Declaring War on Captain Paranoia

Even though I spent most of last year trying to reduce my stress and anxiety levels and improve self-esteem and self-confidence, I’ve not really kept up with it during the winter months. For a couple of days this week, the weather has been absolutely terrible so, rather than head into town, I’ve legged it into the car park and sat in my car for an hour. Usually, I plug my earphones in and listen to an album, but today I only sat through one side. For the remainder of the hour, I sat, I thought and I read.

Last Sunday, we were discussing going out as a family to a National Trust property or just somewhere local. I thought this would be a great opportunity to get my kilts back out and carry on where I left off last year. I went upstairs, got dressed, and when I came back down, I asked my wife “does this look all right”. Her response was along the lines of “Well, yeah, but your kilt could do with being ironed and it looks pretty windy out there. You’re going to be very cold.” – I agreed with her instantly.

Now, I recognise it was pure optimism on my part, and sensible realism on my wife’s, but it knocked me down a little – not in a toys-out-of-the-pram way, but because I felt that, by asking her opinion, I was looking for a get-out clause. I was talking myself out of it yet again. I’d always convince myself it was the wrong time, wrong place, wrong weather – and when the right time, place and weather came along, I’d find some excuse, however small, to talk myself out of it. 9 times out of 10, it was the fear of embarrassment, ridicule or – in extreme cases – physical harm. It’s something I’ve carried with me since my teenage years when my internal program was instructing me that social inclusion is critical, and embarrassment leads to exclusion… so avoid it at all costs.

One thing I promised myself I’d try to do this year was to fix problems rather than avoid or accept them, and the first step is always to recognise them.

Whilst sitting in the car, I looked for various sources that showed positive experiences and reactions to men wearing skirts and kilts out in public. I actually came across quite a few. One wore them to work for a whole week as part of his normal attire, another was about singer/songwriter Will Young’s experiences, and another showed a video of three other men who took up a similar week-long challenge.

 

In the latter, all 3 felt at first as if everybody’s eyes were fixated on them – but there was one moment in the video that spoke quite loudly. One of them was told by a friend that “nobody cares that you’re wearing a skirt except you“. He was absolutely right! For all my experience last year, I experienced no negative reaction beyond a couple of immature remarks, yet here I was ignoring the facts and focusing on a hypothetical worst-case scenario. It is what Ben Elton dubbed Captain Paranoia.

BenElton
Ben Elton: The left-alignment of this photo was completely intentional.

My next stop was to find ways of dealing with paranoid thoughts. There is a Mental Health charity in the UK called MIND, and their website is a font of useful information. Reading their digital booklet on paranoia highlighted that my thoughts were just that. I was being completely over-sensitive and basing my negative thoughts on emotion rather than evidence and experience.

In addition to talking things through with my wife, I’m going to try practising Mindfulness as a means of focusing on the here-and-now, going with the flow and becoming more self-aware than self-conscious. I also feel this may help with other issues, such as when I beat myself up over mistakes I made back in my teens and early 20’s, believing they still reflect badly on me today.

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work – but I’ll never know unless I try.

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