Flash: life is full of discomforting necessities - that's what makes it life.

"However, it never gets easier."
Contrary to the office supply commercials, there is no 'easy' button in life. To live is to struggle.
"I've been thrown in the deep end repeatedly and while I rationally understand the mechanics of swimming, I still sink every time."
Then take up golf instead of swimming. I once worked for a guy who was about 260 lb. He used to respond to this sort of complaint by saying "I cannot be a belly dancer. That is life - I do not demand that society change this reality for me."
"My heart rate elevates, I flush a deep red and then, to top it off, begin to sweat (not to get too graphic, but we're talking a waterfall)."
People pay good money to feel that way in movie theaters and amusement parks. There's only one place where it's guaranteed you'll NEVER have to deal with an elevated heart rate, flushed skin, or sweating - the grave.
"The problem I'm increasingly having is that I'm running into more triggers for these episodes. Getting a haircut, going on a date, or even being in a crowd. I recently had an episode just sitting in the back row of a church during a friend's wedding. I'm completely willing to admit it's not rational."
Then start using your mind like a human, rather than like an animal. Ask yourself, what bad thing happened last time you got a haircut, or sat in a church, or even went on a date? The first time anyone jumps off a high dive, they feel this way. It's basic self preservation. Each subsequent time, they feel less that way.Learn from experience.
"The pernicious effect of all of this is the degree of life-avoidance it leads to. It's remarkably easy to simply not go out and interact with people."
And yet, clearly, you've amassed this body of experience only by interacting. You can make a choice not to avoid it. Eventually, it'll change, if only because you become numb to the response.

"Who are you to tell me it's a moral failing to hope that medication could allow me to snap the cycle and begin to put this life-derailing problem behind me?"
Who is someone to tell you it's a chemical imbalance and claim science backs them up, when there's no scientific basis for such an assertion? (And before anyone claims otherwise, just watch a Zoloft or Paxil commercial on TV. They say "While we don't know what causes depression, some think it's a chemical imbalance in the brain." We all know they're going to use the strongest language their lawyers let them, and the minute someone actually establishes causality, they're going to be shouting it to the rooftops.)
Who am I? Just a person with the same right as anyone else to speak up. Your questioning my right to do so doesn't in any way impact the validity of what I assert. You rail against the suggestion that wanting a pill to remove hardship from your life is a moral failing, but how is it different from someone who turns to pot or some other illicit drug to blot out the impact of a mundane existence? Why is YOUR lack of total bliss more "worthy" of chemical intervention than anyone else's, especially when you've openly admitted that you CAN function in spite of it, but CHOOSE not to?

"You write: "The idea of using Paxil as a procrustean bed to bring everyone up to some arbitrary level of extroversion is frightening." Extreme shyness isn't a virtue, it's a defect."
SAYS WHO? Now who's pontificating moral judgement upon personality traits? What else would you label as a defect - maybe holding a dissenting opinion? This is EXACTLY the slippery slope aspect I labeled frightening.
"While you might find it an utterly charming trait for others to exhibit,"
I never said I did, and I don't. In fact there are is a huge list of traits I don't particulary care for, but that doesn't mean I advocate medicating them out of the spectrum of human diversity. We all have unique sets of assets and liabilities, and I'm against medicating people to conformity with some template of uniform perfection. In fact, the entire mental health industry is, to some extent, predicated upon the concept of an ideal mental status, with all the problematic implications that come with it.
"I can tell you it's no picnic for the object. As far as "arbitrary levels of extroversion", I don't think it's too arbitrary to say that people should strive to set their extroversion at a level that allows them to accomplish their goals in life and to live the life they wish to live."
Fine, then, let's extrapolate that to other traits. The proposition becomes that we should alter everyone whose personal characteristics stand in the way of them living the life they wish to live. Well, what if the life I want to live is that of a major league designated hitter? I want my steroids! Here is the problem - when we use medication for those with established physiological maladies, like diabetics, the problem being addressed is objectively a defect - it is a defect for every human being, and we can positively state that a there is a proper way for the pancreas to function, such that blood sugar is regulated. Now that's fine for those sort of things, but when we start trying to apply the same approach to mental function, or athletic prowess, there's an issue. Who are you to tell a lighthouse keeper that he's "too shy?" Clearly, there's a spectrum of extroversion, just as there's a spectrum of athletic ability, a spectrum of courage, of optimism, of enthusiasm, attention, etc. There are people who can function and contribute at all points on the spectrum (unlike the diabetic who will DIE without medical intervention.) Just because one person's traits stand in the way of their personal dream doesn't justify labeling those traits as a defect. Thus, medicating the shy person so they can enjoy the social life they desire is no less a case of performance enhancing drugs than giving a skinny guy steroids so he can enjoy the athletic life he desires. Then there's the alarming prospect that once we label a trait a defect, how far behind can forced treatment of those who don't mind the trait be? History shows us it's not a huge leap.
Just because medical science CAN change people doesn't necessarily mean it should. Person A has the delusion that they are not of the gender that their genes and anatomy clearly indicate, and Person B has the delusion that they are not of the species that their genes and anatomy clearly dictate. Does the ability to surgically mutilate Person A so sensory experience conforms to their delusion make them any less deluded than Person B, and is Person B's status as deluded solely a function of our inability to make them into a giraffe, or perhaps a rutabaga?
"As a side note, what an incredibly cathartic experience it has been to simply write all of this down. I've never tried to verbalize it before. Thank you for providing this place Dr. Helen."
Maybe with a little more catharsis, you can figure out exactly what outcome you fear from personal interactions, which would go a long way to overcome this without a pill. You've pointedly avoided answering those questions.

1:50 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Teresa said...

Helen

Sorry didn't get back here until now... for some reason people want me to actually work for my salary - can't imagine why. *grin*

Phone phobia - I think for me it's the fact that I can't see the person... when I talk to someone face to face, I'm always looking at them for their reaction to me or what I'm saying (not that I'm good at it... but that's another discussion). As a matter of fact before ever talking to someone I'm looking for signs of are they tired? are they angry? are they too busy to pay attention? all the little things that are physically observed in person.

With a phone, talking to someone I've not talked to before - I don't have any viewable feedback so I don't know what to expect from the person I'm calling. For some reason this really makes me nervous.

Now I have worked with people for many years over the phone without ever meeting them face to face - but after a while, I get to know them pretty well in that capacity... and after about 5 calls I'm not nervous to talk to them anymore.

Like I said it's pretty silly... and the above is the best reason I can come up with for why I feel this way. FWIW.

2:25 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous M said...

Am I some kind of nut for thinking that irrational fear is something to be overcome, if one is so inclined, and that rational fear is also something to be managed?
When I was a kid, I swam a lot. After watching Jaws and that scene in Thunderball where there are sharks in a pool, it took me years to be comfortable doing backstroke in a pool. I also used to get very freaked out in the ocean. To beat this, I took up surfing and diving, and now I'm absurdly comfortable in the water. (any water)
I know that panic attacks are self-reinforcing to some extent (I never personally had them) , but there are many kinds of self-reinforcing phenomona that can be overcome by incrementally working up to and past the theshold of the problem. (vaginissimus is an example)

3:02 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dweeb,

you write: "News Flash: life is full of discomforting necessities - that's what makes it life."

That's right, throw out your orthopedic shoes you softies! Walk with pain the way God intended!

Life is also full of clowns such as yourself, Dweeb.

I challenge anyone on this board to read Dweeb's last post and come to a different conclusion. Was it offered in a sense of charity or concern for another person's situation, or was it a brickbat of judgmental garbage? The effect on Dweeb if I take Paxil is ... , what exactly?

Explain to me again why I should give a hoot about your moral calculous on the benefits/detriments of ANY medication?



Feel free to not use medicine if it makes you feel like a big man, though from the sound of your macho-posturing response, you might look into getting that free sample of Enzyte they keep hawking on tv!

4:06 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anony 12:13 said...

Dweeb, I apologize, my last line was incredibly uncharitable. I would take it back if I could.

5:12 PM, January 11, 2006  
Anonymous Jay said...

Ah, phone phobia...

Very common in people who have done phone-based support or customer service work, which seems to have been where I picked it up, or strongly reinforced a growing tendency.

It's more an incoming calls thing than an outgoing calls thing. To the extent it's a problem calling out, it's the same as any reticence about initiating contact with a stranger or contacting someone you perhaps would prefer not to have to talk with. I think in the case of incoming calls, there is a stress association; who knows what kind of crap is coming at you over the line or what kind of person you will be dealing with.

I would surmise, based in part on my own experience, that phone phobia can be triggered or increased by creditor or harassing calls. I had a touch of that before I did tech support. My first support job involved making callbacks, and that drove my phone phobia over the top. Then I got a job doing support for Microsoft products, taking incoming calls. I was good at it, but thought I would die every time my phone rang. The longer I did phone support or worked in that environment (eventually I helped pioneer web-based support for Visual Basic and loved answering people in writing instead, but the threat I'd have to do calls was always there), the more entrenched became my avoidance of the phone outside of work, and at my subsequent business. To this day, I will still e-mail someone, or even see them in person, when a call would make more sense. If the phone rings and I don't know who it is or it's someone I have never spoken with before, I am lucky if I can bring myself to answer.

12:25 AM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Jay,

You are right about the stress reaction from the phone ringing--everytime it disturbs me, I jump, thinking--I wonder what somebody wants or is there bad news? The phone is more enjoyable, I think when one is a teen, just using it to chat, but as it adult, it does seem to symbolize stress for some. I much prefer and love email.

6:43 AM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous annie said...

http://www.ethanwiner.com/BetaBlox.html
Interesting discussion of performance anxiety and propranolol. Doc gave me a 'script for it without my asking for anything when I mentioned that I am going to audition for talk radio tomorrow. Will have to try the drug today, see if it helps. It's a beta blocker and shuts down some the nerves that lead to heart pounding etc. I'll come back and let y'all know how that works out.

10:48 AM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

annie,

propranolol is a good beta blocker to use for speech anxiety--I know many doctors who use the meds themselves. Just watch how much you take as it can make one fatigued and give you a headache.

4:03 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Duckman said...

Anonymous 4:06 PM --
I think dweeb has a point that you're not hearing just because you two are coming from two such different stances.

"Throwing away your shoes" might just be an analogy, but your reactions (and his) are both so strong that I'm pretty certain you're both missing each other's points entirely and are just wasting breath.

Here's perhaps a sane way to put it. I've dealt with depression. I've had a doctor tell me that, "Without making a diagnosis, you have the symptoms of ADD." I've been a pretty odd bird my whole life and it's cost me friends and relationships. My social skills have suffered as a result and I still deal with depression from time to time.

I know what these kinds of things are like.

But I learned something about pills. I took anti-depressants for about a year in middle school. Most didn't work, but Prozac did very much. I came out of my shell, dropped my walls and, for whatever reason, was able to remain happy longer. Or get happy at all. I started getting something out of life and found it much easier to deal with my peers (other kids). The pill worked.

But something felt odd. My behavior was changing (I was becoming more care-free, less uptight, more outgoing). I was learning social lessons quickly and life was looking up. But I noticed that other people were responding differently to me because of my change in attitude. I noticed that the biggest problem was my own, and being helped out of my shell allowed me to identify my problem. I was just too uptight and unfriendly.

The lesson I learned was that I was causing most of my own problems by my behavior and mindset. I learned that when I put more into life, I got more out, and that would sustain me longer. So, after a time, I got off of the pills and put forth an effort into changing myself for the better.

I pushed myself to learn. To improve my social skills and my outlook on life so that my life would change. And throughout my last two years of highschool forward, I've been very sociable with strangers. I'm a pretty friendly guy, I think. I still have a lot to learn, but I got a very late start.

As I said, I still have bad weeks or months from time to time, but the cause is a lacking on my part. It's a constant fight to keep myself in line and I still have a long way to go. That happens to be one of my weaknesses in life.

And the lesson that I learned I think is what dweeb is trying to convey. You start out with or learn certain flaws and have to work to overcome them. Sometimes you need help. Like a loan or staying with family to get out of a bad situation. Or a pill. Or a mentor. But in the end, the lesson of life is that life throws you challenges, you will have your weaknesses, and part of growing older is refining yourself. Learning.

No sane person wants you to brave life alone. The unfortunate thing, on the other end of the scale, is that people often have a tendency to shy away from challenges and as a result they don't learn. I know full grown adults that act like children -- they whine, they're unable to handle a little stress when life gets rough. They just stop functioning. Often they're unable to learn from their mistakes because they're convinced that they are not the problem.

I didn't know in middle school that I was the problem. I took a pill and it made it easier to change my behavior. I learned that by changing myself I changed others' reaction to me and a lesson was learned. Many people don't make that leap and will continue to lean on a crutch, whether it be family, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, etc. They complain and look for a 'fix' and never look for a way off the 'fix.'

And I don't mean to be harsh, but I would be dishonest if I didn't offer this observation: you strike me (on the surface) as one of those people. You have a problem and look for a fix that doesn't come from inside yourself.

I don't know the secrets of life so take what I said for what you like. But don't pretend that I don't know what irrational depression is (why am I feeling like this?) and don't pretend that other people don't know anything about what you're going through. Nobody, including myself or dweeb, wants to see you hurt or thinks we're super-geniuses or anything. All we want to do is convey what we've learned in whatever way we know how.

Sorry for the long post.

Cheers,
Duckman
hackerduck @ gmail.com

4:49 PM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Duckman,

I liked the long post--thank you.

4:59 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

anon 12:13 (who I'll henceforth address as 'nervous' because I hate assigning people numbers):

"That's right, throw out your orthopedic shoes you softies! Walk with pain the way God intended!"
What part of "established physiological maladies" did you not understand?
"Life is also full of clowns such as yourself, Dweeb."
Namecalling? That's your idea of a reasoned response?

"Was it offered in a sense of charity or concern for another person's situation, or was it a brickbat of judgmental garbage?"
More importantly, does the answer to that question have ANY relevance to the validity of the assertions? No. Anon, before you jump into a rant that anyone who tells you other than what you want to hear is attacking you, consider this story: A little bird procrastinated flying south for the winter, and when he finally took off, it was starting to snow. Soon, though, his wings were covered in ice, and he was exhausted. He tumbled to the ground in a blizzard and dejectedly waited to freeze to death. A few minutes later, a cow came along and dumped a pile of fresh manure, burying the little bird. At first, he thought only of the ignominy this added to his fate, but then he realized the manure was quite warm, and he was invigorated, thinking after warming up under the pile, he might be able to press on. He was so happy, he started to sing. Just then, a passing cat noticed the sound of his singing coming from the manure pile. The cat investigated, removing the covering of manure, and promptly ate the little bird. The moral of the story is, everyone who puts crap on you is not necessarily hurting you, and everyone who takes crap off of you is not necessarily helping you. Oh, and, if you're warm and safe, even if you're covered in crap, be happy and keep your mouth shut, but that part isn't germane here.
I'm not going to validate your learned helplessness and dependency, but that doesn't mean I seek to do you ill.
" The effect on Dweeb if I take Paxil is ... , what exactly?"
Personally, on an individualized basis? None. In a big picture, societal, long term way? Huge. Consider, as the view of pharmaceutical procrusteans is more widely accepted, it comes closer to becoming compulsory public policy. You mentioned Huxley's concept of "Soma" and "opium as the religion of the people." Do you think societies change into such utopian nightmares overnight? Of course not. A series of small changes make it happen, each one ignored by people not immediately and directly impacted.
"Explain to me again why I should give a hoot about your moral calculous on the benefits/detriments of ANY medication?"
Simple, because my points are logically sound. Of course, you're free to not give a hoot if you wish, but I notice you're awfully vocal for someone who doesn't give a hoot. It's in your power to just ignore me, or do you also think that act of personal control should require pharmaceutical assistance?
Regarding your closing paragraph, apology accepted. Consider, though, that you can't even be sure of my gender, and yet, you made assumptions in an attempt to be ad hominem. If you're going to let your emotions rule, you're only going to frustrate yourself. Here, as in dealing with your anxiety problems, I think you'll be better served in life by more thinking and less feeling.

1:59 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

Duckman, we are in partial agreement. While I find the short term use you describe to be preferable, I still don't think it's ideal, for several reasons.
Your experience is the exception, not the rule, and there doesn't seem any way to tell, going in, who's going to have an experience like yours. There are a lot of people with a lot of resources with a vested interest in keeping people on the pills for life.
The acceptance of the pills as a treatment also fosters belief that they are addressing the root cause, rather than a symptom. This encourages more people to see dependence upon them as a good thing, and it steers resources away from finding a more sound approach to the problems they claim to solve.
As I mentioned to anon/nervous, the increased acceptance of voluntary use takes us one step closer to acceptance and inception of involuntary administration.
Nothing about your short term use ontologically differentiates these drugs from steroids, in fact, it makes the parallel stronger. Steroids still require the athlete to do the work of training, and continued training will maintain many of the performance benefits once an athlete stops taking steroids.
It is often said that clinically depressed people are paralyzed by their depression, unable to take any steps to overcome it, and yet, taking the pill is an act of volition undertaken to overcome the drepression. When you tell a depressed person to take a pill, they could just as easily pessimistically decline to do so as they could with suggestions to exercise, improve their hygeine, etc. The only difference is that society has conditioned them to believe the pill will work. It's my opinion that this socially instilled cognitive belief is the big difference. Anon/nervous seems to be laboring under this belief that only a pill will help. You learned otherwise, but most never do. Why should they, when the pharmaceutical companies are all to happy to encourage otherwise?

2:18 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Nervous said...

DWEEB:

I repeat my apology for my ad hominem, but I'll mail you my eye-teeth if you are actually not a man.

As to why one should give a hoot about your opinions expressed here you write, "Simple, because my points are logically sound."

Actually, your points are logically consistent, which is not at all the same thing as being “right”.

You have an ideology opposed to psychiatric drugs. Well, good for you. I'm still wondering why you started this back and forth with your judgmental brickbat of "It's a morally bankrupt hope" to my asking whether drugs would help with an anxiety disorder.

Your premise, and correct me if I'm missing it, is that it is morally suspect (your terminology) to take psychiatric drugs as an easy fix, as opposed to toughing it out. And I thought I had made it clear in my first response that I have toughed it out repeatedly throughout my life without achieving any diminishing of my symptoms. Though you are not all that autobiographical in your responses, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve shown more actual courage (facing of fears) than you have. Having an anxiety disorder and irrational fears certainly gives one more opportunities for bravery! Hell, I bravely get my hair cut every few weeks. Where’s my medal? [This is sarcasm, in case you’re missing it.]

In addition to facing my fears, you suggest I figure out what it is that I fear, as if that would itself provide a cure. As Churchill might say, “all I have to fear is fear itself,” with “fear” being the overwhelming fight-or-flight signals my brain pumps out to the wrong stimuli. I don’t care if my barber thinks I’m weird for flushing and sweating profusely (though I’d rather he didn’t of course) and I do not actually believe that my audience will come up on stage and kill me, though my brain sure is intent on pumping out those signals… If a drug could block or mute those signals and my mind could as a result be reconditioned not to automatically react in that way, that would be good, right? Even if “morally bankrupt”?

You are certainly entitled to the opinion that good mental health is merely an exercise in personal willpower, but don't act like this is a more rational basis than a Christian Scientist has in thinking that physical and mental maladies can only morally be addressed through prayer (or a Scientologist thinking only a magnetromiton can drive out the evil alien spirits).

Another opinion you repeatedly express is that the easy way is not necessarily the best way. Well, that truism is true enough, but only if we recognize the importance of “necessarily”. It doesn't follow that the difficult way ("life is full of discomforting necessities - that's what makes it life") is morally superior. My question was, can drugs address an anxiety disorder. Your answer is that the use of such drugs are immoral because they are an easy fix. Not because they don’t work or that they don’t work as well as other forms of therapy. Well, an easy fix is better than a difficult fix, at least in my book.

I'll accept your explanation for your moral opposition and your initial non-charitable outburst as being based on your fear of someday being forced to take mind-controlling drugs due to incremental societal changes, but I will also dismiss your concerns as coming from an obsessive crank…

Good day! :)

- Nervous (I'll accept your designation as it's as good a name as any and also a pretty good indication of your basic lack of human decency)

DUCKMAN,

I’m not sure why you write in support of Dweeb as your personal experience is exactly the path I would prefer to follow myself. Imagine if you hadn’t taken the Prozac in middle school and instead had struggled on into adulthood without the insights the drug afforded you. I have no interest in taking anxiety reducing drugs for the rest of my life. Indeed, what I would hope for is a chance to reset the malfunctioning anxiety mechanism in my body, and it sounds from your experience that that is exactly what drug therapy provided you. What Dweeb would describe as a “morally bankrupt” step out of your anxiety allowed you to proceed with a more normal life without ongoing medication.

2:55 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Nervous said...

To all the posters on the board pointing out that they had a fear of public speaking and one day they gave a presentation and realized, hey, this isn't so bad, I ask that you please consider that your experience may not be dispositive.

There is such a thing as degree of response and there is a real difference between remembered butterflies before an elementary school play and someone suffering full on panic attacks into adulthood. There are of course intermediate degrees of anxiety as well.

I don't mean to diminish anyone's experience of overcoming a fear of public speaking through will power, I just ask you to consider that it might be possible that you were able to do so because your symptoms did not express themselves as severely.

3:32 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Duckman said...

Dweeb,

It all boils down to personal choice. While I agree that the current societal trend is in the direction of pills, I don't think that necessarily means we should turn a blind eye to any potential good that can come from them and pretend that the problem will go away.

As I indicated, I was put on more than one medication. Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac, in that order I believe. Prozac worked drastically, the other two had little impact. There is a benefit to be gained by certain drugs and as I indicated, the analogy of leaning on a family member in troubled times fits here. As you said, it's not the ideal way, even in my case. But at that time in my life, from my perspective, I wasn't sure just what needed to change.

Therapy from someone with a clue could have helped, but multiple counselors did nothing for me. I knew the basic problem, but not the extent of it. It was hard to see where I needed to go when it was so difficult to interact with people anyway -- I wasn't a very liked person. If I had that helping hand, the pill might not have been necessary. I can say that because of a drastic change in my personality and outlook, others' reactions changed so quickly that I took very close notice. It was not the gradual, over-time change as you might expect with therapy, it was a kick into line and immediate results which I used to get a good jump on fixing the problem.

I don't think my case is abnormal and I don't think that this is something to be shied away from because "it's hard." Making the tough call to get off the pill and do the hard work is something people have to learn. Pretending the pills aren't there won't make the problem go away and ignoring them as a society I believe, as my case shows, is a mistake.

To sum everything up: A helping hand is NOT a bad thing. Charity is NOT a bad thing. Depending on either over the long-term is where problems arise.

Cheers,
Duckman

3:36 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Duckman said...

Nervous,

What I hear from Dweeb (part of it anyway):
"Everyone around me just wants to take pills to solve -- as in fix, permanently -- all their problems. I know people who pop pills like candy and never stop. They never face their real problems and as such remain weak and end up, in large numbers, a detriment to society."

I agree with that analysis -- or at least my interpretation of it -- though that's not all of what dweeb has said.

What I heard from you:
"I have a problem with anxiety, is there a pill for this?"

I made an assumption (and I assume that dweeb did as well, at least initially) that you wanted a pill to *solve* your problem, as opposed to help *you* solve your problem. Pill vs You. You've clarified yourself, and I hope you will forgive my assumption, but the language you used (and more importantly what you didn't say) is what I hear time and time again from people who follow the "a pill is my end solution" pattern.

Hopefully I made that clear. What you're saying regarding using a pill to retrain your mind is in line with my way of thinking, so regardless of previous appearances, if I'm understanding you right, I would be siding with you.

Regardless, I'll still stick by my assertion that the large part of this "pills or no pills" conversation has been woefully immature. Though I guess it is true what they say about arguing on the internet... :)

Cheers to all,
Duckman

3:48 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Nervous said...

Duckman,

Well looking back I see that I did use the phrase "magic pill" so I can see where you (and possibly even Dweeb) were coming from. In my defense, I was using the term somewhat facetiously. Perhaps this flippancy explains (in part) Dweeb's vehemence? Which I admit I reciprocated in accordance with Newton's Third Law ("For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction").

I didn't realize I was coming across as some kind of pill crazy fiend. Contra that, I'm closing in on 30 and aside from an occasional Tylenol I've pretty much managed to avoid pills to date...

Dweeb's expressed fears are also not entirely baseless. For example, if the pills end up working for me, I will of course feel obligated to lobby my congressmen to make the pills mandatory for all.

4:05 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Duckman said...

nervous,

I don't know that there is anything real to fear about legislation, but here's a start. Imagine ADD becomes such a pronounced thing in our society -- and such a problematic one -- that to attend government schools, kids diagnosed with ADD are required to be medicated. This is sold by politicians wanting to appeal to soccer mom's under the guise of creating a good learning environment.

If you said that things somewhat similar this haven't happened before in history you would be wrong. Now on a very wide-spread basis? I don't know about that, which is why I have my doubts, but I think it is unwise to dismiss Dweeb's suggestion that society may decide as an offshoot of scientific "progress" to begin medicating itself as a whole, either through societal pressure or even legislation. Even on a non-widespread level, it's a pretty bad direction to go.

As a whole, our society's default premise about life is to expect a parent at all times. Generations ago, if you didn't save for retirement, you depended on family, church or community, otherwise you were up a creek without a paddle. Today, if you don't have quality living and healthcare in your elder years -- which are often not provided by family these days -- it's a travesty and the government is expected to step in. Everything unpleasant should be illegal. We need federal watchdogs to make sure nobody abuses our trust or naivety.

This same attitude of "I don't want to look out for myself" is permeating many, many layers of our society and the pills approach is an offshoot of this.

I think I've taken this topic way out of the original scope. Sorry.

Cheers,
Duckman

4:36 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, fast forward to today. Despite the weeks of anxiety beforehand, shortness of breath, and my heart beating out of my chest, I have perservered in the public speaking arena--and it has never gotten better. I have forced myself to give testimony to legislatures, talked to crowds of 500 about my film, and spoken to groups of professionals about kids who are violent. You would think that after all this--I would feel less fear. But I never do.


No, I wouldn't think that at all. I was a child agoraphobia/child with massive "separation anxiety" with debilitating fears of talking to strangers or in public.

The fear stays. For the first 10,000 times you do it. What you learn is to do it ANYWAY even though you're afraid and it's godawful.

It's because the fears stays that people with phobias "don't just get over it." If practice alone made the fear go away, they'd not have the phobia anymore.

Behavioral therapy works, but it works temporarily. The studies show that after 6 mo-2 years away from practicing the lessons of behavioral therapy, most people are back to where they were before: fearful.

Another ten years of public speaking might lessen your fear somewhat. Realizing that it won't is liberating, no?

Another important part is just how terrified we can be in certain contexts but not others. For example, some people are exceptional at speaking out when they are the student in a classroom but terrified when they are at a cocktail party. Some people are terrified of public speaking to accept an award but wouldn't be afraid of doing it at a staff meeting, etc. At some point, it becomes clear that your mind will close out the fear for things that your mind considers "necessary" --which may not be the things you thought were necessary after all.

1:24 AM, January 14, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

"Actually, your points are logically consistent, which is not at all the same thing as being “right”."
Clearly, that's a given. However, you're free to evaluate my reasoning, including looking to other sources, and draw your own conclusions.
"You have an ideology opposed to psychiatric drugs. Well, good for you. I'm still wondering why you started this back and forth with your judgmental brickbat of "It's a morally bankrupt hope" to my asking whether drugs would help with an anxiety disorder."
Well, you seem to have figured that one out on your own - the words "magic pill" were at least part of it. Here's the other part - it seems to me that, if, as you claim, you really made any meaningful effort regarding the approaches I advocate, that would have, of necessity, have involved consulting with competent professionals who are well informed about such pills, their indications, and use, and thus, you wouldn't need to go trolling the internet for such information. Try not to take this personally, but going to an online blog for the advice on what medication is available for a serious problem is not the pinnacle of wisdom. The fact that you were asking this, here, doesn't exactly lend credibility to claims that it's a last resort, since the proper first, second, and third resort would have included talking to people who could answer the question you ask here.

"Your premise, and correct me if I'm missing it, is that it is morally suspect (your terminology) to take psychiatric drugs as an easy fix, as opposed to toughing it out."
That's a good first approximation. However, I also don't believe in just treating symptoms, especially when, as I've come to suspect from conversations with people using these medications, they diminish an entire response mechanism both in response to appropriate AND inappropriate stimuli.
"And I thought I had made it clear in my first response that I have toughed it out repeatedly throughout my life without achieving any diminishing of my symptoms."
Apparently you've not done so properly. Helen advocated cognitive behavioral therapy - I doubt ANYONE qualified to administer such therapy would be unable to answer your questions about drugs used to address your symptoms. Hence my conclusion that you've skipped a step and are starting from the wrong square.
"In addition to facing my fears, you suggest I figure out what it is that I fear, as if that would itself provide a cure. As Churchill might say, “all I have to fear is fear itself,” with “fear” being the overwhelming fight-or-flight signals my brain pumps out to the wrong stimuli. I don’t care if my barber thinks I’m weird for flushing and sweating profusely (though I’d rather he didn’t of course) and I do not actually believe that my audience will come up on stage and kill me"
but ultimately, there must be some negative/harmful outcome that you cognitively expect, on some level that you may not even be aware of. This NEEDS to be explored. We are not animals for whom mere motion in our visual field instills fear. When we fear, it's because we fear a stimulus will lead to *something*. You have yet to articulate, and, I suspect, really explore, what that something is.
"You are certainly entitled to the opinion that good mental health is merely an exercise in personal willpower, but don't act like this is a more rational basis than a Christian Scientist has in thinking that physical and mental maladies can only morally be addressed through prayer (or a Scientologist thinking only a magnetromiton can drive out the evil alien spirits)."

I never said it's mere willpower. However, the theory that depression and anxiety problems are cognitively, not chemically, based is held by psychology professors at many elite universities and supported by their research. I've also seen someone diagnosed as schizophrenic by four the faculties of 4 separate accredited major teaching hospitals abandon his meds and return to normalcy through faith and prayer, so I won't dismiss that, either.

"My question was, can drugs address an anxiety disorder."
And that question, in the context and venue you asked it, was morally questionable, based on what I've pointed out.
"Well, an easy fix is better than a difficult fix, at least in my book."
That's the modern approach, and we can see what it's done to our society.
"I'll accept your explanation for your moral opposition and your initial non-charitable outburst"
I don't see what's so non-charitable. Sorry, but I don't serve everything dripping in syrupy treacle, and your response to the lack of same went a long way to informing my opinions. If you want me to sugar coat my answers, then I have to wonder what else in life you expect to be sugar-coated.
"as being based on your fear of someday being forced to take mind-controlling drugs due to incremental societal changes, but I will also dismiss your concerns as coming from an obsessive crank…"
More name calling? Sorry, but it's a valid concern, and it's later than you think. In 1993 I met someone taking Zoloft under court order.

"- Nervous (I'll accept your designation as it's as good a name as any and also a pretty good indication of your basic lack of human decency) "
I asked you to choose one. It's based on your own self description.

10:13 AM, January 16, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

"Behavioral therapy works, but it works temporarily. The studies show that after 6 mo-2 years away from practicing the lessons of behavioral therapy, most people are back to where they were before: fearful."

So? Studies also show that someone who quits exercising and watching what they goes back to what they were before: fat. Studies show that if you don't keep going to work every day, you'll end up broke.

Oh, and since people who stop taking the meds revert, too, clearly you're advocating lifelong pharmaceutical dependency. (yes, Nervous, I know this is a different anonymous from you - does this illustrate why I asked you to choose a pseudonym>)

10:24 AM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger Norma said...

Until a few moments ago, I had no fear of vampires, but a formerly beautiful red head (about 15) across the table from me in the library where I'm reading this, has blue lips, heavily black outlined eyes and eye brows and studs in her face.

The cure is, I think, to give up my seat.

3:37 PM, January 16, 2006  
Anonymous P. S. said...

Things severely impaired or eliminated because of anxiety in its various forms: the quality of my work (due to extreme procrastination), job interviews (which border on farce usually), speaking to co-workers (unless they make all the effort to break the ice), and recently, intimacy with women of any kind. Awesome! Common thread is a pretty pronounced fear of evaluation of any kind

Just started seeing someone about these problems, probably about 6 or 7 years too late. What can ya do. Love the blog!

3:11 AM, January 17, 2006  
Anonymous dweeb said...

I suspect evaluation is what nervous and most other people with this issue fear.

12:20 PM, January 17, 2006  
Blogger Mercurior said...

i have a completely irrational fear of a type of building, i near get phsyically ill when i see one, its called a palmhouse and old victorian greenhouse, theres a few in the UK i just cant stand to see them let alone go near them

6:20 AM, February 14, 2006  
Blogger Nuru'u said...

I just now went Googling for "fear of pool drains", not expecting to find anything, and this page was one of the few hits I got (and most useful, for that matter). The only other noteworthy page was here: http://www.unusualphobias.com/plugs.html

I'm 45 years old now, and have had this phobia ever since I can remember. It's possible it didn't really kick in till I was about 6-8 years old. I still remember the very first nightmare I had on this subject:

I was in the deep end of a pool (owned by friends of my parents). At my young age, it was way over my head. The water seemed to be swirling around in a sort of whirlpool, although not in an exceptionally threatening way. My back was flat against the side of the pool, my feet were on the floor. And I was terrified.

I remember the pool which belonged to another couple (other friends of my parents). For some reason, their pool didn't have a drain at all. I thought that was pretty cool. Then one day he had the pool vacuum hooked up, and I expressed some concern. My mother urged me to put my hand in the water under the vacuum (holding my arm to 'help' me) and I totally freaked out. Thankfully she realized how irrational I was getting and didn't push the matter.

My parents tried talking to me about it. (He was a medical doctor, she was a former nurse.) Logically I knew that it made no sense, but that didn't stop the fear from welling up in me. The bigger the drain, the greater the irrational fear.

We had a pool installed when I was about 12-14. I was a good swimmer, had had lots of regular swimming lessons, etc. After being shown how to take care of the pool (including sweeping, vacuuming) I was given the tasks of taking care of it. Got to know the filter pump quite well over time. That never bothered me, although I knew the power was nothing to trivialize. The jets blasting water back into the pool didn't bother me. But that shiny metal disc (or more accurately, what was hiding under it) didn't set too well with me. The skimmer I could deal with more or less; I had to empty it out from time to time, even unclogging some larger objects from the pipe at the bottom. Fortunately it was a white plastic, and reasonably easy to see.

I could swim in that pool, although I had to quiet down the terror whenever I was swimming over the drain.

When I was 15 I got my NAUI certification. I could put on the scuba tank and swim around the pool, even nosing around the drain. For some reason, seeing it so clearly didn't bother me nearly as much. This was pretty true even if I was just wearing a mask and snorkel.

I've had countless pool drain dreams over the years. At least one of those involved the pool I grew up with. In many cases, there were multiple pool drains scattered all over. The scenario has over time trended towards a large, Olympic-sized swimming pool, where the bottom that we all know well is actually made out of a sheet of stainless steel, and about 20-30 feet below that is, well, more swimming pool. The center of the stainless steel bottom is actually wide open; you could drop a dump truck in the middle of the pool and it would completely miss the false bottom, sinking even further down. The odd part is this lower chamber was actually well illuminated. However, it was replete with pool drains everywhere.

And in such dreams, I'm usually planning to take a swim until I notice something peculiar about the pool, and on closer inspection, notice these massive irregularities that noone else seems to notice.

I did mention this phobia to my mother from time to time over the years. The best explanation she was able to come up with, was apparently when I was a tot having a blast at a public swimming pool complex (there were various sizes of pools there) and my mother was watching me duck under the water's surface and pop back up. Well the one time I went under, and took longer than usual to come up. She could see that I was struggling to get above the water's surface. As she ran over to me (she said it was like everything was in slow motion) she saw some sort of hose was holding me down. What I didn't understand from her story is she said it was a hose over my shoulder. It's possible that something else (hose? drain?) had actually captured my foot. Who knows. Maybe this is a memory only hypnosis can retrieve.

What's curious is I've had various other underwater dreams. In some of them, I'm wearing a special deep sea diver's suit, and along with a small group of others, clambering down the side of an underwater mountain into the dark, silty depths (with lamps attached to our suits). While it was a little foreboding, there was no overwhelming fear like there is with pool drains. In other dreams, I'm either on the outside or the inside of a submarine (and that particular point is the least unusual part of the dream), and still no feelings of terror.

8:23 PM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pleased I came across this site as the sharing of issues and solutions is most heartening. The rants get a bit much though.....

I have a fear of public speaking, speaking in front of even a small group chokes me, I sometimes even choke talking in a restaurant! And pet hate - introducing yourself at seminars etc - by the time it's my turn, I am cactus. It has very physical symptoms both before during and after. And no matter what I do, it's pretty much always the same, where I have to think about it. If someone asks me a question - I'm not bad.

I do connect with the person who talked about the fear of fear.

I'm relatively successful in business despite all this as I am very good at avoiding/dodging these situations. So the advice to face my fears doesnt work as I have a much stronger motivation to avoid it all.

The betablockers actually sounds interesting. Does anyone else have any experience with these? Are there any natural ones?

Mark

4:46 AM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger serket said...

My fears are public speaking, interviews and asking girls on dates. One time I was supposed to prepare a talk about mothers at church to be read to the whole congregation. I put it off, but I still went up to the front. I was terrified, but I just told my mother I loved her and went back down. I have had several interviews and felt pretty good about them afterwards. I have managed to go on three dates even though I have a fear of dating. I have mostly just pushed through the things that absolutely have to be done. But I agree that you shouldn't do something just to prove how brave you are.

anonymous @ 4:06 pm said: "Feel free to not use medicine if it makes you feel like a big man, though from the sound of your macho-posturing response, you might look into getting that free sample of Enzyte they keep hawking on tv!"

According to Wikipedia: Enzyte does not work as advertised (alleged by a current lawsuit; source: [1] and supported by the FTC's recent regulation/litigation against the 'Nutraceutical' producer, Berkeley Premium); it has not undergone any independent third-party research [2] and, accordingly, is relegated to a description as a controversial herbal supplement, widely advertised on US television as a "once daily tablet for natural male enhancement". It's manufacturer, Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals of Cincinnati, Ohio is an empire created by a salesman who originally sold the supplement from his garage. As one should expect from an unregulated cure-all, it does not increase penis size, girth, or performance (and, due to FTC rulings, can not advertise that it does).

5:02 PM, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Mark Foley said...

An agoraphobia sufferer will go out of their way to avoid places and situations where a panic attack and anxiety symptoms may occur. They may even end up being housebound as they avoid being in crowded places. This unhealthy lifestyle can in itself trigger agoraphobic attacks to occur in everyday normal situations. http://www.buy-xanax-online-now.com/

3:05 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger Jules said...

Boy do I relate! And I may have the cure. I tried Toastmasters - it didn't really help much. (In fact, I suffered through the course terribly and kept asking myself "Why did I pay good money to torture myself like this?")
Here's what finally worked:
I rented a video recorder and tripod, prepared my speech and then recorded myself giving the speech and answering fake questions until I had peformed to my satisfaction.
It's amazing how well you can give a speech in the privacy of your own home.

Now, here's the part that made this work for me: I watched the video tape of myself - calm, cool and collected as you please, giving the speech and answering questions until the image was imprinted in my mind. I had the luxury of watching this daily for a week, but I think watching it only a few times the night before would have been just as effective.
Anyway, I gave my speech with this vivid, clearcut image of myself being calm, controlled and successful....and guess what? I WAS! It was the best speech I had ever given, and several people came up afterwards and commented on the terrific change they saw in me.
Visualization works! But do not simply imagine yourself doing well....practice beforehand and tape yourself doing well....watch it....and that "programming" will kick in before you step up to the podium.
Best wishes to you - this is the answer I promise!

11:00 PM, January 18, 2009  
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福~
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