Social anxiety is something I’ve lived with for probably my whole life. As a kid, I had very few friends.
Not for the reason you might be thinking; it wasn’t because I was shy or quiet.
Back then I was bossy and mean.
Looking back on it now, I dread to think how many other kids thought of me as a bully.
I don’t recall any incidents really, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
I was smart, and being smart got me into trouble. The story I was told was that I was too smart for my own grade and was asked to be moved ahead.
My parents declined because I already had enough social problems, being younger than my class would diminish any chance I had at making any friends.
Except no one told me any of this until later in life when I was reflecting on my childhood.
Being bossy and mean might not be a symptom of social anxiety; it could just be a symptom of being a child attempting to grow up.
Either way, I had trouble with peers.
What is Social Anxiety?
“Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person’s life.”Social Anxiety Association
When I tell people I have a social anxiety disorder, they are often shocked, some going as far as to laugh it off as a big joke.
“You? No. Shut up. You’re fine.”
Maybe I’m just really good at faking it.
I think the common misconception is that social anxiety makes you an introvert. I am not an introvert.
My husband is. People are shocked to hear that too. Anyone who knows my husband would not describe him as an introvert.
He’s got such a strong online presence. He’s involved, and comments, and shares so much.
At home, he’s a man behind a computer screen.
If I were the type that wanted to go to a party, he’d come because he’s a supportive husband, but he would hate every minute of it.
Any of his friends that have partied with him would probably be shocked by this too.
He seems so comfortable, and with his closest friends, that’s not a façade. With the greater group though, he’s struggling.
It takes so much energy to pretend to be normal that by the end of the day, he’s spent.
That’s me too. Spent. It can sometimes take me a few days to recover from a social setting.
During that recovery time, I can’t usually leave the bed. I’m physically drained. It’s not depression; it’s the fallout of social anxiety.
Of course, this can lead to depression, not being able to physically leave the bed for a number of days.
It’s a big reason why I suffer, but not all the time.
Social Anxiety is Not a Constant
Think of it like having a cold. A symptom of having a cold might be sneezing.
Just because you have a cold, doesn’t mean you’re sneezing all the time, but you could sneeze at any given moment. You have to prepare yourself for it.
While I do suffer from depression, my biggest struggles come from social anxiety.
I have a constant fear of being negatively judged by any and all people I speak to.
The more strangers I come across in a day, the harder it is. I establish solid routines so as not to run into too many strangers, but I still see dozens of acquaintances every day.
Each time I speak to a person, whether it’s a friend or not, I’m constantly battling with,
- “What are they thinking?”
- “Am I saying anything I will regret?”
- “They probably don’t like me.”
- “They’re probably going to talk to all their other friends about how foolish I am.”
And the negative spiral of thoughts continues.
You know when you’re nervous; you tend to talk too much? Well, that’s me in a nutshell.
The more negative thoughts cycling through my head, the faster I speak.
I don’t know if I’m trying to drown them out, or if I’m subconsciously thinking, ‘Maybe if they know more about me, they’ll like me.”
I really don’t know. All I know is that I talk and talk and there’s no filter. I have no understanding of what ‘too much information’ is.
From an outsider’s perspective, they see a normal conversation between two people. A few jokes, a few laughs, nothing off-collar or inappropriate… seems normal.
From my insider’s perspective, I’m a hot mess. ‘What did I say?’ ‘What can I say?’ ‘What happens next?’
The worst is when I get home and mentally replay all that happened.
I go over every last detail with a fine-tooth comb, asking myself, “Should I have done anything differently?” and “Will this person still be my friend tomorrow?”
There are ways that I cope with this, and I will talk about those in the future.
Social Anxiety and How You Can Help
Right now, I want to call out to all my friends. All of them.
I just want to say thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being there. Thank you for not judging my struggles.
What can you do with someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder? Nothing. Sadly. Just continue being their friend.
It doesn’t help anyone to call out the obvious: you think too much.
Yes, I know. I know I think too much. It’s not going to stop just because you tell it to. It doesn’t stop when I tell it to. The thoughts are always there.
There will be some days when I can’t deal with people. My friends understand this.
Some will convince me to come out anyway. This is good. There are days when I need this.
When I can’t be convinced to leave the house, I need to be left alone. I’m just recuperating. I need this time to restore my energy.
I assume other people who suffer from this disorder are the same. We need more time.
We need the time to build up the energy to leave the house, and we need the time to recuperate when we come back.
To all my friends, those who suffer and those who don’t, thank you for your understanding.