So you’ve been diagnosed with a Social Anxiety Disorder and you quickly realise how many people just think you’re “a bit shy” or using it as an excuse or even using it to get sympathy or attention. Does that sound about right? That’s if you’ve even told anyone you have it of course because let’s face it, that’s not an easy thing to do when you have social anxiety.
It might even get dismissed by some people as a “teenage thing” or a phase you’ll get over but we both know that’s a sack of crap, don’t we?
Having a Social Anxiety Disorder is far more serious than being a bit shy, having stomach jitters or going through an awkward teen phase. It can severely affect your day-to-day life. So much that you may find it extremely difficult to go to school or work, make friends and maintain friendships, do typical daily tasks that require being out of the house or in public, use the telephone, have a conversation, be seen outdoors, go to events/parties, try new things… shit, even having the smallest of responsibilities can fuck you up. It can be hard telling people what social anxiety really feels like because it’s often confusing and complex to us.
Obviously social anxiety affects everyone in different ways and something that one person may find difficult may not be the same for another person with social anxiety, we may not all be triggered the same way or have the same level of severity but one thing is for sure, if we don’t treat it or get a handle on it, it can stop us from living our lives properly.
What Social Anxiety really feels like for me
Social anxiety is the debilitating fear that freezes me half way through a sentence, that makes me clam up and turns my pumping blood into hot lava. It fabricates a story in my head to convince me that people hate me. A peculiar kind of brainwashing which has me believe that I’m mocked by everyone and I can’t do anything right. It has gotten so good at persuading me into thinking these cruel things about myself, that I often forget they’re not real.
Social anxiety is the monster under my bed, who wakes me up at 3am and insists that I over analyse one minuscule thing that I said 13 years ago. It routinely tells me to abandon sleep so that I can play out every possible scenario in my head that may happen the following day, the rules are that I must always think of the worst outcome conceivable and then I must assume that only that can happen and nothing good can feasibly come from anything I say or do.
It tells me not to go to work just like it told me not to go to school, it warns me only bad things will happen if I did. Sometimes I listen and I stay at home in a duvet cocoon of self loathing and guilt.
When I try to do something that it tells me not to, I feel a rope tying a knot inside my stomach so tight that I could vomit. The rope travels up and twists itself around my chest until my breathing is constricted. I can’t stop shaking, my muscles tense so violently, it terrifies me. Filling me with dread, my heart beats at an accelerated pace while uncertain thoughts race through my mind at high speed. Everything goes so fast until I realise that Social Anxiety is beating me. It’s crushing my head and I think I’m dying.
Occasionally it will convince me to push people away. Friends, relationships. It convinces me to avoid seeing them and it tells me they don’t really like me even though they do.
It exhausts me in every possible way. Especially when I don’t give it the attention it wants. It takes all the strength and discipline I have to ignore it tugging at me everyday. Even when it tells me to run and hide from the outside world. Even when the noises of people around me is too overwhelming. Even when it whispers at me that I’m not good enough. Even when I have to make a phone call and it tells me that I won’t be able to do it. Even when things aren’t going to plan and it screams at me to retreat.
The more I listen to Social Anxiety, the bigger the platform I give to it and the more it kills my ability to enjoy or experience anything.
It wins when I haven’t left the house for days and tortures me until I feel useless as a person. It wins when I don’t see my friends for weeks and when I struggle to go and buy my own food. It wins when I don’t try things that I really want to do. It won when I dropped out of school and when I quit my first job. It won when I spent months at a time stuck inside, not seeing daylight. It won when I cancelled plans to go to parties, or out with friends and when I did go out and didn’t enjoy myself at all. It won as I watched my friends go to University and travel the world while I stayed at home and felt sorry for myself. It won when I tried to end my life.
Social Anxiety is the burden I have carried around for as long as I can remember. It isn’t just being a bit shy.