October 6, 2014
by Andy Waterfield

This is part of a recurring series of essays on social anxiety in punk. For more, click here.

Bugger me, I just had a terrifying realisation; I recently turned 28, and that means I’ve been involved in punk/hardcore for half my life. Given that most of the kids I came up with dropped out as soon as they could get into the pubs, that’s an achievement I suppose. Either that or a searing indictment of my adult life; a kind of stunted adolescence ruled over by superhero comics, Rocky movies, and angry guitar music.

Fuck that, obviously. Punk means the world to me. You’d have to blow off my kneecaps and chain me to a passing train to get me out at this point.

There’s one thing I never really related to though; one key step in the fully authenticated and ratified punxification process where I pretended to drink the Kool-aid, but never actually swallowed it, and I’m gonna write a bit about that now, whether you like it or not…

The thing is, there’s a certain orthodoxy that appears in zines, blogs, memoirs, and liner notes when it comes to describing one’s first punk show. The typical account invariably involves entering the venue in question, and the author being taken aback by what they find there. Cue some spiel about how the place was ‘full of people like me’, and how everyone was there for the same reason, and a lot of other warm-and-fuzzy bollocks about finding somewhere they belong.

It’s not that I doubt those accounts, or at least the experiences of the people who wrote them. I just didn’t feel that way. Sure, punk and hardcore shows were rad, and thanks to my being white, middle class, and male, were definitely ‘full of people like me’ (too fucking full – but that’s a rant for another time). I didn’t get that feeling of belonging, or if I did, it didn’t stick around for long.

Again, I love punk shows, but I find them to be fairly uncomfortable places. Long before I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I got anxious at punk shows. Contrary to whatever the party line about ‘unity’ might be, punks (me included) can be tremendously judgmental, and mix that in with the thunderous slab of awkwardness and paranoia that is puberty, and adolescent me would really rather not be there. If it wasn’t for the bands, I wouldn’t have been.

While my mates were smuggling vodka and Coke into shows, I was smuggling comics, books, or video games. Anything to give me a way to escape into my own interior world if I needed to, anything that gave me a little barrier against the swarming mass of people around me.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have a great time with my friends at shows, and it’s not to say that I don’t continue to, but to get to that point, I’ve always had to overcome the discomfort I find in these darkened rooms full of people. More than once I’ve gotten so anxious at a show that I’ve left early. Once I even managed to leave before a single note had been played.

It varies, but most of the time I have to will myself to show up, to stick around, and to make the effort to engage with other people. Once I’m over that first wall of panic, it’s usually fine, amazing even, but like I say, it varies. It sucks, but I stick with it, because I love these bands, and I love my friends. Dealing with my brain being a tosser seems a small price to pay for all that.

I still take comics to shows (and more or less every other place I go to), so if you see me at a show, with my nose in a comic, and I look like I’m being an ignorant, anti-social bell-end, it’s entirely possible that I’m just trying to distract myself from the weird little panics my brain does.

Not that I’m not an ignorant, anti-social bell-end, you understand. Just that that has very little to do with my reading Moon Knight round the side of the merch table while your band is playing.

That or I’m perfectly relaxed and your band sucks. It could be one or the other. Who knows?

Try not to get anxious about it though, eh?