I wrote this almost two years ago. A LOT has changed since then, I am far more social and calm now compared to how I was when I wrote this note on my personal Facebook account for ALL of my friends and family to see. It’s still a struggle sometimes and I have more of my journey to go, so a lot of the content still applies. I wrote this to help other people better understand what I was going through.
It was also written to help people who have a social anxiety disorder explain to people who do not suffer from the disorder, how it feels.
Please feel free to share this link or use some of what I have written to explain your own feelings to your own friends and family.
Honestly I was so afraid to post this on my own Facebook (especially considering everyone who I went to high school with could see it) but the reception I got was so good that it was one of the first things that inspired me to create this blog.
So here it goes…..
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD or SA) if you aren’t already clued up, is an almost paralysing fear of social interaction. It’s a phobia, that brings on extreme emotional and physical difficulties when the sufferer is placed in a social situation. It’s a serious medical condition that can damage and often completely kill the ability to enjoy normal interactions and moments where other people are involved.
Outsiders with little understanding may utter things such as “get over it” or “we all feel nervous or shy sometimes”, but SA is far more than the butterflies or the passing worry that you get when going to a job interview or starting a new school, it’s far more involved and debilitating than that. A Social Anxiety sufferer can easily feel tortured for days by the fear of simply having to leave the house, or walking into a supermarket. I know that for me it takes me several hours to gear up the courage to leave the house to go to the shops alone, and that’s a vast improvement to where I was a fair few years ago.
No matter how disruptive or even catastrophic the disorder can become and no matter how many medical practitioners will tell you that it is one of the most common psychological disorders, it is still not treated like any other disability and there is very little awareness about how serious the illness can be.
I run my own business, and it is very hard to describe to people how difficult that can be when you are an SA sufferer. Most people assume because you have a business where you meet new people constantly, that you are cured. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is true that my SA has dramatically changed over the last few years, mostly due to the immeasurable amount of work that I have put in to try and change myself, but I am far from being cured. I don’t sleep because I can never relax, ever. I don’t enjoy time off or even quiet times to myself, because I will be in a state of panic over the next job I have to complete. I panic when I have to send emails, using the telephone to contact a client may be the most horrifying experience I will have all week, I feel physically sick over having to get transport or being able to find the location, or how confident I come across or don’t come across on shoots, or whether my pictures will be good enough for the client. If I get a client who isn’t entirely happy with a product for whatever reason even if it is not my fault.. well.. that pretty much makes me near suicidal.
And that’s just my business life, my personal life rarely includes social interaction. I manage to have friends round to my house or vice versa or on quiet occassions meet a friend at a coffee shop, or go to the cinema (providing it is the exact same cinema I have already been to a million times), but parties are most definitely out of the question, birthday drinks at a bar are usually out of the question, seeing my friends bands live? pretty much safe to assume that will be out of the question. In fact, I usually go months without seeing a single friend. As some of you know it’s very hard indeed to find friends that understand, and most of the time you find yourself making elaborate excuses not to go to an event, or at least praying that a great excuse will just land into your lap. It’s even harder sometimes when you find that you’ll have a panic attack if you do go to such an event, but you’ll also have a panic attack if you don’t turn up. What is a girl to do?!
The fear is so arresting, that on days just like today where I am working from home and for some reason feel worse than other days, I will not be able to eat because I can’t leave the house to buy food, I will not be able to walk through my hall just in case someone comes to the front door and see’s that I am inside through the window, and I will most likely not be able to perform all my normal daily duties because of the severe depression that is usually caused by my failure to overcome the fear.
It saddens me that people still say that it’s silly and wrong to feel this way, especially when any mental illness regarding fear is irrational in it’s very definition. People need a wider understanding of invisible illnesses before making remarks that belittle our disorders. Social Anxiety Disorder has been the biggest part of my life, all of my life, and it’s something I keep almost secret, and it’s certainly something I don’t talk about with my friends and even most of my family. It’s a shame that people like me feel the need to hide it, and people who don’t understand it are unaware of the amount of hard work and painful occasions we have to put ourselves through just to blend in to normal society.