Social Anxiety and Group Effort

Vidyala has an all-too-common tale about Fail PuGs. This got me to thinking about why I’m not doing a few things in the game at this point. Why I’m not doing Cataclysm dungeons on my one level 85 character. Why I don’t seem to be very concerned about getting any of my alts to 85. (I got one of them to Northrend and now she’s just sitting in Borean Tundra. The others haven’t even made it that far.) And it’s got me wondering if how much I’m enjoying Holy paladins really matters, after all.

I started playing WoW the day Ulduar came out. We didn’t actually have WotLK at the time and were installing Burning Crusade. The night drug on, waiting and waiting for patches to download and install. At some point, before we left everything going and went to bed, I said, “By the time it’s all done another patch will be out,” and my husband said, “It won’t take THAT long!” We were ready to play the next day… me rolling a character for the first time and him rolling up a new one because it’d been quite some time since he’d been subscribed and playing with guys from work… and there was a patch to download! A brand new patch, complete with the Ulduar raid and warlocks getting more soul shards than they’d ever be able to use.

I told him there’d be another patch by the time all those patches downloaded!

WoW had been described to me in a way that made me think it had pretty much everything I wanted in a game, and nothing I didn’t want would be mandatory. For the most part, that’s been true. The biggest things I didn’t want were being forced to do PvP and being forced to work in groups to get through the game. PvP is easy to avoid when I don’t feel like participating because I just don’t roll a character on a PvP server. But it’s gotten harder and harder to feel like I can avoid having to work in groups.

Why do I want to avoid groups? Because I have social anxiety. I didn’t always have it, and it’s surprising to people who knew me when I was younger when they find out I can’t even order my own food in a restaurant anymore because that means talking to a complete stranger. Until about seven or eight years ago I was one of those people who thinks “strangers” are just friends you haven’t met yet. “Social butterfly” would really be putting it mildly. My doctors can’t say for sure, but it seems the social anxiety is likely related to the rare neurological illness I have that mimics a brain tumor. The simplest explanation is that some things have been reprogrammed in my brain.

Even among people I know, I do best in small groups. Three or four people? I can be the life of the party… if only I had any desire to go to a party. Six or seven people? I want to go home, and I want to go NOW!

This is a big part of why I don’t do raids. Even if the entire group was too over-geared to fail and we were just doing it for the acheivement, the problem is that I will freak out and want to leave with that many people in the group. It’s also why I don’t queue for dungeons alone. The first time I did heroic Azjol-Nerub, I got confused about what was going on in one part and just stood there through a whole fight. Then I told the tank (a friend I had queued with) that I was very sorry, but I really needed to leave the group. He told me it was okay, and told everyone else I had to go so I wouldn’t have to tell them.

This is why I don’t join guilds. I learned the hard way that joining a guild may sound awesome, but I’m going to freak out and want to leave the first time attention is called to me in any way. I didn’t log into a character for several weeks, waiting until I knew no one else in the guild was logged in, before I left one guild. Why? Because I was excessively uncomfortable with multiple people saying “Grats!” every time I got an acheivement, and I was such a low level that the achievements were happening very frequently. It got worse when someone started saying “Grats!” every time I leveled because they had an addon that told them. And yes, everyone else got the same treatment. And no, I didn’t care when it was other people being congratulated. I just didn’t want to feel so… noticed.

I honestly don’t know what made me go for it when I was told the most recent guild I joined was an option. I knew nothing about the guild, other than the person extending the offer was a member. The first night was so pleasant that I thought later, “It’s going to break my heart in a couple of days when I want to leave.” It’s been a couple of weeks now, though, and I’m getting more and more comfortable there. I’ve rolled a few more alts so I can do all my Horde playing in that guild. I look forward to logging in and talking to those folks at night. There is, apparently, one guild in the game that works for me.

What does the social anxiety have to do with healing? (This is a blog about being a new healer, after all.) I get disappointed when there are things my social anxiety prevents me from doing. Ulduar is the one raid in the game I’ve ever really, really, REALLY wanted to do. And I want to do it on heroic, because I REALLY want to turn in the reply code! (The whole Algalon/reply code thing has sort of personal significance for me.) I don’t see it happening. I pushed myself to get to end-game Wrath, but then my social anxiety made it clear to me that I would not be seeing the inside of Icecrown Citadel, and I do not have the Kingslayer title on the one character who could have gotten it if I didn’t have such horrible social anxiety. I decided some time back that the whole point of the game is really to find Brann Bronzebeard* and the social anxiety keeps me out of content that would allow me to do that, thereby “winning” the game.

I can deal with all of that. I can do other things I enjoy. I don’t have to raid. I don’t have to do dungeons. It will not affect my real life that a bunch of elitist pricks think I’m a waste of skin because I’m not doing Cataclyms heroics every night. I have new questlines to do. I have vanity pets and mounts to collect. Herbs need to be picked, and I don’t see the rest of you picking them when you’re doing heroic after heroic and raid after raid. PEACEBLOOM IS GROWING OUT OF CONTROL, PEOPLE!

But I need to be in groups to heal. I’m doing a fine job of questing as a Holy paladin, but the only healing I ever do that way is Word of Glory on myself. I really enjoy healing as a Holy paladin. I enjoy how easily I’ve taken to knowing what heal to use when. I’m not panicking and asking myself if this is an okay time for Holy Light, or do I need to use Flash of Light, and why is the tank dead already? There are things I need to improve, but I’m actually pretty good at knowing after the first couple of trash pulls how much damage the tank tanks and how fast, and I’m not stumbling over my buttons looking for the right heal. I have to pay attention. I have to remain aware of what’s going on. But there’s a sort of “I don’t know how I do it, I just do it” I experience with healing that I’ve never experienced as dps.

I want to heal. I want to heal you and all your friends. I want to heal you through trash and bosses. I want to heal you upstairs, downstairs, in the basement, and underwater. I want to heal you in a box. I want to heal the hunter’s fox. I want to heal you on a train. I want to heal you in the rain. I want to heal you here, I want to heal you there… I want to heal you everywhere! I’ll heal if you’re named Greeneggsandham. I’ll heal you if you’re named Samiam.

But that means being in groups. And that scares me. It scares me more the higher I get in level. The dungeons become more complex, the attitudes get nastier, and people become less forgiving over even the smallest mistakes while also insisting on making some of the bigger mistakes. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Mr. “CC is for Sissies”.) So I’m putting this question out here… What do you do when the role you enjoy requires doing something you’d rather not be doing?

*Explanation about Brann Bronzebeard: Obviously, I wasn’t playing when Vanilla WoW came out, but it looks to me like this was the teaser site. (Somebody who knows, please correct me if I’m wrong.) The call for heroes comes when the journal ends because Brann has gone missing! Of course, no one found Brann in Vanilla… but his letter was found and everyone had the chance to meet his gorilla when they delivered. Near the end of the game content. Brann wasn’t in Outland as far as anyone saw in Burning Crusade, but he turned back up in Northrend. Near the end of the game content. And now he’s in Uldum! Near the end of the game content.

We’re chasing after Brann Bronzebeard, folks. Find him, you’ve finished the game. Everything that comes after that is just to keep you interested until the next chunk of content that sends you chasing after him (again) gets added.

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26 Responses to Social Anxiety and Group Effort

  1. Apple says:

    I love the Dr. Seuss bit. ;)

    I know that if you ever got to a place where you were comfortable and geared to do a Drake/Starcaller run, I would transfer ANY character that could do it to go with you. :) No lie. And it’d be fun to do it again. ^_^ Even if the thought of Yogg still makes me want to cry. >_>

  2. Ophelie says:

    Is there an email address where I can reach you? I couldn’t find one for you on your blog. (Don’t worry, the email I want to send you is a good one.)

  3. Rades says:

    I’ll tell you a secret, which seeing as how regular a raider and heroic-runner I am now, may surprise you. I was exactly the same as you before I joined my first guild. The guild you’re in on Drenden, actually! I started about halfway through Burning Crusade, and quietly leveled by myself, enjoying the game, or with 1-2 real life friends. We never did actual dungeons or anything, just fumbled about and had fun.

    When Wrath came out, I STILL hadn’t done any dungeons. Any! Except low level ones that me and my friend could duo. But that’s different.

    I didn’t start running dungeons until Ulduar was already out. I needed a dungeon achievement for one of the seasonal events, and was terrified of asking in Trade for a group to do it with. Finally on the last day, I saw some Celtic Siege people looking for one more, took a deep breath, and joined them. It went great! And after the run, I liked them so much, I joined them on the spot.

    I only know this was when Ulduar was out because I began raiding with the next released raid, Trial of the Crusader. But until ToC came out, I did tons of guild dungeon runs with CS’ers, and it was only because they were so nice and welcoming and most importantly, not high-pressure, that I became confident and comfortable enough as a player to step out into raiding on my own. (I pugged ToC.)

    I don’t really have a solid resolution point, haha. I just wanted to nod knowingly and say that I feel you. It’s all about finding out what is the right comfort level for you in the game. And maybe, with time and the right people, the comfort level will grow. Maybe! But if not, that’s perfectly fine too. :)

    • That explains a lot, actually. Why I’m comfortable with the guild doesn’t look so mysterious now. And this does help! It’s much more encouraging to hear that other people with social anxiety still enjoy the game in all sorts of groovy ways, rather than, “I know this one guy with social anxiety… he never made it past level 5. He’s a mailbox dancer now.”

  4. Bargeld says:

    Sometimes I would just sit on the roof of the bank in Orgimmar and heal people as they passed by. It wasn’t do-or-die of course, but I didn’t have to talk to them, I didn’t have to group up and they didn’t have to know it was me filling their health bars.

  5. Lokya says:

    I know I’m a stranger, but I ran across this in a link from a link and seeing I’m socially maladjusted myself (I don’t have a good excuse like yours, I just really don’t like people in general), I thought I’d try help a bit.

    In high level instances, especially heroics, mostly people are dead quiet in /p. And cross-realm ignore is amazing for those idiots who think that the only way to go about life is abusing people. Otherwise, guild groups are the best :)

    Ulduar 10 can be 5manned now – even Algalon – if the guild you’re enjoying so much is a reasonable raiding guild. If they’re not, you can wait until the current VP gear gets dropped to JP in 4.2 and for everyone to get geared in that before you go through there.

    I wish you the best of luck getting your Key and Reply-code Alpha and hope I was a little bit helpful at least.

  6. Kindorei says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for posting this and that I know exactly how you feel. I myself deal with social anxiety, and I’ve also been a healer on every toon I’ve rolled (Holy Pallys rule!) Back in the days of vanilla and BC, I never used to have problems with running dungeons and raids as a healer; I was confident in my ability and picked up on strats fairly quickly. After that I took a long break and came back sometime late in WotLK. Something changed. The dungeon and raid nights that I remember loving so much became sources of major anxiety for me, and I soon quit running them all together. I found the stress too much to bear for fear of getting yelled at, mocked or booted from a group for such things as not being uber geared or knowing exactly every strat at all times, or heaven forbid being allowed to occasionally make a mistake or let a party member die. Just thinking of going into the Dungeon Finder makes my stomach knot up and my heart start pounding.

    How did this happen? I will definitely own a majority of the responsibility for my own feelings and reactions, but I feel that a lot of it (for me) also has to do with what the community has become. There’s a sense of entitlement, impatience and intolerance that seems to bring out the nastiest parts of people. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not alone in being anxious about joining groups and guilds. I haven’t given up hope in the game yet, however. Hopefully I’ll come across a group of nice folks on my server, the same as you’ve found on yours, and build up that confidence again. Until then, I’m happy to do my dailies, rep grind, farm and work on trades.

    I hope you get to finish that Ulduar run someday!

  7. Kyle says:

    I found this post linked from WoW Insider and you just put into words exactly how I am in game. I’ve levelled Holy and the most social I’ve done is heal Battlegrounds since, well, no one notices you in battle and everyone is grateful for healing! I get to 85 without running dungeons, I gear in basic honour PvP gear, as I can do that pretty solo, no one relying on me overly, then roll an alt and start solo levelling again, a few low level dungeons and BGs then just questing.

    Your RL description was the same. Wow. I just thought I was the odd one out by being like this irl and in game. I can’t answer your question on ‘what do you do’ as I really don’t know – but I will say thanks for the article, I never realised it was ok to be like this.

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  10. Ozzard says:

    So much depends on the people you’re with. I finally completed Ulduar (on normal) a couple of weeks ago, with a group I’ve known for a couple of years. I’m comfortable working with them; I’m not comfortable working with strangers.

    May I suggest seeing what happens with your guild? In particular, is there one person you can group with and enjoy runs? Cool. How about another one once that first person works out? Great. Eventually, you end up with that small group of people who you can work with… and, these days, that’s enough to have a good go at Ulduar.

    - Peter, aka just another random person :-)

  11. Reidh says:

    I enjoy healing as well, though DPS is also fun. I tend to skulk about and jump when spoken to, so branching out to try healing raids in Wrath was a huge step for me.

    But I was pretty good, and people were really generous with letting me know that. As such, I got comfortable enough to continue group efforts even though the early raids were essentially hours-long bouts of OHGODOHGOD. As Holy, I think you might have a similar experience when and if you take those steps too!

  12. Minstrel says:

    I don’t have a social anxiety disorder, but I am pretty introverted and sometimes uncomfortable around strangers that I have to interact with and work with. I’m also mainly a healer. At first, dungeons were nearly impossible for me to run “alone” (not queuing with friends). I can still remember the first few weeks that I tried to queue…I’d bring up the LFD tool and hover the mouse over the Find Group button…and sit there for five minutes trying to make myself click the mouse button. Eventually, I’d just close the window and go back to questing.

    I think the key, for me, was “I’m playing this game to have fun and when it’s not fun, I’m done.” So I queue and start running. If people are quiet or, better yet, friendly then great…I really enjoy healing when the atmosphere is friendly or neutral. As soon as the atmosphere turns negative or poisonous…I drop party. Simple as that. I’ve dispensed with the guilt of “abandoning” a party. I only do it if the social atmosphere makes the dungeon not fun and, in those cases, I feel justified. That constant ability to opt-out removes a great deal of the anxiety of playing. It becomes no risk. Either it’s fun or it’s not happening.

    As for raiding, well, I sympathize. I love raiding because I’ve been lucky to do it largely with friends. I’d struggle to enjoy it if it were a bunch of strangers. There’s probably no magic formula for you if you just don’t enjoy the company of more than 3-4 people. But I think you might still be able to get into Cataclysm dungeons to fulfill your yen for healing!

    Good luck.

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  14. Angel says:

    I have social anxiety too. It is to the point where I have a hard time leaving the house some days.

    A friend talked me into trying WoW a few years ago. I started off as a hunter since I could solo most things. I didn’t really play with anyone but my friend. Then he found a guild. He finally talked me into joining it, and since it was small I agreed. I got along with almost everyone, and they respected my need for space. I started running heroics with them, and eventually raids.

    To make a long story short, I got comfortable with my online friends. Now I play a healer, and we are all officers of a guild together. We raid and do heroics every week. The main problems I still have is if we have to pug a lot. I don’t deal with new people very well, and lets face it… WoW has a large base of people who are not very kind.

  15. Gorbag says:

    You have a great sense of humor and a wonderful writing style – thanks for sharing your experiences! Don’t let the few jerks in LFG ruin the fun, like the poster above said – you can always hit the eject button if people are being obnoxious. A good friend and guildie of mine has social anxiety as well, and he gets through dungeon runs by reminding himself that the people he’s in a dungeon with can’t see him, only his priest. It sounds a bit silly, but it only takes a second of thinking “all they see is my troll in a dress, which is not me” to make him more comfortable. I wish you the best of luck!

  16. UshanHitsStuff says:

    have you ever given healing in PvP a try?

    granted, it’s different from dungeons, but in a battleground, people don’t really talk to each other (well, except for some people trying to direct everyone, and some people cursing everyone), and it can be a lot of fun.

    I do most of my PvP has a healer (I’m a shaman, tho), and I usually try to find 1-2 people who know what they’re doing and then stick to them and keep them alive as best as I can. Often, they notice and start to protect me, too – all without a word said.

    WSG is 10 people, and AB is 15, but you’ll be split up across the battleground most of the time, so it feels like a lot less as soon as you’re out of the starting pen.

  17. UshanHitsStuff says:

    … and I just realized you have a whole post about not healing battlegrounds, so ignore me. :) (sorry! should have checked out the blog more first)

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  19. Vara says:

    I feel you. I feel you so badly that it could be considered illegal.

    I levelled a shaman specifically because I wanted to heal dungeons and raids. I love raiding, I love dungeons, I love PvE like crazy.. But I, too, have social anxiety. If someone points out some flaw that I’ve made, I’m out of that group in a snap. I can’t stand all the negative, snarky people that show up in the random queues now.

    What am I doing to pass the time? Well, my fiance and I have been going for the “Bloodthirsty” title. (Enter BG, switch to combat log. Voila! I am now oblivious to all your mean words! Sadly that can’t be done in dungeons.) I’ve also always had a thing for achievements. I don’t care what the achievement is for, like Pokemon, I gotta catch ‘em all. I’ve been working on Loremaster (I was ALMOST done with this before Cata dropped, then all the quests changed!), as well as multiple others. I’m determined to have the most achievement points in my guild. :D

  20. shoryl says:

    My partner is exceptionally shy, and she plays a tank. If the class can tank, she plays it that way. We’ve worked out that a lot of why she won’t instance is that we don’t have a guild group big enough to instance with; and PuGs are both unforgiving and expect the tank to know everything.

    We’ve finally got enough 85s in our tiny guild to be able to start to do Cata normals to help her get comfortable. At the same time, two out of three of our regular DPS are learning how to use CC… so everyone expects someone to not quite do the right thing each pull. It honestly helps take the pressure off to know that everyone expects something to go not quite ideally with each pull.

    So, while I can’t really give you any advice for how to start PuGging, if you want a place to play alliance, I have a really tiny guild of people who don’t necessarily talk a lot (though we do love our gratzes). We’re Higher Authority on Ysera.

  21. Samhaineve says:

    I know the feeling of being isolated due to this anxiety. Mine stems from my PTSD which has made me crawl into the back of my mind. I have left guilds, avoided ppl, and even quit WoW for almost two years. The folks at the VA have not done much to help, just more meds to keep me comfy and I am to afraid to leave and find a private Doc to help with the injuries and this anxiety. The only thing that keeps me at peace is my son who forces me out and has talked me into joining a guild which has been very helpful in my condition. This past week I have finally seen the inside of Uldar, yes we were 9 85′s and 1 80, so it was easy but still the fact that I can get out and heal something other then me is great. I have also healed several heroics using the pug system in which I thought I could never do, its easier to do this when I group with my GM but I am doing them when I can mentally do so.
    I am fortunate in the fact that I now have a small guild as a support system and my son to push me along. Those who have this anxiety all I can say is don’t give up, keep trying and find the courage to do groups.

  22. Olivier says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and honest post. Like you, I love healing, but become extremely stressed in dungeon situations, and have been struggling with anxiety disorder in real life. If you want to heal in WoW with less stress, I recommend battlegrounds, and an add-on like Healbot. Healers are always welcome in BGs, and can often tilt the balance of a fight, you won’t be criticised by teammates. The only thing is it’s pvp so you will die a lot, but that’s no big deal. I wish you all the best. Lots of love

  23. Vidyala says:

    I understand a bit better now why your reaction (on Twitter!) to my post was one of such frustration/upset. It’s exactly the kind of thing that would drive people away from pugging at all! a.k.a. Your worst nightmare? And you know what – I may be one of the most dedicated LFDers, but I completely get that – and it’s not for everyone! I know a few people for whom pugs really get under their skin whenever they run them and just leave them feeling upset. For those people, I think it’s best if they just don’t pug. Why do something if it’s just going to upset you? Some days I can run five pugs in a row and laugh off any shenanigans, other days (just the other day, actually) I get frustrated and just walk away from the computer after one. I’m at the point where I can accept this. (Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the pug?)

    Rades has actually recommended this Horde guild you speak of if I want to level any Horde alts. Maybe sometime I will see you there! It sounds like a great group of people, but more importantly, one that will let you acclimatize and control the amount of interaction you want on any given day. I think you are an incredibly smart and funny person, just the kind I’d like to know. I remember when I first encountered you on Twitter I didn’t understand how I could NOT have met you before. But I’d never want to make you uncomfortable, either. If there are people who do not understand that you have necessary boundaries, it will be their loss to miss out on getting to know you. :)

  24. Elenac says:

    I second the battleground recommendation! I have mild social anxiety coupled with a perfectionist tendency, and I tend to therefore avoid instances and raids, as they make me way too stressed out. I do quite fine on old content (although I still get stressed out), but the Cataclysm dungeons haven’t really been enjoyable for me to even tough it out. But actual raiding… well, I really honestly intend to do it, at least that’s what I tell myself, but when push comes to shove I chicken out.

    Anyway, I really seriously love BG:s, and random BG:s at that. It’s a group effort, but you still go mostly as yourself with no-one to answer to. I’m DPS, and I love, love with caps lock and exclamation marks one, each and every heal that is thrown my way. And if I have a good healer on my back I feel like a total powerhouse!!! (Did I mention I really love healers in BG:s?) BG:s are really intimidating when you first step into them (took me almost a year to finally step into WG, then I lived the rest of the expansion there), but just follow everybody else and you’ll catch the idea very soon. I now live in TB, and it has been so much fun!

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