Redface by Russell Norris (ISBN: 9781912454501)
About the book
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REDFACE: HOW I LEARNT TO LIVE WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY
'Empowering and cathartic' – Dr Tracy Cooper, International Consultant on High Sensitivity
'Deeply moving and informative' – Lily Bailey, author of Because We Are Bad
'An honest, brave and much needed account of what it feels like to live with severe social anxiety. Having a male writer dealing so openly with topics like social anxiety, shyness, introversion and sensitivity is sadly all too rare and makes this book all the more of a triumph.' – Tom Falkenstein, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist & author of The Highly Sensitive Man
As an adolescent, Russell’s face and neck would turn crimson at the slightest thing. In his twenties he began suffering from an extreme form of blushing (idiopathic craniofacial erythema). It sent out all the wrong signals — to friends, family and to the opposite sex. And it triggered something worse: Social Anxiety Disorder.
Up to one in 10 people develop this irrational fear of other human beings. From university to the workplace, Russell tried to hide his condition from everyone. In a forlorn attempt to be ‘normal,’ he grabbed every remedy going, from drugs to herbs to bottles of absinthe.
By turns wry and shocking, dark and optimistic, Redface is the true story of how one man found his own way forward in a world built for others. It will interest readers who are socially anxious, their friends and family, and anyone who wants to know what it’s like to travel to the edge of human experience and back.
Want to try before you buy? You can read an extract here.
Format: Paperback book
Published April 2021
✅ STIGMA-breaking, myth-busting insight
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PB ISBN 9781912454501
EBOOK ISBN 9781912454518
RUSSELL'S ARTICLE FOR MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK (2022)
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a time to stop and reflect on what mental health means for you and hear what it means for others. The theme this year is loneliness. And thinking about what that word means is important, because loneliness can mean different things for different people.
Over two years of COVID lockdowns, I heard many people say that social distancing made them feel lonely. But I heard people say the exact opposite, too: just because they were alone didn’t mean they were lonely. Sometimes, people might say they feel lonely in a crowded room. But how is that possible, everyone else in that room might say, with human contact all around you? Loneliness has many shades and no single common cause. It’s an individual experience and it’s always personal.
For me, loneliness is not the absence of people. I’m an introvert and I struggle with social anxiety, so I’m usually happy in my own company. Whenever I’ve felt lonely in the past, it’s been because of blushing. I’m very quick to blush: my face and neck break out in bright red blotches whenever I feel trapped or nervous. It’s always bothered me and still bugs me now, aged 42 – but it affected me badly in my youth. In my teens I developed erythrophobia (the fear of blushing). I would go out of my way to avoid any situation that might make me blush. These situations, of course, were always social. So I spent a lot of time finding ways to avoid people, day in and day out.
When I think about some of my loneliest moments, I think of myself as a teenager, walking in endless loops through suburban streets – because I was skipping school that day and had nowhere else to go. I think of university: missing classes and lectures, spending days locked in my bedroom to avoid my housemates, hitting a low point one dark night when I came very close to suicide. I think of the vodka I used to drink in the morning, before going into the office, to mask my anxiety until lunchtime. I think of all the toilet cubicles I’ve hidden in, after giving a presentation at work, waiting for my crimson face to cool down so I could walk back out to my desk.
Why did this only happen to me? My friends and colleagues didn’t turn red like this, they weren’t afraid of simple things like speaking up in a group or buying something in a shop. I felt like a freak, a grown man who still blushed like a schoolboy. Whenever I blushed or had an awkward encounter with someone, I’d go away and dwell on it. What did they think about me, now? Did they think I was weird or had some kind of problem? Did they think I was incompetent? Or weak? I was afraid to blush in front of them again, which made me want to avoid them even more. Round and round these irrational thoughts went in my head, reinforcing my phobia and pushing me further into isolation.
Isolation is an important word here, too. Because loneliness left unchecked can lead to isolation. And that’s where bigger problems begin. Social anxiety is sometimes called “the illness of missed opportunities”. While I take issue with the word “illness”, there’s a lot of truth in that description. Social anxiety leads you away from people: from friends, from colleagues, from partners, even from family. It can steer you into a life lived on the sidelines. And into the loneliness of being somebody you don’t want to be.
When I speak to others who struggle with blushing, especially younger people, there’s an intense desire for a quick fix. Which pill stops the blush, is there an operation I can have? It took me a long time to understand there is no single solution. There was no sudden turning point for me. Getting beyond blushing and social anxiety was a slow mixture of change: growing older, becoming a parent, accepting who I am and – crucially – telling other people how much the blushing affected me.
I told my GP first. Then my wife and my family. Then I wrote a book about it. The more that people knew about the blushing, the less reason I had to fear it. It wasn’t my secret to live with alone, anymore. And that was a huge step away from loneliness.