A Note About Social Anxiety

Recently, I thought I'd been making strides, but then something happened that made me realize I hadn't come nearly as far as I'd believed. I received a very nice message from a book group, asking me if I'd like to add my book to their list, which was fine, but then the woman went on to talk about a possible opportunity to organize and lead book discussions.

And I froze.

That was it, that was all that happened. I thought about talking to a group of people and my heart was in my throat, my stomach twisted up in the most gods awful knot, and I had to remind myself to breathe.

Social anxiety is not just shyness, it's not "oh, you're just introverted, lots of people are." I've spent my life with people telling me to get over it, or that it's in my head, it's not a real thing. In fact, when I didn't know what it was called, I used to try to explain it away as shyness, myself, but my friends (the people who really knew me) didn't believe me, because they didn't see that side of me when I was with them. They didn't realize that I was only able to not run and hide in a corner because they were there with me. Any loudness, or apathy I showed was a front; a facade I purposely constructed to hide me from anyone I didn't know seeing the real me.

What it is, at its very core, is a fear of other people. That's the only way to describe how it feels. I never wanted to speak up in class, even if I knew that I had the correct answer, because people would hear my voice. It wasn't until I was in my 20's that I was able to call for a food delivery, because whoever picked up the phone would hear me. If I walked down the street and there was a group of people (which meant more than 2) I would cross the street to avoid passing them. When I was in girl scouts- I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10 at this time- we were sitting around, drawing and coloring pictures, and I saw that on one of the other tables there was a color I wanted to use. So I got up, went to my mother and told her. She just shrugged, and said "So go ask them if you can borrow it." This terrified me. I became so scared, so fast, that I started crying.

Don't get the wrong idea, though. I can get up on a stage and act, or sing . . . but there's a separation. You're not showing the audience you.

The worst part of it is that people, inevitably, get the wrong impression. They see you standing off to the side, not talking to anyone, not socializing, looking off into the distance, or burying your nose in a book, and they assume that you think you're better than them, that you're too good to talk to them. That's not true, at all, and it's painful to know what's going through their heads, but not have the strength to force yourself to correct that notion.

I know I'm missing out on a lot of opportunities because of this issue, but I can't help it. No matter how I try to force myself, that fear always bubbles right back up.

I hope that by sharing this, those who have social anxiety realize you're not the only ones, and those who have no idea what it's like will have a better understanding of what this feels like.

Comments

  1. This sounds so unbelievably familiar... I could've written it myself. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

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  2. You're welcome! :) It felt right to do so, 'cause I've become increasingly aware that I'm not alone in how I feel, but how many other people like aren't aware? And there were so many times when people who didn't understand tried to "talk me out of it", and though they were well meaning, their pep-talks always had the opposite effect, making me feel like there was something wrong with me. Everyone who deals with this needs to know that it's more common, and more 'normal', than we've been allowed to think.

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  3. Exactly! It makes me feel so much better to know I'm in good company. Feel free to get a hold of me if you ever need a real pep-talk or to share war stories.

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  4. Oh! Thank you, that means a lot! *hugs* Unless hugs are too much, I can dial it back a notch. I just get excited when others understand this whole mess from the inside. :)

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  5. Hi Gerilyn, Have you thought about getting a publicist? Someone who can do all this fun stuff on your behalf? I have a close friend who has such severe social anxiety, she doesn't even enjoy being in public. Often times, I will take her grocery shopping so she can focus on just me, otherwise she gets very anxious. Anyways, she is a talented artist, and she has another friend of ours act as her assistant, engaging people on her behalf. It has worked out very well for her. She can pick and choose areas where she wants to actively partake in, and have Jenna stand in when its too overwhelming for her. Just a thought!

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    1. And it's a good thought, Kay! (sorry for the late response, my gmail had been acting hinky & I only say your comment in my email early this morning). I'm just not sure if I know anyone who'd be willing to do that for me. And I can't afford to actually hire anyone, so I'd have to rely on a friend who's willing to help out >_<

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  6. Thank you so so so so so SO much for writing this!! I came onto your blog because there was a link from a fan fiction site, and I so was not expecting this! I've been looking for youtube videos, self help books and just any kind of blog that has someone who's dealing with social anxiety so I don't feel so alone, but they all seemed to be so patronising; telling me "how to cure it" or how people got over their "social anxiety" that they had for all of 5 minutes. It made me feel so let down, like I was an anomaly, like I shouldn't have been suffering from it for my whole life and that all the 'strategies' I've been shown to get over it should have worked by now. Don't get me wrong, a lot of them have helped... somewhat. But this. This is what I really needed. Just someone who wasn't too afraid to describe how social anxiety has affected them. This has seriously made my day so much better. I would love to talk to you more about it, but honestly, once the adrenaline I felt from reading something so unexpectedly real to me wears off... I will probably shut down my laptop and hide from it like it's got the plague. I don't know if you do that, but it happens to me so often, I've stopped even being shocked/embarrassed by my behaviour. I'm 22 and I'm from London and yeah. Thanks :)

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  7. I love this. I'm crying right now, but it's definitely happy tears. You've actually made my day. Honestly, I sound like such a sap but I needed this so much! You're so brave, please keep doing what you're doing :)

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    1. Oh, dear gods- you sent this message like 3 years ago, and I never got the email about it. I don't know if you'll even get this, now, but I'm so glad that I could help you by simply sharing my experience with social anxiety. I know so many people, now, who understand what I'm dealing with, and it's a comfort not to feel alone.

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