I thought I'd google 'panic smile mouth fear social' - and this forum thread came up. Reading the posts, it's exactly the same thing that has made my life such a misery, so I thought I'd sign up and share my experience.
I first discovered I had this problem in school when I was required to give a presentation. I've always been a nervous person and when I stood up in front of everyone and started it, I thought I had it all under control.
It went reasonably ok. I reached the end of the talk, my heart was pumping ten to the dozen, and the teacher started discussing the subject with me in front of the class while I was still stood up and I handled that ok too, I thought - but then something happened that I couldn't handle. The conversation became jokey.
The teacher made a quip, and I did what I'd done countless times before when I've been too nervous to smile naturally - I faked it. They say you can always tell in someone's eyes if their smile is fake. It wasn't too much of a problem in this instance because I figured people couldn't spot it from this distance. But still, it took effort. The other giveaway is how quickly the smile vanishes from the face, and I was conscious of that.
The teacher had a reputation as being a bit of an aggressive guy - not physically but mentally. A very smart, very domineering man. And he started laughing and cracking jokes at my expense - banter I suppose most people would call it. To my horror I found that I was too anxious to be able to smile properly.
This was awful because I was desperate for people to not think that I was arrogant and couldn't laugh at myself - so with 50 students all watching, I tried to smile again, and suddenly one side of my face (from the corner of the mouth up to my eye) twitched so violently and unexpectedly that it stunned me. I don't mean a single twitch. I mean it started twitching and kept doing it, and wouldn't stop. It lasted for what felt like minutes. Everyone was sat there watching me, with looks of either bemusement or extreme pity on their faces, some openly laughing.
I knew I couldn't possibly just run out of the room without making it worse, so I forced myself to stay stood there, twitching like a sad pathetic crazy thing, trying harder to smile with them, and twitching more violently as a result. The ******* of a teacher, instead of sensing my discomfort, seemed to ramp up the aggression and it just became worse - my whole face was contorting almost like I was having a fit. I really thought I was going to pass out. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of sheer hell, I was invited to sit back down. I walked to my seat, sat down, and knew that my life had just ended.
Since then, the fear of recurrence has resulted in many awkward moments especially in social situations where banter and humour flies back and forth. I used to have friends who, like most males of a certain age, would show their bonding by ribbing and mocking each other. I know, it's kind of backwards but it's a guy thing isn't it? Anyway often I would be the butt of a concerted mocking episode, and my smile would fail me. I'd be desperate for them not to think I couldn't handle a joke at my expense - but that's how I'd be coming across, like I had no sense of humour. In the end it got so bad that I broke contact and moved away.
That was over 20 years ago and I have never properly recovered from that school experience. If I could sum up the one recurring emotion in my life now, it's embarrassment. Humiliation. A total inability to ever convey dignity and authority. I feel like a boy in a man's body. And wow has it held me back. Also I now blush at everything - even when I'm by myself I can read something and blush with a kind of empathy of what the person I'm reading about might be feeling. I'm a 40 year old man. It's pathetic. I regularly feel suicidal about what kind of adult I've become.
It might be relevant to mention that both my parents suffer from extreme social anxiety (my mother couldn't even attend my brother's wedding, it's that bad), so in terms of genes and upbringing I suppose I had this stacked against me! My brother is also very shy and introverted but not nearly as bad as me.
This is the first time I've ever recounted that day or this problem to anyone - I've never even told my family, but it changed my life forever. I was one of the brightest people at school and offered a place at the country's top university. My zero confidence led me to reject their offer - I know, madness - and I've been on minimum wage jobs ever since. I'm trying to save up enough money to buy some hypnosis sessions with a therapist, hoping that will help. Positive thinking books are also useful. Mostly I just shun social situations and come alive on the internet where I can appear like a fairly regular normal person. Thank god for the internet.
And thank you for reading.