Paranoia is something I know very little about, although I have frequently thought I was feeling it. The more I read about the difference between paranoia and anxiety, the more muddled and confused I get. On the one hand, I have been learning that paranoia and anxiety are different things, despite their similarities, but as I read about the ways that they differ, I become more and more convinced that I might have paranoid in addition to my social anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorder. Before I go into my own experiences, however, let me share what I’ve learned today.
Let’s start by defining paranoia. According to my research paranoia is being suspicious of other’s motives, feeling anxious or afraid that these other people intend to hurt or exploit them in some way. It sounds a lot like social anxiety, doesn’t it? According to what I’ve read, however, it is not. Social anxiety differs from paranoia in that paranoia most commonly involves fears that people are actively out to hurt you, rather than just thinking bad things about you and disliking you. There iMind that you can read by clicking here, and Robert A. Lindsay wrote about the difference between the two, including actual cases of each type on his blog Beyond Highbrow, and here is a link to his article titled Paranoia Versus Social Anxiety.s a very thorough explanation on
Alright, so if it’s that straightforward, why am I confused? Well, it’s because of all the many and different things that I think and feel when I go out in public, and sometimes even when I’m alone. I don’t doubt at all that my diagnoses are correct, I just wonder if maybe there is something else going on here that I should bring up next time I have money to see a therapist.
Something I don’t often share is that I am extremely uncomfortable around shiny objects. As soon as I learned there was such a thing as one way mirrors, I became convinced that shiny = hidden camera, and every shiny surface from my bathroom mirror to the handle on the toilet held the potential of hiding a camera that someone could be watching and recording me through. This fear causes me a great deal of distress when I am fixated on a particular antagonist, like an angry ex, but most of the time it only moderately bothers me. I check sometimes, to make sure I’m wrong, although I suppose that we could have technology that I am unaware of that enables people to make microscopic cameras that are invisible to the human eye. I know this is crazy, and logically I realize that I am not that interesting or important in the grand scheme of things, so I’d hazard a guess that I’m not delusional, but am I paranoid?
I also am acutely aware that it is possible for someone to hack my phone, tablet, computer, or security system to observe me through those cameras. Again, most of the time I can rationalize that it’s not true, but then I’ll come across something on the internet, like a series of pictures that are not pictures of me, but are pictures of things I was just doing, with captions that seem to be talking directly to me, and it freaks me out,and I have to cover up all my cameras and I try to act totally normal while doing it, as not to alert any potential observers. I become extra cautious about being naked when this happens, and it can impact my personal hygene, as the fixtures in the shower are reflective. Basically I start feeling all the symptoms of my social anxiety, even though I’m alone, and I know that logically there is no one there to see me or pass judgement.
Reasonably, I think that these things could be a symptom of social anxiety, since the elicit the same response. However, I have a couple of other outlying issues that make me even more convinced that what I’m describing could be paranoia.
I am extremely uncomfortable around law enforcement officials and military personnel. I don’t participate in illegal activities, so I have no rational fear regarding these individuals, and out of uniform and one on one I can even relax and enjoy their company, but when I see someone in uniform I begin to unravel. I am instantly afraid that something I do may be misconstrued as threatening to public welfare and that they will arrest or shoot me. This was particularly difficult for me when my husband’s father, who was in the Airforce, and my husband would drag me along with them to go grocery shopping on the base. We’d go to lunch on the base, head into the BX (base exchange) to do some window shopping and pick up a few odds and ends, then go to the commissary for groceries. We would be on base for two or three hours at a time, and the whole time I would be jumpy and skittish. No matter how many times my husband told me that my fears were completely irrational, I couldn’t shake them. Every time we approached the gate, I thought for sure this time I would screw the pooch and wind up dead or in Guantanamo.
Then there’s driving. Apart from some OCD anxiety about locking the doors, and the discomfort I discussed earlier around shiny objects and cameras, I feel pretty safe in my home, however, when I’m driving I am constantly afraid that someone is following me. I think they are offended by something I did, or that they are prowling for someone to rob, and trying to follow me home so that they can break in to hurt me or steal my stuff. When I still had a license I would drive around for hours sometimes just to make sure they’d given up, and then I’d sit by the window and watch for their car. I tend to be reckless behind the wheel, so it doesn’t seem irrational to imagine someone would be upset by my driving and wish to punish me for it. I even drove a fairly nice car, not high end, but nice, so it didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility that someone might decide I’d be a passable mark either.
Like I said, it’s all very confusing to me, and I wish I could better understand what I’m experiencing. What do you think? Am I paranoid, or is this just anxiety after all? Do you have any stories about anxiety or paranoia that you’d like to share? As always, feel free to comment, and thank you for reading!