I’ve talked in detail on this blog about major depressive disorder. I’ve talked about body dysmorphic disorder. Yesterday, I talked about PTSD. Today, we’re going to talk about social anxiety disorder or social phobia.
I have social anxiety disorder, abbreviated to SAD, which is the saddest abbreviation ever. Sad like Sad Pony:
From the SAD wiki I just linked:
SAD “is one of the most common psychiatric disorders, with a lifetime prevalence of 12%. It is characterized by intense fear in social situations, causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some parts of daily life. These fears can be triggered by perceived or actual scrutiny from others. While the fear of social interaction may be recognized by the person as excessive or unreasonable, overcoming it can be quite difficult. Some people suffering from social anxiety disorder fear a wide range of social situations while others may only show anxiety in performance situations.”
All of my disorders work in concert. They are incredibly co-dependent. The depression teams up with the PTSD who high five my body dysmorphic disorder to cause me anxiety over “perceived or actual scrutiny from others.” When I was a child, it was positively debilitating.
I’ve mentioned before that I was a ridiculously shy child:
I was a shy child. When I say shy, I don’t mean coy. I mean that I was so introverted that I didn’t talk to anyone, even my schoolmates, unless they talked to me first. I pretended to like things I didn’t really like just so that the few people who did talk to me would continue to do so. Even from an early age, what I liked, what I enjoyed was not the same as everyone else. I was a pretender, a big fake.
I was one of the social anxiety sufferers who feared “a wide range of social situations.” When I was a kid, SAD didn’t exist as a named thing. It was simply called “shyness.”
I’m certainly not implying that shyness isn’t a thing, because it is. I was and am shy, but the level of terror I felt just thinking about interacting with other humans as a child was above and beyond ordinary shyness.
Public speaking was an absolute hell for me. I couldn’t do it. Whenever I had to give a speech in school, I panicked. No matter how much I prepared, it never got any easier. I would black out. From the time I approached the stage to a few minutes afterward, I wouldn’t remember a damn thing. It was all a blank. People would tell me later that I was a nervous wreck, sweating and stammering, but I don’t remember any of that. My social phobia was so severe that I blocked it out to save myself from embarrassment I guess.
While public speaking was the worst thing ever, just your every day interactions were painfully difficult for me, too. Talking to classmates I didn’t know would send me into a tizzy. My palms would sweat, my heart would race, my voice would go all quiet.
Above all, I just wanted to be left alone. Alas, bullies. I was bullied throughout school because I was shy and weak and a loner–the perfect target. I never stood up for myself. I stood there covered in mud or spitballs or what have you, with my head down, just waiting for it to be over. If I can make it through this… but it would start all over again the next day. I never tattled. I never told anyone. I suffered silently by myself.
For a bunch of different reasons, I went to a lot of different schools, both public and private. Every new school I went to brought panic and hope. I panicked because it meant I lost the safety net of the few losers like me that I sat with in the cafeteria. But I was hopeful that this new school, this new set of kids might not contain a set of bullies. I hoped that maybe this time I could reinvent myself and not be such a target. Until I reached high school, this hope was dashed over and over. I was always the target, always the outcast. There was nothing I could do about it. SAD was in control and I was powerless to do anything.
By the time I was in high school, I had just about had enough of abuse. I started coming out of my shell. I stopped bowing to bullies. Instead of keeping my head down, I raised my chin up and looked them in the eye. Bullies don’t like it when you look them in the eye. They left me alone. I stopped caring what people thought of me through conscious effort and sheer determination.
I thought of them–all those teachers, regular students and bullies–as the same decaying matter as everything else. I realized that we were all humanoids of the same species. We all breathed and blinked and pooped. We were all the same. It was the most enlightening and liberating concept I’ve ever thought. When I started to panic, when I was afraid, I imagined the cellular level. I saw tiny corpuscles moving around through veins that were nearly identical to mine.
There’s nothing scary about a blood cell. Their movement is actually kind of goofy. By thinking of humans at their basest level, they were no longer scary. They were just a collection of cells like me. Anyway, it helped me get over my extreme shyness.
I’m still shy. I will always be shy. I still have SAD. I will always have SAD. While I still have a debilitating fear of public speaking and avoid it at all costs, I am no longer terrified of every day human interactions. Sometimes, it gets the better of me and I’m afraid to leave the house. Most of the time, I can manage.
For more information on SAD and what you can do about it in the US, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.