My primary goal of this article is to make people feel better about having social anxiety disorder and also bring more awareness to this one particular part of mental illness. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America describes social anxiety as “…the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations: Social anxiety disorder can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer from it. This disorder isnotsimply shyness that has been inappropriately medicalized.”
People suffer in different ways, but my struggle with S.A.D. has affected my livelihood in ways that are hard to explain or rationalize. It has affected my ability to have social and romantic relationships, has made me feel powerless, alone, and even ashamed. While I recognize that I can act, feel, think excessively and unreasonably, I often still succumb to fear. My anxiety has cost me meaningful relationships with friends and family, has led me away from better-paying and more prestigious jobs, has paralyzed me in school and job interviews, and affected my ability to date romantically. I cannot speak for everyone, but my struggle has become my identity and getting past that has been and will continue to be difficult. I sometimes feel as though life will pass me by and I won't care.
I personally get flustered and stutter when I have basic conversations with people.
I avoid situations where I need to small talk.
It is usually very difficult to get out of bed.
Weeks will go by before I realize I haven’t talked to my parents, friends, etc., but to me that is enough because of how little social interaction I have grown accustomed to having.
I often recluse so as to never embarrass myself.
I never want there to be awkwardness in a conversation, and so I avoid most conversations altogether.
I obsess over what I consider “poor” conversations sometimes even weeks, months, or years after they happen.
I have suffered physical effects also, including headaches, muscle aches, and shortness of breath/panic attacks.
The ADAA estimates that 36 percent of people with social anxiety disorder report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help. I was thirteen when I first started feeling this way, but I didn’t speak up or receive treatment for a very long time. I frankly didn’t know what I was feeling, and I think more than anything I was scared. I can say that by talking to medical professionals in this field I felt a lot better. Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are still relatively mysterious to many scientists, and there is not a clear treatment for the symptoms many individuals experience.
What I want you to know is that you are not crazy. You are human. You are beautiful, and you are loved. This disorder should not define you, because even from within your confines, you have so much to offer this world. Surround yourself with understanding friends and family, and seek healthy treatments that work for you. There are resources out there to help, you just have to be open to help. It has taken me many years to realize this, but as a 22-year-old, I finally feel confident that this is a life I can manage, and I have the utmost confidence you can, too.