Red Face by Russell Norris is a memoir of living with social anxiety disorder—with a twist.
The red face of the title comes from a condition the author has called idiopathic craniofacial erythema, which produces intense and often unprovoked facial blushing. He also developed erythrophobia, where blushing itself becomes a source of fear. It sounds like any socially anxious person’s worst nightmare, especially when (of course) people feel entitled to ask or comment.
The book includes information about social anxiety and reflections from the present interspersed with narrative of the past. The author gives examples of how his anxiety manifested in childhood, and then developed further with the challenges of school and exams. He writes about maladaptive coping strategies that he used, including self-harm, alcohol, and avoidance.
In university, he found himself rejected by girls, and writes: “Rejection felt like failure on a primal level, more proof that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.”
Eventually, he was able to work through the anxiety, and interestingly, having children helped, as avoidance wasn’t an option and it forced him to shift his focus outside of himself. Remarkably, he was able to do much of the work towards recovery on his own.
I quite liked this line: “Social anxiety is essentially a lifetime of holding on to all the moments that other people throw away. Forgettable moments for them, unforgettable moments for you.”
The book concludes with a chapter on why the author wrote the book and why it was important to challenge the stigma around social anxiety disorder and idiopathic craniofacial erythema. He mentions the tragic story of someone else with the same condition who ended up suiciding because the distress was intolerable.
Kudos to the author for opening up so much about deeply personal things; that’s hard to do in general, much less with a social anxiety disorder. I think it’s important to have a story out there in the world about idiopathic craniofacial erythema to offer hope to fellow sufferers, and this book does a very good job of that.
Red Face is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.