Social anxiety has been a huge problem for as long as I can remember; the feelings were there years before I was able to attribute a name to them. I often feel like the name itself does not do the feelings justice. You could be forgiven for thinking that “social” anxiety only manifests itself in the face of afternoon teas and nights out. Sadly, that isn’t the case.
In my experience, social anxiety can affect every interaction from the super benign (bumping into a friend on the school run) to the pretty huge (job interviews). This anxiety makes me unreliable because I often just want to stay at home where it is safe rather than getting out and facing all the possible interactions that might occur in a single day. It can make me appear unfriendly when that isn’t the case at all. It can invoke feelings of paranoia where I am convinced people hate me even though they are probably just not speaking to me because I’ve spent the previous few days avoiding eye contact and running away. It really does affect all aspects of life, particularly when a trigger has been activated.
Social anxiety, as the name suggests, definitely does make social gatherings very difficult, but it certainly does not stop there. For example:
Sometimes, I find myself leaving late for the school run to avoid having to speak to other parents;
I go out of my way to cross the road in a quiet place so I don’t have to make eye contact with drivers and risk the embarrassment of having to cross the road in front of them;
I always use self-service checkouts so I don’t have to speak to cashiers;
If I am on my own, I always stand on public transport so I don’t have to risk sitting beside a stranger and, even more terrifying, having to ask them to move when my stop comes before theirs;
I can’t make phone calls unless I’m alone and even then I don’t until I really can’t avoid it;
I also don’t answer the phone;
I can’t relax at the cinema unless I have a front-row or aisle seat;
Ditto aeroplanes (ugh, aeroplanes! I have no fear of flying but the fear of embarrassing myself in front of the inevitable stranger that is sat beside me = HUGE);
Job interviews make me feel like I’m going to panic myself to death;
I can’t lead group time at work, which is awkward, but I just can’t do it;
I find social situations even with my very best friends stressful and it takes me a while to warm up (I typically start to feel comfortable just as it’s about time to go home);
I can’t cope with something out of the ordinary happening unexpectedly, no matter how innocuous;
Spontaneous social gatherings are a source of panic rather than excitement;
I can’t face the thought of getting married because I wouldn’t be able to walk down the aisle or speak in front of a group of people.
I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. Social anxiety affects so many aspects of life and just makes normal, everyday things really difficult. It even took me 12 years to work up the courage to consult my GP and start getting help to manage the symptoms because speaking about how I felt to a stranger was, you’ve guessed it, anxiety-inducing.
Even knowing that people know I’m anxious about a situation makes it worse. So instead of talking about it I’ll just leave this here and pretend I said nothing at all.
As you were.