I have the Spiderman Syndrome.
Lately I’ve been experiencing a series of embarrassing uncontrollable bodily functions. There are moments when I am in the midst of talking, when suddenly my voice starts to break, my hands tremble and I could feel a sudden heat wave caused by a quick rush of blood to my head and I could literally feel my face turning red hot. My ears feel pressured and sounds become muffled. My throat dries up and my heart beats at an alarming rate. And I feel like it is hard to breath, my head gets heavy and my vision starts to darken. I want to throw up, fart, crap, hiccup and sneeze all at the same time.
These moments occur during a meeting, for example, when it is my turn to speak in a group of people. I could only translate these physiological actions of mine as nervousness, anxiety and fear.
I have never had this happen so often and so fast. It is interfering with my daily activities and needless to say, it is exasperating. I have no control over it and as much as I try to calm myself, it is quite obvious to the others around me. It is embarrassing and frustrating.
I’m a lecturer and talking in front of an audience has never been a problem for me. As a student in college, I loved doing presentations and enjoyed talking to an audience. So it is puzzling to me, why all of this is happening now.
I shared this predicament with my husband, to give me some perspective and get me out of distress, he told me about the Spiderman Syndrome.
Spiderman went through this phase in which he doubted himself. He started questioning whether he was really worthy to be a hero. He didn’t believe he was. He knew he had the abilities, the power, but he didn’t believe how he could help anyone with those capabilities. He started to lose his confidence and his powers began to dwindle. He wasn’t able to stick to walls, his spider senses wouldn’t work and his strength was gone. The villains trashed him mercilessly.
If this is similar to my case, then what happened to me was that I didn’t believe in myself. There is a difference in knowing you can do something and believing that you could do it. I know I can speak well, that is my ability. But I didn’t believe that what I spoke of matters and is worth listening to.
My husband says that I have a hard time accepting compliments and believing that people see I have great potential. He points out examples where I would normally express doubt and disbelief when someone says something nice about me.
Why? I analyzed the times when these incidences occur. I’m trying to understand this problem, why it happens and how I could fix it.
There are times in the past, when I was younger, where when in doing something, I incurred some negative comments, some snide remarks that hurt me. I was young, and every time this happened I would lash out, lose my temper and in the event, sometimes people got physically hurt. The onlookers have this look in their eyes, I was being judged and it changes things. People start distancing themselves from me because they thought I was weird and they didn’t want to be involved with me. I had been labeled at times as being too intense, high strung, too ‘over’.
As I got older, instead of lashing out, I recoiled and crawled back into the comfort of my hardened shell. A wall, a fort I successfully built for myself to protect me from harm or hurt. I became silent, introvert and never wanting to be in the centre of attention.
Lately, I have been involved with new groups of people that forced me to go outside of my comfort zone. These people have a tremendous amount of positive energy and what my husband calls a ‘supercharged’ optimism. They are volunteers from a non-profit group called Thinklab who are known as the Agents of Change. They are made up of people from different backgrounds and age, all coming together for the same purpose, which is to change the design industry in Malaysia and make it better. It is refreshing and inspiring to be with them not only because of our shared interest in design but ultimately because they are honestly nice people. Compliments and acknowledgements are abundant and hardly a word is uttered in spite or hatred. Criticisms are delivered tactfully and for the purpose of betterment. Meetings are concise, fulfilling and purposeful. I instantly clicked with them in a short time.
But I’m also feeling the pressure to perform. I mean, it is so inspiring to see these young people, so passionate, committed and full of conviction in what they do. So much so that I didn’t think that I am good enough to be with them. I got scared that I couldn’t deliver what was expected of me. What if I say the wrong things? What if they see how stupid I was? What if I can’t achieve the task that they hand to me? What if I screw up because I didn’t understand and was just too slow in comprehending?
Seeing how they work together, it teaches me a lot. Being nice always works better. Though it almost always is never easy. Especially for me, getting angry when things don’t go the way I want it to. And a positive attitude is contagious, it inspires and rubs off on people, making them want to do great things. And sometimes you just got to force yourself to do something, even though it is hard and you would rather not.
I hope that I would be able to overcome this fear of mine. It would take time, I guess. And I just need to keep on trying and believe that I am capable of great things. There will always be opposing voices that hurt. But this is my battle that I have to fight.
The greater the battle, the better the triumph. Fighting!