Before I get into this blog post, I want to make it clear that I am not writing this looking for validation or for others to boost my self-esteem. Social anxiety is a top mental illness, and I am sharing my experiences so that you might see yourself in them and realize you aren’t alone.
I would rather pull my eyeballs out than ask someone for help finding an item at a store. Why? They might think I’m stupid for wanting the particular item. They might think that the thing I want to buy is dumb, and I’m dumb for wanting it. I am afraid of their judgement. And what if they don’t have it? I was at Target the other day, and an elderly woman was asking an employee for a phone to put on the wall of her kitchen. One with a cord. The employee told her Target no longer carried them, and neither did Wal-mart or Best Buy. I was so embarrassed for the lady. I will use up tons of my valuable time trying to find something, when simply asking someone for help would solve the problem. Because what if I’m like Target lady, and the employee later tells her friends, “This crazy lady came in today and asked for a phone with a cord! What is this, 1984?” This is 100% true, and not an exaggeration.
I got the title quote from Murray Stein MD and Jack Gorman MD in their essay “Unmasking Social Anxiety Disorder“ which appeared in Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. I think it sums up social anxiety disorder (or SAD) quite well. I work around my illness. I go out of my way to avoid situations that will cause me stress or pain.
Drs. Stein and Gorman identify SAD with this factor, the one I want to focus on in this post: “[Sufferers of SAD] crave the company of others but fear being found out as stupid, unlikeable or boring.” A to the Men.
I love people. I want to be around people. I love hearing people talk and learning about their lives. But people scare me. What if they don’t like me? I truly believe that I am unlikeable. I want to do things with others, but what if everyone turns down my invitation to dinner? My fear gets in the way of my desires. If someone doesn’t answer my text 5 seconds after I send it, I automatically assume they hate me. If someone doesn’t answer their phone when I call, I automatically assume I’ve done something to make them angry. And let’s be honest: it’s hard to maintain a friendship with someone who needs so much reassurance. I’ve lost friends because of my illness. This then leads to depression and isolation.
There is physical pain as well. Whenever I feel slighted, or had my feelings hurt, my chest hurts. I feel like I’m going to cry all the time. I feel heavy. Emotionally, I feel unlovable, powerless and embarrassed. Feeling embarrassed or humiliated are hallmarks of this illness.
I never feel good enough. I never feel like I am good enough to be someone’s friend. Why would anyone want to hang out with me? It is a cycle of self-destruction, one which never seems to end and impacts my life on a daily basis.
I realize this is not a happy or fun topic, but I think it’s important. I’m going to continue this discussion this week with more information on SAD. There’s so much to talk about. And some of it is funny and there are some good things about it. And remember: you are not alone. This is super common, and can be fixed.