Melbourne academic Benjamin Habib didn't think twice when he was invited to talk about North Korea's recent rocket launch on live TV. He knew the topic well and has often written and spoken about it in the media.
But it turned out to be "the worst public embarrassment of my career".
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Every public speaker's worst fear
By his own admission, North Korea expert Dr Benjamin Habib's live TV interview quickly turned into an excruciating embarrassment. Vision courtesy ABC
Despite the best efforts of ABC24 News Breakfast presenters Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland to coax him out of his terror, Dr Habib froze in front of the nation as the cameras rolled.
"In doing the News Breakfast interview I inadvertently thrust my lifelong battle with severe anxiety into the public domain", Dr Habib wrote in a courageous personal blog post which is attracting thousands of readers.
Training, preparation and repetition had helped him master the public speaking expected of him as an academic. But he "did not sleep a single minute" between accepting the invitation on Sunday afternoon and doing the interview on Monday morning. Instead he "ruminated endlessly on what I would say in the interview, what I would wear and how I would get to the ABC studio".
After being shown into the studio, miked up and introduced to Trioli and Rowland, Dr Habib, a lecturer in international relations at La Trobe University, felt "instant discomfort" at the "claustrophobic environment" crammed with cameras, auto-prompter screens, computer screens and TVs. As the tech guys were counting in the live camera feed, "I could feel my whole body overload with adrenaline as my entire physique heated up, my muscles deadened and my skin began to vibrate as if being shocked with a mild electric current".
When Michael Rowland asked him the first question, Dr Habib froze. "As I realised that seconds were ticking away without me forming a coherent answer, the physical anxiety reactions intensified. I babbled and stumbled, my carefully prepared comments slipping away from my conscious awareness.
"Michael and Virginia, seeing that I was struggling, asked prompting questions in an effort to change tack and help me out of the hole.
"With every question they asked I struggled even more as my anxiety symptoms took complete command of my body and mind. Finally I gave in and said "I can't do this".
Rowland and the editors quickly threw to the next story. As soon as the live feed cut, Trioli grabbed his arm and said "Don't worry, it's OK". But Dr Habib was in "complete shock" and "absolutely devastated".
"All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole away from human contact".
Although reliving the disastrous interview was "excruciating", Dr Habib said he hoped writing about it might help his students and other people with anxiety to "normalise mental health as an issue".
"In our university student community, I can't tell you how many times I have had students crying in my office because they are struggling emotionally with juggling study, work, social environments and often traumatic baggage. I have highly intelligent students who are so racked with anxiety that they can't write a single word for an assignment."
Academics, too suffered psychologically from the competing demands of an intense workload. But "If I can help someone with anxiety feel better about themselves then my shitty experience on national television will have been worth it", Dr Habib wrote. He said he had been overwhelmed with supportive messages from friends, family, colleagues and even viewers around the country.
Dr Habib told Fairfax Media he wanted to use footage of the incident as a teaching resource. He said he was "blown away" by the response to his story: "I just wanted to write something to make myself feel better and reclaim a bit of dignity but it has gone stratospherically beyond that".
He said his condition is "always going to be there" but the fact that it was out in the open was "immensely liberating" because he would no longer have to spend emotional energy trying to hide it.
"It is not something that is going to own me any more as it has done in the past," Dr Habib said. He had received messages of support from people from "all walks of life" with similar experiences. He said it was "immensely humbling" to have had the chance to articulate feelings many people shared but had not been able to put into words.