Me and my social anxiety: why I’m a music loner

social anxietyMy name is Tiffany, and I'm a music loner with social anxiety.

Listening to music on my own is what I live for, but it’s not that I dislike live music. I love watching artists perform and engage with their fan base on a level that’s simply not possible on record. I’m always intrigued to see how a musician can transform their music on stage to suit whatever venue or setting they decide to play. Lots of professionals work hard to make gigs a pleasurable experience, and I’m in no way dismissing their input: an immersive light show will make me go ‘ooh ahhh’ as loudly as the next person. I will also make a concerted effort to attend a performance at least twice a month because of the potential of seeing something great.

Before anyone mentions it, I’m not a fan of the live stream. There’s something too clinical about ogling an artist via the medium of a computer screen. I'm sure from a marketing point of view it's a great way to reach out to fans abroad, but speaking from the perspective of someone who lives in a UK city, I’d much rather shove my shoes on and venture out into the big wide world. Maybe one-day technology will overcome the tangible limitations of Skype et al, but until then, I’ll remain strictly traditional in the ways that I consume my guitar solos. Unless of course, I'm watching James Brown on Youtube, because who doesn't have time for that?

I've had some great experiences, but gigs often aren't for me.

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There are lots of reasons to love gigs, but there are lots of reasons to dislike them too. Ticket prices have gone up to the high heavens and while I'm always keen to support the artists I love, sometimes it's just not viable. Think about it: how many of us complain about the price of the cinema but readily pay £15 to go to see a band in a mid-sized venue? When we get inside our chosen venue, rather than being faced with a £5 bill for refreshments, we can spend up to £20 on alcohol without even getting drunk. I've also been sad to see the decline of band merch into something that's totally unaffordable. A shall-remain-unnamed yet very well loved unsigned band I saw perform recently were touting their tees for £25. I don't care who designed the print, that's just outrageous. And yes, often hands are forced by high rental and petrol costs, but I think we all need to take some responsibility for keeping music accessible. It's just not okay to charge £25 for something that'll fade in the wash.

If like me you choose to go to see smaller bands in independent venues in an attempt to avoid spending all of your pocket money at once, you'll undoubtedly still encounter downsides. No one can claim to enjoy standing in the same spot for two hours, packed between an extremely hairy 6ft bloke and a woman whose lapse of balance means she spills beer down your back intermittently. And for all my short friends out there (hi) what is the actual point of doing this if you can't see anything that's happening on the stage? So many times I've had to maneuver my gig reviews around the awkward fact that I've not actually seen the musicians play.

Then there are mosh pits. Oh, mosh pits. Circles of unenviable hell designed by tall men who seemingly have rubber bones and don't give a sh*t about anyone but themselves. Let's face it: mosh pits are not nice. In my younger years, I partook and I now understand why the sensible people standing away from my flailing body were scowling at me like I'd just grown two heads and denounced The Strokes or something (it was the 00s). Even if you manage to have a good time, you'll probably end up hurting someone else who just wants to watch the band. It's selfish, macho and aggressive, and it needs to stop.

For me, these negatives are even more heightened, because I suffer from social anxiety.

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I was officially diagnosed with social anxiety two years ago. Thanks to a healthy combination of medication and therapy I've been released back into the world by the NHS with a smiley badge, an ongoing prescription and a hotline to my overworked and underprepared GP. But being 'on top of things' doesn't mean I'm cured. Some days I think it just means I can hide my anxiety better than I could before. Other days I feel like my old self again - the one who set up DrunkenWerewolf because she energetically disagrees with a lot of what's being said and doesn't care who knows it.

My history of speaking my mind has probably made my situation a lot worse. I know I've gained a reputation as an opinionated bint (see also: sexism, hi, how are you?). I've genuinely been called out as socially unacceptable and not 'part of the gang', but probably not as often as I think. When my therapist challenged this notion as something I'd amplified in my head, I gave detailed examples, and she looked a bit blank and ended the session clearly unsure of how to progress. The point is, sometimes people hate me, and sometimes people don't, but no matter what... I'll think they hate me.

My biggest trigger? Gigs, and the music industry. What a lark for a music blogger, hey?

So yeah. The real reason I'm stood at the back of the gig with my resting bitch face not talking to you is because you're freaking me the fuck out and I'm just trying to do my job without imploding.

(Side note: the best thing you can do in this situation is come and say hi, to prove to me that you don't secretly have a 12-inch knife behind your back. However, I appreciate this mental block is mine to challenge and not yours, so it's cool if you'd prefer to leave loony tunes to herself.)

Needless to say, you don't have to be mentally unwell to prefer listening to music in your bedroom.

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There’s something about listening to music by myself that I find unbelievably comforting. It means I'm free to enjoy it however I want - choreographed chair dancing is my thing, and I definitely couldn't do that at a gig. I'd look even weirder than I actually am. It also means I can sing when I really can't sing; I can turn the volume up or down without worrying about earplugs; I can put a song that I really love on repeat 19 times and skip that track that I find goddamn awful but everyone else seems to love. The gig can end when I want it to, or it can go on all night.

Maybe it all stems back to listen to music on the school bus with my headphones in, blocking out the world around me. I used to do that even when I had a friend sat next to me, which was a rare occurrence that I should have probably paid more attention to, in retrospect. The point is, listening to music alone is something I have always enjoyed, far, far, far more than standing in a room full of strangers trying to enjoy myself. The taboo of not loving live music has gone too far: it's time for the music loners to feel okay in themselves again.

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