I recently had the chance to ask some questions of romance novelist and anxiety sufferer Arlynn Presser. Arlynn is the star of an upcoming documentary called "Face to Facebook" about her journey around the world in 2011 to meet each of her 325 Facebook friends, most of whom she had only ever interacted with online. Below are her answers to my questions.
Q: What was the most challenging thing about traveling to meet your Facebook friends?
The most challenging thing was organizing my datebook! Figuring out how to make sure to see 325 friends in 365 days meant that every day I was thinking about who I was going to see, how I was going to get there, and who else was geographically nearby so that I could coordinate trips. I ended the year at 292 friends in large part missing the last ten percent because of missed connections, cancellations, etc.
Q: How has anxiety influenced your life decisions such as career choices?
I have missed out on a lot of opportunities because of fear and anxiety. Being a writer is something that can be done at home without having to fully face the world.
Q: What advice would you give to other people with panic or social anxiety disorder?
I am using the year 2012 to meet Facebook friends who have panic and social anxiety problems. Anxiety and the attendant panic attacks is the second most commonly diagnosed psychological disorder, depression being the first. I want to talk to people about taking control of their anxiety--drugs make us dependent on drugs and therapy makes us dependent on a therapist. I believe we can come up with strategies that are unique to our own discomfort. In my case, giving me a purpose, a goal, and a healthy dose of fear of failure got me through the year!
Q: Do you think Facebook is good or bad for people with anxiety disorders?
I think Facebook can keep us in touch with our friends and that's a wonderful thing. But it's only a tool, just like a phone, the postal service, or a carrier pigeon. We need to logout and come face to face with our friends sometimes. So it's a mixed blessing.
Q: What was the most important thing you learned from the Face to Facebook experience?
The most important thing I learned this past year is that I am not abnormal, I'm pretty much the same as everybody else. There's a lot of anxiety, fear, sadness out there--but there's also a lot of energy that people put into doing the best with what they have. I was blessed with Facebook friends who wanted the best for me, who wanted to help.