Who needs Seroxat? A better drug's at hand
By Harry Mount
The Telegraph.co.uk, Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 21/12/2007
The Christmas party season is upon us and so is the hell of being at a Christmas party and knowing nobody.
I've already been to a couple this year where I've honed my techniques for looking as if I'm perfectly happy on my own. First, I take several slow circuits round the room, making a determined beeline towards a non-existent friend. Then I stand next to a wall, convincing myself that I'm happier observing than being part of the crowd - what a red-faced lot, laughing at nothing.
None of this is very sophisticated, but it's better than what I used to do until I was 17, which was head for the exit, miserable and cripplingly shy.
Nowadays, I'd be diagnosed with social phobia, and be prescribed Seroxat, which boosts your serotonin, the naturally occurring happiness-enhancer in the brain. All this is in Shyness: How Normal Behaviour became a Sickness, a new book by Christopher Lane, a Chicago professor.
In the past decade, the NHS has spent £1.5 billion on drugs for shyness - or "social anxiety" and "avoidant personality disorder" (I still suffer from that one). There are now apparently six million sufferers in Britain.
Thank God I've got over my shyness since Seroxat took off. The best shyness cure is a long, brutal slog - learning how to talk to other people and not to mind too much being on your own.
The consolation is that former shyness sufferers spend so long learning how to fill dreaded silences that they tend to become good conversationalists in the end.
It's easy to spot the difference between the eager-to-please, once-shy person and the I-know-I'm-pleasing-you type who's never been shy. The once-shy ask questions and frantically tailor their conversation to the other person's character; the always confident bang on regardless. Stephen Fry was clearly shy once; Tony Benn, never.
Using drugs as a buffer to avoid learning these things is disastrous. You remain in a perpetual zombie state of zonked-out shyness, never forced to learn the benefits of how to talk to new people.
In any case, it's several thousand years since humans developed an excellent drug to deal with the inevitable awkwardness of being trapped in a strange room between the hours of 6.30 and 8.30pm with people you don't know or like.
You don't need prescriptions, you choose the dose, and hosts provide the drug in various forms and strengths on prominent display. It's called a drink.
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