You know that feeling of anxiety before you’re about to speak in front of a large crowd of people? That feeling where your chest clumps up and your palms get sweaty as you continuously read over your lines? That’s what having social anxiety disorder feels like. Except not only do you get anxious directly beforehand, but sometimes months before. And for no major reason.
The anxious person that I am tells me to plan how things will go ahead of time. Sometimes it’s planning a conversation or just worrying about entering a room without embarrassing yourself. It may sound absurd, and I wouldn’t disagree, yet for a long time I couldn’t figure out how I could stop those feelings.
I noticed the interference of social anxiety in my life fairly quickly. I was afraid of walking down the hallways at school. How am I walking? Too slow? Too fast? Where should I put my hands? Do they look awkward on the side?
I also had to pause for awhile before entering a room full of people because I was afraid they would stare at me. I needed to prepare something to say or somewhere to sit once I entered to avoid awkwardness.
I couldn’t talk to people on the phone either. I feared that if I spoke in a certain tone, I would come off as rude or uninterested, so I avoided it.
I was worried to eat in front of people. I was scared that I would get judged for the way that I ate even if I chewed with my mouth closed and even if I didn’t slurp my soup. There was constantly a fear of a judgment invading my mind.
Often times, my mom would ask me if I wanted to go to the mall, and without a second thought, I said no. I was terrified of leaving the house. I was scared of running into people that I knew or simply embarrassing myself in front of others. I felt like I had to walk, talk, eat, and speak a certain way. When I thought about it realistically, even at the time, I knew it really wouldn’t matter. I knew it was unlikely that anyone would pay so much attention to me as to judge me, but I just feared not knowing. It’s like that tippy-toe feeling, just waiting for something to happen even if you doubt it ever will.
In my freshmen year of high school, it got worse. My math teacher randomly called on students in class to answer questions, and if they didn’t have the correct response, she would indirectly bully them – whether it was by eye-rolling or saying something along the lines of, “How do you not know this?” Honestly she never really ridiculed me as poorly as she did to some of the other students, but the possibility frightened me. I was originally in her 5th period class but asked to switch to 1st period in order to have the class earlier in the day and ‘get it over with.’ That made me a lot less anxious because I no longer anticipated going to her class as much. But this change in my schedule only temporarily solved the problem with this particular teacher. If I was put in a scenario similar to this in the future, I would be faced with the same challenge, and in this case, I was lucky to escape it. I have recognized that it is more important to overcome anxiety rather than avoid it. And I have been making steps towards recovery, but it’s a process that takes years of practice, and for me, therapy and medication.
Living with social anxiety disorder, as you can probably tell, isn’t easy. Clearly it affects every aspect of my life, social and non-social, and like most other mental illnesses, interferes with my daily life. But it is a tiny part of me. I have fully accepted the disorder that I have, but I aim my focus towards helping other people find confidence and encourage people to educate themselves about mental illnesses.
You can find this piece on the No Stigmas website here: http://nostigmas.org/blog/uncertainty?rq=social%20anxiety