What It's Really Like to Live with Social Anxiety
For those of you who know me in real life, your first impression of me was probably that I’m “quiet” or “shy”. In the least rude way possible, I hate both of those words. I’ve heard those words describe me for the last 23 years of my life. Now to be fair, before I ever knew I had severe social anxiety, I just thought I was shy, too.
To be completely honest, it wasn’t until I was out of high school that I even realized I had social anxiety. I knew I had generalized anxiety because certain situations that made me physically ill, but I guess I never noticed how bad it was when I was in social situations. Thinking back on it now, of course it was social anxiety disorder. I would completely lock up and become sort of this paranoid robot at school. I would miss weeks on end just because I was so scared of being in a classroom full of 30 kids. I would analyze my every move in the classroom and I was terrified of people acknowledging my existence.
Class presentations were a literal nightmare for me. Half the time I would ask teachers to present at lunchtime, and if that wasn’t an option, it was either a.) miss a week of school so by the time I got back, everyone was done and I didn’t have to do it, or b.) build up that little bit of courage to do it, sweat and shake tremendously and speak as fast and as quiet as possible, and then hope to God that everyone forgot what they just experienced.
Now being out of the school system for 5 years now, I still deal with social anxiety every single day. I was officially diagnosed with SAD 2 years ago by my family doctor, and then again at CAMH a year ago. Sadly, there’s not much of a cure or easy fix for social anxiety. The best thing to help overcome it is to put yourself in those situations more. Which sounds counterintuitive, but that’s what I was told. When I started working at Panera Bread right out of high school, I noticed that I had changed. Being forced to deal with customers and coworkers every day of my life made it a lot easier for me to talk to people. Not that it cured me in any way, but I took a giant leap towards getting better just by working there.
I still find it incredibly hard to talk to people and feel comfortable in situations that I’m not familiar with, but I’m working my hardest at getting better at it. Something I’ve been dealing with lately is a lot of self-loathing due to the fact that I’m 23 years old, an ADULT, who still struggles with talking to people on a daily basis. I worry that a lot of times it comes off as me being rude, which is the absolute last thing I want people to think of me. I hope that as time goes on, and if I put myself in more situations that force me to be social, it’ll get easier for me. One day I hope to be rid of Social Anxiety Disorder because some days it can truly be debilitating. Sometimes I just feel like a total loser because it seems so easy for other people to do, but impossible for me to do. But I know that no amount of self-hatred is healthy or helpful to anyone.
I wish I had known that I had severe social anxiety sooner than I did, but I’m glad that I know now, and I can deal with it and try to help it in any way that I can. I want people to realize that Social Anxiety Disorder is a huge issue for some people, and I honestly find that it’s not talked about much. So let’s change that, and talk about it more so that we can try to connect and find new ways to feel better in situations that usually make us feel worse.