An Inside Track On Living With Social Anxiety Disorder
What IS Social Anxiety Disorder, Exactly?
Social Anxiety Disorder is a mental illness which affects many people in the United States, and almost nobody knows exactly what it is, unless they are diagnosed with it, and even then... THAT person suffering from this can't clearly explain, and as my mom would say, "Google it!" You can Google it all day long, but unless you ask someone who's suffering from this type of mental disorder, there's only the "textbook" definition, which is a generalized definition.
I have Social Anxiety Disorder MYSELF. I was diagnosed with it 10 years ago, at the age of 27. I'm now 37, turning 38 in 3 months as of today's date. I've had this disorder all my life, and never quite understood what it was, until it was diagnosed on me. I can explain from my points of view, if you care to read on...
As a kid, I've never had the guts to stand in front of my classmates and teacher, to deliver any kind of speech. Any time I was called upon by the teacher, I preferred to stay under the radar and just take an F. I knew my parents wouldn't be too thrilled by this, but what was I supposed to do? Just hide the fact that I'm easily embarrassed and have a huge fear of public humiliation? No. I will not. And, I never have spoken in front of my classmates. I just turned my required assignment in after class, but always took an F for the speech part of the assignment.
I do not like it now, and have never liked being in the spotlight. Not at family gatherings, not in social gatherings, classroom settings, none of it. I was picked on as a kid, maybe because I had to take a "special" class for my IEP learning program at school. I have certain things that prevent me from learning like everyone else. I required one on one counsel for assignments I couldn't complete within a classroom setting.
I got made fun of for being ugly mostly. I still get picked on for that, but whatever. The root of my Social Anxiety Disorder began in my childhood by my peers making fun of me, which eventually led to me not attending classes at school, didn't raise my hand even if I knew the answer to something, because I didn't want to be laughed at anymore. Any time the teacher chose me to answer something, my heart sank, as everyone stared, waiting for me to respond.
I choked up, got so nervous, that the "butterflies" in my stomach were working overtime, and I couldn't answer the question, so I just said, "I don't know", hoping to dodge anymore attention on me, but the teacher said, "No, that's not an acceptable answer." So, I said, "To be honest, I don't like all this attention on me, so pick someone else to answer the question, and I'll just take an F." The teacher was like, "Alright, suit yourself." and my peers were all smirking and staring, and usually I didn't speak up when I had a problem, but that day, I had to. So, I shouted, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU STARING AT??" And, without waiting for any kind of response, I grabbed my notebooks, my backpack, put everything in my backpack, and got up to leave. As I was getting up to leave class, the teacher said, "Melissa, come see me after class." I looked at her like she was stupid, and I said, "No.", and with that, just walked out of class.
School was tough. I didn't care for it, and it was mainly because I didn't like being put on the spot. I never stayed after school or class, because I just had lost all interest in studying and learning. It wasn't that I wasn't smart enough to do it, because I'm highly intelligent, but... The fear of embarrassment got in the way of my studies. I did some of my assignments, but overall, I tried not to raise my hand, and tried my hardest to grab a seat in the back of the classroom, but was unable to do so most times, because... The teachers had us all seated in alphabetical order, according to our last names.
Since MY last name starts with E, I was always seated in the first two rows. I hated it. I had a part in a school play when I was like in 4th or 5th grade, and the play was hosted in the cafeteria, where there was a stage next to where everyone ate.
When I thought I had my part memorized, which was only a small sentence, I was late coming out to the stage when it was my turn. So, I ran out on stage, said my part, and then ran back behind stage, where I could conceal my embarrassment. I hated it.
I got laughed at a lot in my life, and even currently have people calling me ugly and making me feel less than human. Only today, my self esteem and my ability to face anything or anyone outside of my house is impossible. It's damaged, I'm damaged mentally.
When I'm invited somewhere, I politely decline, because I don't want to be put on the spot, I don't want to be stared at by anyone, and I'm no good at socializing. When I have to go to a store like Walmart, I try to do the self checkout, and I try to get it done fast, because when people stand behind me at a checkout stand, I get so nervous, that in order for me to save myself from embarrassment, or what I think is embarrassment, I could have a panic attack and just leave the cart of items there and run out of the store.
The "official" definition of Social Anxiety Disorder, is anyone who fears public places, fears the presence of a lot of people, fears social situations, and tries to avoid them at all costs. Well, that's me.
I do have friends, but most of them live in different states, but most of them like to socialize, have fun, and I'm all about fun too. I just don't see myself being comfortable in a group setting. My fight or flight response kicks into overdrive, and I usually don't fight the anxiety, so as far as fight or flight, I'm gone like Batman off to his next mission. Nope. Can't stay if it's too intense.
If I feel like everyone is staring at me, even if they're not, I'll leave. I'm perfect with solitude, because only I know me, and only I know what is comfortable to me, and what's comfortable to me? Staying home alone, with music on, my parakeets keeping me company, and knowing that once my bills are paid and my groceries are good for the month, that I have a choice. I can CHOOSE to go socialize with my neighbors, or I can choose to stay at home, hidden from the scariness of society.
Well, I choose to stay home and be by myself. I'm comfortable alone. SO comfortable, that I've recently pushed a guy away by ignoring his phone calls, and texts, haven't answered the phone to him, and I do like him, but I think that it's better for me to be alone. I also don't like to be smothered. Even having 1 person to hang out with in real life can be a smothering experience, and I will make any excuse to get out of hanging with that person.
Not because I don't like them, but to save myself from another failed friendship or relationship, because God knows I've been through a ton of failed friendships and few relationships, because with other people, I simply am not happy. If I'm anywhere away from my house, I try not to be gone for more than an hour, because I'm in a hurry to go be a hermit and crawl back into my comfort zone.
It may come off to most people as "that's not normal", but it's normal to me. It's comfortable to me. Mental illness is NEVER something I'd wish on anyone, enemies included, but someone like me, who DOES take medication for the anxiety, still can feel uncomfortable in certain settings. Social Anxiety is a real thing, and it's not something you can just tell someone to "get over". It doesn't work like that.
If you have a friend or relative with Social Anxiety disorder, it's a good thing to ask them what triggers this in them, because everyone is different. Me, personally, I'm just not a people person. I'm not into the fame of hanging out with people every night, not into the drama of bars, country clubs, or other social things. I'd rather just keep my circle small and drama free. This is what Social Anxiety Disorder looks like from a sufferer's world. I just basically described my world to you in few paragraphs.
I'm bringing awareness to the public about this, because it's something that needs to be paid attention to. I take my anxiety meds every day, but that doesn't guarantee that I'm not gonna have a mental shit storm of a panic attack wherever I go. Too crowded? I'm out. People staring at me? I'm out. I don't like to be the center of attention, and yes, my own self-esteem is part of it. I don't know if I'll ever recover, but even if I do, I still don't like being around people, and it does suck in someone's eyes.
But in my world, being alone in my own home is the safest place to be in my head. This is what Social Anxiety Disorder is. I hope in blogging this, that a lot more people who didn't understand it before, will understand it now.
© 2018 Melyssa Ermi