Howdy all, I hope you are having a great week so far!
As you probably guessed from the title of this one, I’m not having the best few weeks right now. Before I get into it, Im not looking for sympathy, or for people to feel bad for me. I just need to get it off my chest and hopefully help people understand how shit anxiety is.
I suffer with Social Anxiety. I say suffer, most of the time I’m able to hold it together and get on with my day. Its pretty good most of the time. Despite being the most common type of anxiety disorder, it is under-recognized and under-treated. Yet virtually everyone knows what it is like to feel shy or lacking in social confidence, often to an extent that can limit opportunities and happiness. Because social anxiety issues are still relatively unknown, most people arent even aware that the thing which can have such a huge impact on their lives has a name.
Most people who know me on the surface don’t know about this. I like to talk to people, I like to portray being happy-go-lucky and just roll with it. But on the daily I have to battle with demons that make me feel like shit. Its exhausting. Its irrational. It’s NOT the same as being shy. I can’t control it when it triggers me, it just happens. I cant help it, trust me, I try really hard. But it’s not that simple.
Social Anxiety is defined by basically having a fear of social interactions. You could say social anxiety is the fear of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people, constantly wanting to ensure that you are doing the right thing and not messing everything up. ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME.
People with social anxiety are many times seen by others as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested. But that isn’t always a true reflection of the person.
Paradoxically, people with social anxiety want to make friends, be included in groups, and be involved and engaged in social interactions. Having social anxiety prevents me from being able to do the things I want to do. I don’t want to be the person in the corner not talking to anyone, but sometimes I physically cannot move my feet from the floor.
Things that can trigger this feeling include:
- Being introduced to other people in an unfamiliar environment – Weddings, Birthdays, Conferences etc make my palms sweaty AF.
- Being teased or criticized especially about work.
- Being the center of attention – in particular the above, birthdays etc. I’d rather just stay under my duvet thanks.
- Being watched or observed while doing something, even if its menial like the dishes.
- Having to talk in front of a group of people – nope.
- Feeling insecure and out-of-place in social situations (“I don’t know what to say.”)
- People cancelling plans at the last-minute – why? Why would you cancel? Do they not like me any more?
- Disagreements that can’t be easily resolved. I hate fighting with people, I detest conflict, so I’d rather just not talk to that person ever again.
The list goes on. It really is just exhausting. Every time I get an email from my boss my heart goes to my tonsils and I think to myself “that’s it I’m getting the sack” even though I know its complete nonsense. I panic a lot about upcoming events, and “negatively predict” the outcomes of such events for weeks, thinking about the worse case scenario every time. Worrying causes more worry, and it becomes a vicious cycle. The more I think about it the more time I spend worrying about the future. I make mountains out of mole hills. When the event comes I will try to be positive and put on the brave mask, I’m lucky my partner understands this now and knows when I’m feeling uncomfortable. But sometimes I just can’t wait to leave. Its nothing personal, I promise.
Social anxiety makes people like me too aware of what we’re doing and how we’re acting around others. We feel like we’re under a microscope and everyone is judging us negatively. As a result, we pay too much attention to ourselves, and worry about everyone seeming to observe and notice us. We worry about what we say, how we look, and how we move. We worry about being judged by our peers, our friends, family, even people we have never met. We‘re obsessed with how we we’re being perceived. Subsequently, it is hard for us to focus externally, live in the moment, and enjoy life.
My heart is always racing. I’m always tired. I over analyze my day. I worry constantly. I feel like I let people down. I get tongue-tied. I feel like a failure.
It’s not all doom and gloom though..
Living with social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be devastating to daily functioning. Usually, people go many years without a diagnosis of SAD and over time develop poor ways of coping (but don’t beat yourself up—you did the best you could!).
I am Incredibly lucky that I have great friends who are there for me and understand my anxiety is irrational but not a defining part of me. They get that I like quiet mate dates having lunch, coffee, cake, walks etc. and understand that to me they are some of the most important people and I adore them. They’re there for me throughout it all and that means a lot. They can confide in me and know I really value their friendship. I might not be a social butterfly but the friends I have are truly the best.
My partner understands my anxiety and actively helps me with it. He knows I struggle with big events and knows I don’t like to be fussed over, so will make sure I am ok 100% at events. He also knows when I’m not ok and when to just let me be alone with my thoughts. He helps me to get through tough events and keeps me calm, and knows that its only a small part of who I am.
Finding time to myself to allow my brain some time to process what is going on and why I feel a certain way has been paramount to my self-love. I go running, I listen to music. I run to a big field and take in the peace and quiet and allow myself some time to get my head to feel ok. The silence really is calming and after a few minutes, my head feels calm. I feel, ok. So I run off again and then eat a mars bar.
My boss knows I have anxiety. This was a big step for me as I’d never discussed my mental health at work, fearing she might think I’m going to be a liability or less of an employee. In fact, its been quite the opposite. The support I have from my employers has made things a lot easier over the last 4 months.
Embracing my disorder
Social anxiety persistently comes with isolation, and then depression, which put a tole on me the most. Because I kept rejecting my friends’ invitations, they just stopped inviting me to anything, which was a reasonable reaction. In reality, I actually liked the company, but I just can’t wrap my head around how I could enjoy it.
I didn’t want to be lonely, but that’s the price of wanting to be left alone. Every. Single. Damn. Day.
Eventually, I realized that social anxiety was basically stealing my life away from me; I had to remind myself every day that I had relationships to protect and friends to feel cared for. I told myself that avoiding the disorder meant losing to it. So I decided to come to terms with it — I welcomed it, slept with it, and greeted it first thing in the morning.
Yep. I decided to embrace my social anxiety. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m okay with crowds. But believe it or not, social anxiety actually helped me get through a lot of things and made me a better friend.
I’ve been observant for all my life, and I have a love/hate relationship with people’s expressions. They repress it so well, but if you pay particular attention, for a fleeting second you’ll see exactly what they’re feeling — disappointment, anger, ecstasy, and helplessness. Because of this, I soon learned that I’m not the only one in the room who’s vulnerable…or fragile. I may be the only one who has social anxiety, but I’m not the only one who has a trigger.
Over the years, I’ve perfected being the secret keeper. The Shoulder to cry on. And as much as I don’t like it, I’ve become a lot of people’s emotional banks. Which of course, caused my own emotional bank to overcrowd (there’s a lot of sh*t going around everyone’s lives and I’ve somehow become a sitting duck to these), fortunately, I have someone who helps me with that.
Embracing my disorder doesn’t mean I’ve cured it. But when people approach me, I make it a point to breathe deep and smile. When they talk, I listen. Eventually, listening and observing the person intently makes me feel like I’ve known them for quite some time now, which would then calm me down — as if I’m talking to an old friend.
So, my social anxiety caused me to develop characteristics that actually draw people to me.
Now, I’m not saying I’m thankful that I have social anxiety, far from it. I’d sleep a lot better for a start. I’m just saying, because I have no way of shaking this disorder off right now, I might as well take advantage of it. I’ve done anti depressants (they made me feel like shit but work really well for others) read the books and been to CBT, so why not try to make it into something good?
If you know someone who’s struggling with social anxiety, please, please be patient and understand them. If they don’t want to go out, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you as a friend. Let it rest. Give them a break. They’ll try harder if they care for you — trust me.
Fortunately, I found friends who understand my social anxiety and respect that there are days that I just can’t — top it off with a supportive and understanding partner who helps me to feel more comfortable and I know I’m really lucky. To make it up to him, I make it a point to go to group events that are important to him, while he makes sure I feel comfortable. I gotta say, life isn’t all bad, and I’m not going to let social anxiety take that away from me.
All the pictures featured are by the amazing @introvertdoodles on instagram. Marzi perfectly sums up the way introverts, anxiety and depression sufferers feel and how to help. Please show her some love!
Until next time,