An Interview with Matt Albarn
When did you first experience social anxiety?
I remember my mind freezing up while standing to talk about my hobbies in the fourth grade. I felt embarrassed, and afterwards that fear stuck with me. It was around that time that I first began feeling nervous at being the center of attention. I probably thought I was just nervous in classroom and social situations. I was afraid of looking stupid in front of others.
Looking back now, I can see that my anxiety and low self-esteem started at the time my parents got divorced and I moved to a new school. My mother had social anxiety growing up, and my brother has the same problems with self-image and depression. My father worries about everything and is generally negative. It is very stressful being around him.
Despite the tendency towards anxiety, my family is otherwise fairly “normal” and supportive. As clear as it is to me now how much social anxiety has affected my life, it still surprises my friends and some of my family members when I describe what social anxiety did to me.
Can you describe the situations or symptoms which caused you anxiety?
My biggest fear in high school was blushing. Basically I was nervous about looking nervous. Class could be excruciating. I sat there sweating, hoping not to blush if called on. And if I did, I hated myself. Of course, sometimes I was fine. It was all a big mind game. It’s not like I worried a hundred percent of the time, but I did dread things like speeches. I seemed to agonize over them more than my friends. I worried about things like that months ahead of time.
How did your anxiety change or develop over time?
I began to get depressed more often. In high school I developed the habit of beating myself up mentally, which increased in college. Whenever I got embarrassed or felt bad about something, I would call myself a loser. I said this repeatedly, even out loud when I was alone. It was a habit.
I can remember specific times when I felt happy and I would stop myself by saying, “Hey, remember you’re a loser. There’s no point being happy.” I know this is irrational now, but that’s what I did. I felt like I was a worthless human being.
I didn’t allow myself to get too excited because I expected bad things to happen. At times I knew this way of thinking wasn’t good, and I tried to think more positively. But, it was exhausting to change my habits, so it was easier to fall back onto my old behaviors. College was when my anxiety really started to take over my life by spreading to any situation, not just in the classroom.
Has anxiety made you avoidant?
I’ve never really avoided specific events, but certainly anxiety was such an ingrained habit that it’s been a part of most of the major decisions in my adult life. I struggled with choosing a course of study in university. There were classes I wanted to take but I didn’t because of the social demands.
I tried to pick classes with teachers who never called on students. I know some people prefer small classes, but I always liked the huge classes where no one knew my name so that I could hide among all the faces.
Since school, it’s been difficult for me to be aggressive about finding jobs. I’ve had a lot of temporary jobs, and I’ve done well in some. But, I’ve also quit jobs because I felt too nervous. I’ve tended to avoid romantic relationships. I’m usually the single guy when I’m out with other couples.
Did you seek help or tell anyone about your problems?
I never admitted the full truth of what I was thinking to anyone. I wish I had. I’m not even sure I knew how to describe it then. I did see two psychologists. I told them about depression and feeling nervous, but I was still too embarrassed to talk about my real fears of looking nervous and how I hated myself. Needless to say I didn’t get much help from them, and probably I wasn’t ready to get help. But, I don’t think they really understood social anxiety either.
How did you learn about the Social Anxiety Institute?
I used to think I was a victim of my depression. But, gradually I realized that it was a result of the anxiety. This was about two years ago when I was feeling more desperate.
I had always hoped that I would grow out of it. I hoped that college would change me, and then I thought that getting a job would do it. Then I thought that something like getting a girlfriend would sort of knock me upside the head and fix things. When none of these things changed me, I started to feel more confined by my life. This desperation and learning about anxiety led me to the SAI website. That was the first time I read someone describing the exact feelings and thoughts going on in my head.
How long have you been doing the therapy?
I didn’t start the therapy immediately. I was still a bit nervous and just lazy. Once I started, I realized the therapy itself is not difficult. It’s just making it a daily habit which takes effort. Since then I’ve been doing the therapy for about a year.
Describe your experience so far with the therapy.
Even early on my mood improved because I was more aware of all the crazy negative thoughts I was having. I was still having them, but I was more deliberate about not dwelling on them. So I was feeling better, but I noticed that when I missed a day or two of therapy, even if I wasn’t stressed out, my mind would drift back to negative tendencies. If I did the therapy, I felt better throughout the day.
I started to feel the therapy more deeply and positively when I joined the behavioral therapy group. Honestly, even when I initially sent away for the tape series, I was hoping that I’d never have to see a psychologist or join a group. But, by the time I got that far in the therapy, I was ready. I was still nervous, but I was also kind of looking forward to it. I never would have believed you if you had told me I’d feel this way. I guess that just shows how the brain needs time to change.
Compare yourself now to how you were before starting the therapy.
I enjoy myself more socially. I’m calmer, more able to slow myself down in situations. Even things like walking in the mall, being louder in public, and drawing attention to myself are easier now. I’ve done things I never would have tried before like dance and public speaking classes, and I feel happier after I’ve done them. I have been more honest about my anxiety with friends and family.
One of the biggest differences is that I’ve never experienced that same sort of deep depression since beginning the therapy. I still get nervous and stressed out sometimes, but I think my mind can’t get totally carried away like before. I might still be negative, but I’m aware of it and can turn it around faster. Because of all this, I feel more positive about my future now.
I encourage anyone reading this to start the therapy or continue doing whatever you find helps you to overcome social anxiety. I know it’s not easy. I doubt you could have convinced me to face this, but now I wish I had learned about social anxiety sooner.
Nevertheless, any time is a good time to start feeling better. I remember reading other people’s experiences on the website and thinking I could never get better. So it seems strange to be writing this now, as if I have all the answers, which I don’t. But, I do know that facing my anxiety and doing the therapy has been one of the best things I’ve ever done, and continue to do, for myself. I truly feel better about myself now than I have in a very long time.