Social (drinking) anxiety disorder

It’s taken two months for me to write this post. Every time I opened the edit page I immediately lost enthusiasm and closed it again. This is because I was, and am, ambivalent about the relative pros and cons of disclosing my feelings on the matter, and also because I’ve lost my writing ‘mojo’ of late. Such is the taboo that still surrounds mental health, it’s taken an almighty effort to finally click the publish button, and even then I scheduled it for when I’m safely ensconced in the highlands with limited internet access. What finally convinced me to do so was various conversations I had on Twitter with others who have similar feelings regarding social anxiety in a beer-related context. This, and the good work done by my friend Mark Johnson in breaking down barriers in discussions of beer and mental health.

I usually find beer events to be a daunting prospect, but when I went to the Magic Rock beer party and BBQ at The Prince in July I was completely at ease. I attribute this to the fact that I’m a semi-regular at both The Prince and its sister pub The Duke’s Head, and as such felt like I was on ‘home turf’. The event itself was a complete success: the beer and food were sublime, Rich Burhouse of Magic Rock was engaging and generous with his time, and Matt Curtis was on outstanding form considering he had been ‘entertaining’ Rich since lunchtime. Hic!

This experience was in marked contrast to the usual sense of trepidation I feel in all social situations, not just beer-related ones. Historically, I have had two ways of coping with my anxiety. The first is to simply sit out the event – sometimes it’s just not worth going through the wringer for the sake of trying this beer or meeting the team from that brewery. London Beer City is a case in point – I barely made any events, and even failed to make it to one I’d bought a ticket for. My second ‘coping strategy’, an eminently less healthy one, is to ‘pre-game’ in an attempt to quell my consternation. The result of this has historically been that my evening has gone spectacularly awry. For example, I was at a Goose Island event at the Rake last year and was already four pints in as I arrived to an evening of unlimited free beer. Fast forward to the post-event beers (what?) when to my bemusement I exited an Uber to find myself outside a very much closed Duke’s Head (as opposed home, my intended destination) minus my bag containing my house keys, oyster card and camera.

I know most of you have stories like this, but it happens too frequently to me. I’m not naturally gregarious or blessed with an abundance of self-confidence, and the prospect of being at an event and seeing someone I know from social media, or have only met on a handful of occasions, can induce mild panic. Should I say hello? Will they remember that we met at that other event six months ago? Will I look like a plum if they start talking about yeast strains and I find I’m out of my depth (actually, I usually walk away when people start talking about yeast)? This may seem trivial, but the impact can be considerable if you you are prone to anxiety.

I grew up in a relatively chaotic household with both parents dependent on alcohol, and having recently talked to a professional about my anxiety, this may well be its source. I’m sure it has many causes and everyone’s experience will differ. In my case, being more open about it has led me to question its relationship to my over-fondness for the beer which is part social-learning, part cultural and also that I really, really enjoy it. For me, sitting in the pub with friends drinking good beer is as good as it gets – I just need to locate the stop button, and it’s very slowly becoming easier to find.

To end on a lighter note, please find two photos below from the aforementioned Magic Rock event, the first of which Matt Chinnery titled ‘The Sex’.

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