So many times, I read success stories about the struggles people experience and how they overcome them. I think people find it easier to discuss the challenges they face after they have mastered them; that seems like the time when people seem most ready to divulge their problem—once it has been conquered. I face a challenge that I haven’t managed to conquer yet, but I think it’s important to share it because I’m not sure many people even give it much consideration or take it too seriously; I know I didn’t consider it to be serious problem until I fully accepted that I suffered from it. I have social anxiety, and for years it has complicated my quality of life.
I was more or less officially diagnosed with the problem not too long ago, but I have been aware that I suffered from a social phobia since I was in high school. I remember (rather vividly) taking a date to the movies and waiting in line (in the middle of winter) to go inside the theatre. I don’t know what triggered the anxiety then, but I broke out into a terrible sweat—so bad that my hair was wringing wet in what seemed a matter of seconds. I couldn’t really concentrate on what my date was saying to me, and everything just seemed a blur because all I wanted to do was get out of the situation as quickly as I could. After a number of incidents similar to that, I began to withdraw quite a bit from much social interaction, and I have been somewhat reclusive ever since.
In college, I began to go out more and interact with friends, but only when in small groups and in settings where I felt familiar and secure. I actually thought by doing this that I had overcome a lot of my social phobia on my own. I no longer felt so panicked that I couldn’t think clearly nor did I break out into sweats, but people would often ask me, “Why are your cheeks so red?” I’m still asked that even now, on occasion, when I venture out to meet up with friends. I usually say it’s the ruddy cheeks from my Scottish heritage, but the truth is, I suppose it stems from the social anxiety.
The feelings I have related to the anxiety often seem as impossible to control (and predict) as my blushing, and they significantly impede me from participating in a lot of activities that I would really like to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I have let friends down by backing out (sometimes at the last minute) on meeting up at a bar or nightclub, sometimes even just for dinner or drinks, because my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I don’t even consider the form of social anxiety I have to be debilitating (I have no fears or hesitation with speaking in public, for example), so I can’t imagine what people who have more serious cases than I do must go through. But I know the daily difficulties a person with this problem faces and the embarrassment it causes.
A lot of my friends think I enjoy being a homebody, and I have probably done a lot to perpetuate that idea of me rather than explain about my social anxiety and why I have it. I honestly don’t know all of the reasons that the problem came about, and the ones I have come to realize are extremely private and too personal to share with everyone I know. That makes it harder to communicate why I might be uncomfortable meeting up at an unfamiliar setting or going somewhere that I don’t know all the people, so I am very guilty of telling friends I was just staying in for the evening or I wanted to catch up on my DVR that night. The truth is, I most often would like to get out of the house and do something, but I am struggling with my anxiety and worry it might become an issue if I try. I have often even convinced myself “you’re going to this!” and showered, changed, and headed out to the venue only to drive there, pass by it, and circle back home because I have convinced myself during the drive that I have no business being there.
It is absolutely the most frustrating feeling I have ever experienced in my life, and even though I want badly to conquer it, it’s a daily struggle that seems constantly to change. Some days, I think I can go out and have a great time and I do; other days, I wake up thinking there’s no way I’m going to leave the house today. I know this problem has cost me a lot of wonderful time and experiences with friends, as well as friendships and relationships because I appeared a flake or uninterested in meeting. I have made some strides in overcoming it, though, but it’s a constant challenge that I deal with and am working hard to improve.
I know I’m not the only person who suffers from this, and I believe that in sharing, I am helping myself a little by opening up and putting the information out there. Maybe “outing myself” with the problem can somehow propel me to be more social, even if it’s painful at times. I’m also sharing this to let others who struggle with social phobias see what someone like them experiences, and I hope this will also help those who are fortunate enough not to have a social disorder understand what their friends with these anxieties might be going through.