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Overcoming the Amygdala Part 33

My teenage years were a nightmare of anxiety. Long before such things as anxiety, depression and all the rest of the language of mental health came into common use, I wandered around in a daze of worry: my whole world was so cognitively distorted that at a couple of points I began to hallucinate and see faces in the woodwork, literally. They were the Dark Years.

I attended a university in which the Hall of Residence where I was staying was connected to the other university buildings by a long footbridge over a beautiful valley. The bridge was overlooked by the majestic modern façade of the library, the administration block and several other structures — hundreds of gleaming windows, watching the valley below. And, to my cognitively distorted mind, that was the problem — I had to cross that bridge with the whole university watching. In my mind, the hundreds of eyes behind those windows were not only watching, but judging — judging my appearance, the way I walked, my mannerisms — and coming to the conclusion, inevitably, that I was a totally inadequate human being who should be scorned, derided and rejected. Every step was hellish.

Walking across that bridge every morning was such an ordeal, I even invented a name for what I was suffering — ‘Spectator Syndrome’, I called it: the sensation of ‘being watched and judged’. To make matters worse, after the bridge I had to climb a hill and the pathway was cut across by a major road, up which ran the buses which delivered thousands of students to the campus every day. And of course, everyone on the buses would be looking at me too, and coming to the same dismal, humiliating conclusions as all those faceless people behind the university’s windows.