dilemmas; Don't make me blush

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ever since she was a teenager, Donna has had a problem with blushing. Though her friends say it doesn't show, she says she knows they're only being kind. She's been asked to go on holiday next month but can't face going because she's so worried, not only about going red all over in a swimsuit, but also about her fat thighs. How can she overcome her problem?

Why is it that Donna's problem makes me feel so irritated? Is it partly because of the acute narcissism involved? "Oh everyone's going to be looking at me . Oh, I can't go because everyone will be thinking I look so awful!"

Come off it, Donna, mutters the hoary old cynic in me. Nobody gives a pin about you and your blushes, no one's going to take the blindest bit of notice of your boring old thighs. Everyone will be worrying about the size of their own thighs and their own blushes, anyway. Stop being so self-centred.

That's a cruel response, but what annoys me about Donna is not so much her terrors, which are valid, but her total lack of self-awareness. Her anxiety has nothing to do with her blushes or her thighs - she could get her thighs down easypeasy with exercise, and her blushes can be concealed with green make-up, lurking in the shadows or cover-up hairstyles. Her problem is with her phobic self-consciousness - and it's her lack of understanding about this that is irritating.

I once had lunch with a compulsive blusher who had written to me saying that she blushed so much that she had become the subject of a psychologist's study. He had examined her in front of 100 students. How she had managed to cope with such an event, she said, she had no idea. Nor did I. During lunch, which had taken painstaking weeks to arrange, in a darkened restaurant, during a cool time of year, at a table poised under a palm tree so I wouldn't notice any beetroot flushes, she dominated the conversation quite amusingly and I was unaware of her blushing at all. When I commented on this she got angry. "I blush all the time," she insisted. "I have been feeling terribly, terribly shy and have sweated through every course." But it was very difficult to feel sorry for her.

Now, Donna is no recluse, lurking at home in a lonely bedsit. If she were, my heart would indeed bleed for her. She has friends. In fact, she has good friends who ask her on holiday. She has friends good enough to tell her that they don't notice when she blushes, who have virtually told her that her problem is all in her mind. But if she really believes they're just being "kind" then she's sadly unhelpable, cut off on her own little island.

No one can fail to sympathise with a phobic who says: "Even though the chances are so unlikely as to be virtually impossible, I am terrified that pigeons will entangle their feet in my hair." But take out the self- knowledge and leave the fear on its own and outsiders become painfully frustrated. "I'm terrified of pigeons because they may get their feet caught in my hair - no, really, they might" - leaves the friends with nothing to do except to grind their teeth silently and say, pityingly: "Poor, poor you."

It is only if Donna can realise that her blushing and thigh worries are based on fear and not on reason that she'll start to climb the first rung of the ladder out of her private hell. In the meantime, unless she feels she might get some enjoyment out of her holiday - in which case she's not as desperate as she makes us believe - she should refuse to go away. This brave move might make her face up to the fact that she has a real problem that must be addressed, via a doctor or phobic unit, as soon as possible. Not a problem that involves diets or make-up at all.

READERS' REPLIES

Go on holiday, you deserve to have fun

As a teenager, my life was also "blighted" by blushing. My best friend would sometimes have to intervene if someone spoke to me, as I would be tomato red, sweating and become tongue-tied.

New experiences help, so go on holiday, fat thighs, thin thighs, who cares, you deserve to have fun. I look at it this way, if I'm gonna go red, why not do it on holiday, I'd be blushing here anyway.

Gloria

London NW3

Knowing you have an illness can help

The lady who wrote last week gave an excellent description of a disorder called social phobia. People with this disorder have an excessive fear of various social situations.

Classically, apart from feeling overwhelmingly anxious, they blush, have a dry mouth, sweat a lot, stammer, have a tremor and other symptoms of panic. This fear can cause people to lead very restricted lives, with them avoiding certain situations, such as going into small shops, signing cheques in public, and so on. There is a higher risk of people with social phobia developing other illnesses such as depression and alcoholism.

Fortunately, treatments are available: these range from psychological treatments to pharmacological ones. Also, just knowing that it is a recognised illness, as opposed to "just being embarrassed in public", can help a lot. If someone feels they may be suffering from this, their GP should know who would be able to help.

Dr JK Melicher

Clinical research fellow

University of Bristol

It was hard, but I learnt to stop worrying

I'm 60 years old, a manager of large department in a large company, and I still blush when I have to give talks or presentations to customers.

When people say "painfully shy", most probably don't know what an apt description that is. The only advice I can give to Donna is, pretend it isn't happening - force yourself to say "so what". My many years of experience have shown me there is nothing else you can do, there is no cure. It takes practice and sometimes a lot of nerve, but it does work in the end.

Once I stopped letting it bother me too much, I found lots of nice girls who didn't mind. I married one and have four children. I have made a successful career - and I don't care if I am known as "You know, the manager with a red face".

Rod

Chelmsford

Only a cosmetic solution can help you

I truly sympathise with Donna as I was exactly like that well into my twenties. Generally, advice columns are not helpful. They delight in telling you it's your fault because you're so selfish you think everyone is looking at you and that you should think about the other person you are talking to. It doesn't work.

I found a way that really works. Buy some colour corrective cream! Boots and Avon both do them. Put it on as you would a moisturiser and then put foundation on top. When you are blushing it just won't show and, gradually, you can start contributing to conversations with people you don't know very well - something you would never do before because of the fear of blushing.

Jane

Knutsford

Tell the world when you're embarrassed

Like you, I blushed a lot, from the feet up! I too felt deeply embarrassed about it and that made me blush all the more and for longer.

A piece of advice that works. When you feel you're about to blush, announce it to the world. Say, "my God, I'm embarrassed about the size of my thighs in this cozzie - I can feel a blush coming on right now. Look at me, I'm purple all over." Your friends, who care about you, will laugh, not at you but with you. Announce it every time you're about to blush. As soon as you get comfortable about making this kind of statement you stop blushing pretty well altogether.

Jane

Gateshead

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