“You’re Not F**king Shy John!”

Today Rhod Gilbert was on the radio talking about how, as a comedian and TV presenter, he is painfully shy. Ironically I texted the Radio Show and they called back asking me to go on the show. I panicked and said no, at the very thought of talking about it live on there. F*ck that! However, it made me want to write another blog post. It’s incredible how many people suffer from this despite being in the public eye and working in a job where you wouldn’t expect it. He has a documentary on TV tonight called “Standing Up To Shyness” which I am looking forward to watching on BBC Wales at 9pm.

That’s where I come in. Nobody in the world, apart from a few people close to me, believe I am shy. Well, here’s the thing… I am. I have been all my life. To a ridiculous level. To the extent that I have had to hide being absolutely sick with fear about going to events, jobs, social gatherings.

When I was at school, if I knew I had to stand up and speak about something, I would get no sleep.  I would have a feeling of sheer terror in the morning, and would mumble my way through it in an incoherent panic.

As I got older, you would think it may get better, but no. In college in my twenties, I had the same situation, where I’d have to stand up and give a presentation, and I’d be a mess for days. I’d hide at the back hoping somehow we’d run out of time and I wouldn’t be called. This rarely happened and I just made a complete tit of myself instead.

In classes at school I would pretend not to know an answer rather than answer aloud and be wrong. I have been the same throughout adult life as well, and if I am at an event I do not want to be asked a question, even if I am 100% sure of the answer.

If I am at a group of some kind and they do that round-the-room introduction thing, as happened yesterday coincidentally, I go into meltdown. It feels like I am blurting out nonsense in a few seconds, no matter how hard I try to tell myself to take it easy and slow down. I have quickly put together in my head what I am going to say, the finger points to me, and boom, utter bullshit at 100 words per minute.

“So, how do you manage as a photographer?” People ask. “You cannot possibly be shy”. I have had people laugh in my face more times than I care to remember whenever I mention the shyness thing.

Well, maybe in some ways the job has helped me to overcome it. When I say overcome it, I am no better, but, what I am better at, is hiding it from others. I go into an act when I start photographing, be it a wedding or a commercial shoot. I doubt anyone would notice these days, although in the early days, they may have seen that I was as white as a ghost, not knowing I may well have actually thrown up an hour earlier.

I regularly wake up on the morning of a job in a panic, doesn’t have to be a big job or a small job, it just depends on me. I will wake about 6am or something. Long before I need to be up. But I will not get up. I’ll be paralysed. Frozen, and lie there, thinking about everything and nothing in equal amounts, until the absolute last minute I can get away with.

Edited to add a small piece: The bloody phone. I have a phobia of my phone. If someone asks me to phone them, I have to psych myself up to do it. If they call me, and I don’t know who it is, I will almost certainly divert to voicemail until I compose myself. I hated the phone since the day I first used one. I remember calling people and not speaking. They’d probably think I was some sort of weirdo….oh wait….well at seven years old I was a different type of weirdo.

I have travelled all over the world, pretending to feel confident, whilst secretly wishing I had never left home. I have done public speaking in front of everything from ten to several hundred people. This is something I always want to do when I am asked, but as time ticks by, the panic sets in. I have laid in bed in a hotel room in London on many occasions, frozen with fear, knowing I had to give a presentation in a couple of hours. I would have no breakfast, and feel awful and it would get increasingly worse until I actually started. Once I’d get going it would be okay, and I’d almost enjoy it. People would say to me “it gets easier the more often you do it”. Well, I have news for anyone who told me that – it doesn’t. If anything, it gets worse, because I put more and more pressure on myself to be better than before, which causes the brain to go into even more of a meltdown.

Photography becomes a bit of an act. As soon as I have the camera in hand and start shooting, my anxiety disappears and the creativity becomes everything. I focus on the images and nothing else. Maybe the attempt to focus so entirely on something else is what makes me creative. The adrenaline kicks in, the mind focuses entirely on something else, and all that energy is converted into a different force.

Here I am organising and entertaining a crowd of 150 people, at a posh venue, without the bat of an eyelid, because I am in ‘the zone’.

The price I pay for this, is that after I have put myself in any such situation, I feel absolutely drained afterwards, to the extent that I struggle to even have a conversation for the next couple of hours. Anyone sharing a car with me immediately after a wedding will be excused for thinking they have p*ssed me off! I literally have nothing left to give. The come down after the adrenaline high is brutal and leaves me exhausted. After a bigger event like a wedding, I feel tired for the next few hours. If I have another one the following day, the same routine kicks in, and adrenaline takes over. By day three I am in a state of extreme tiredness, worse than after 100 miles on my bike.  This is the price I am willing to pay to have such an exciting job and to be part of such important occasions. I feel lucky to be in that position, and that is why it is worth going through the stress and worry, because once I begin, I love the feeling inside. It has never stopped me from doing what I love, but it just sometimes seems like a pretty odd career choice for someone who is shy :)

Not sure why I am sharing this, but it was better than going on the bloody radio I know that much. I think it’s probably much more common than people think, so I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts.

I am interested to see how Rhod deals with this issue, as he is a guy I love watching on TV, his dry, sarcastic humour really appeals to me, so maybe there’s a link there. “You’re not f**king sarcastic John” I hear you all shout…..

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3 thoughts on ““You’re Not F**king Shy John!””

  1. It’s therapy John. If it helps do it. I can relate to the apprehension at putting yourself in the spotlight, and you are
    right in that it becomes a bit of an act, used to be the same with presentations at work etc, now have no problem
    waxing lyrical at conferences. It could also be our upbringing, we don’t like selling ourselves and prefer to take a
    back seat, suss things out and make sure of our surroundings before committing to anything…..not a bad trait to
    be honest…..fools rush in and all that ;-)

  2. There’s a book you might enjoy called “Quiet” by
    Susan Cain. It’s about the power of introverts in a
    n extroverted world.
    And no one believes me when I say I’m shy either
    . I actually define it as social anxiety now.

  3. Great piece and I can identify loads with this. I st
    ill have to psyche myself up when I pick up the p
    hone to do an interview and I also avoid answeri
    ng my phone.

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