Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Social Anxiety

I am not a particularly social person. That is to say that while I do have friends and enjoy the company of other people, I am not fond of new interactions unless I am already aware that I have a reasonable amount in common with someone. I don't often like going out in public to places where there will be a large number of strangers, because that further encourages my social anxiety - there are PEOPLE there. I will have to INTERACT with them. What will they think about me? What if my innately weird personality grates on them? What if they do not understand or appreciate my dry, sometimes dark humor?

Please don't make me go out there.

Of course, there are those of us with social anxiety who are lucky enough to be able to manage our symptoms (think full-blown panic attacks at the store when the cashier asks us if we want paper or plastic) through innocuous methods like deep breathing, redirected thinking, and the fact that if we don't go out and do things stuff may never get done. It's a tough road to walk down but all of us manage somehow, whether it's through guided therapy, medication, or being able to somehow weather the daily storm of human interaction all on our own.

It helps when we find people that either by force or by choice we are able to communicate with - typically parents, siblings, a few close friends, and children. We can talk to those few people, or at least agree to do things with them on a semi-regular basis, without immediately having to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that despite how terrifying being around other people can be, it's at least kind of okay with these people, because they know that we are fucking nuts and they at least aren't completely bothered by it.

We are not good at communicating feelings either.

The hard part is forming those relationships outside of the boundaries of our families. At least when it's a parent or sibling or child or spouse, it's someone we more or less see every day. We become comfortable to some degree through force of habit and through the weird bond of genetics. We may never fully be secure in our surroundings, but when we're with family, we're at least somewhat sure that our particular brand of crazy won't skeeve anybody out so much that they feel the need to leave the room.

But new people? No. Forget that. I am the kind of person who, if asked to call a restaurant to place an order, will give you puppy dog eyes to guilt you into doing it or try to find a way to order online. Please do not make me interact with strangers. I don't want to answer the door when they get here. When I am out in public I will mess with my phone just to avoid making eye contact with someone. I will look at the floor or the shelves. No, guy in the store, I do not want help finding what I'm looking for and I do not have questions - partially because I have been in your shoes and I'm willing to bet that you probably don't actually know where what I'm looking for is, but also because I do not want to have to actually speak to you.

I should probably get this t-shirt so everybody goes into this situation aware of who is the problem here.

The irony is that one of the ways I combat my extreme social anxiety is by playing myself off to be an extrovert. I've been told that I can't possibly suffer from social anxiety if I'm able to channel my emotions and fears into the facade of a person who is happy about being in the limelight and who flourishes in social situations, which I think is just a great way for a person to say, "I see your coping mechanisms, and I raise you the pair of your pants that I preemptively set on fire."

Like any other problem, I've found it's really easy for someone who has never had social anxiety issues to roll their eyes and say that you just need to get over it, or things aren't really as bad as you think, or it's all in your head. Well, yes, thank you, I KNOW it's all in my head because unlike some conditions, social anxiety doesn't exactly show up as a tell-tale rash on my shoulder blades accompanied by a wheezing cough and tiny black pock marks.

I hear ya, Katherine. But if you'd just think positive thoughts that plague would go away!

What it DOES show up as is the near-constant sensation of being on the edge of a panic attack at the mere idea of having to possibly make eye contact with a total stranger. Considering the fact that I think most store employees would assume you're in the midst of some kind of demonic possession if you suddenly curled up on the floor and screamed at people to please not look at you, I'd rather learn to calm that sensation and play it off like it's no big deal - and I should note that taking it to the opposite extreme and being incredibly friendly toward everyone not only lets me appear as though I am a confident, functioning human being, but that I am not spending every last second worrying about what you think about me and how I am supposed to actually TALK to you, much less LOOK at you.

So there you go. That's how I deal with my social anxiety, and now that you know that I have it, please be kind to me if you run into me out in public.


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