What is social anxiety disorder? Is it real, surely it is just someone being shy and awkward, and an excuse to get away with it?
Yes, yes it is a real thing.
It is difficult, when people are quick to judge and slow to understand. Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is one of the most common anxiety disorders; the NHS choices website description, and symptoms are listed as:
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) is a persistent fear about social situations and being around people. It’s one of the most common anxiety disorders. Much more than just “shyness”, social anxiety disorder causes intense, overwhelming fear over what may just be an everyday activity like shopping or speaking on the phone. People affected by it may fear doing or saying something they think will be humiliating. Social anxiety disorder disrupts normal life, interfering with social relationships and quality of life, and impairing performance at work or school. It’s generally more common in women than men and often starts in adolescence, or sometimes as early as childhood.
What are the signs of social anxiety disorder?
Teens and adults with social anxiety disorder may:
dread everyday activities such as:
talking in groups or starting conversations
speaking on the telephone
talking to authority figures
eating or drinking with company
have low self-esteem and feel insecure about their relationships
fear being criticised
avoid eye-to-eye contact
misuse drugs or alcohol to try to reduce their anxiety
They may just fear one particular situation, such as speaking on the phone, or all social situations.
Sometimes, the fear and anxiety of a social situation can build up to a panic attack, a period of usually just a few minutes when the person feels an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety. There may be physical symptoms too, such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling and having heart palpitations. These feelings reach a peak and then pass rapidly. They are alarming but cannot cause any physical harm.
Other mental health problems,
Many people with social anxiety disorder will also have another mental health problem, such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some people may have a substance or alcohol misuse problem, as they use drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with their anxiety.
I can safely say, that it fairly accurately sums up my own fears and insecurities, and if think I tick almost everything on their list. And recently things have been getting harder to balance. My home, is my safe space. Alone, within my own four walls I am safe. I have no need for defences, and can let my guard down and relax a little. My world is secure there. But that all changes as soon as I step out of the door, and have to go anywhere or do anything. More and more, that is becoming a challenge.
I am terrified to go out, and be in a crowd of people. The watching faces, the burning on the back of my neck, the judging eyes. The short walk from my front door to car is agonising. It feels as though it is a marathon, though it is in reality probably a minute or little over. I can’t cope in groups, even now those of my friends. I panic, my palms are clammy, my heart races and I feel lightheaded and feint. With my friends. People I know, and trust. People I love, and care for. Amplify it several fold for general groups and crowds of strangers. It never used to be this bad. I don’t know what has happened but I’m definitely struggling to cope.
I can’t make eye contact. With anyone. I feel sick at the thought of eating out, in public, or with friends and family. Travelling on public transport. Being in confined spaces with a crowd of people.
I feel like a wreck. A complete and utter wreck.
How then, do you go out still, and do things? With great difficulty. Great, great difficulty. Last weekend, we had a few trips out. Getting the train over to Edinburgh to see The Lion King was the most uncomfortable hour’s journey ever. The musical itself was superb, the costumes and staging were incredible. But the few hours in the theatre were horrific. I felt like I was lost, and drowning in a sea of people I couldn’t avoid. The fear of losing grip on Chris’ arm and turning round to find him swept away as people came between us was immensely overpowering.
I think I’m losing grip on myself, in the process. I’m scared to go to work, not helped by some bad times there. Scared to go shopping. Scared to walk the dog. Scared to be anywhere I might have to see people. Right now, I just need the safety of my home. Without having to see people. Without having to go places. Without anything.
Things are getting so on top of me, I’m comfort eating a disgusting amount, and dread to think how much weight I’ve piled on. Add it to the insecurities of not wanting to be around people and I wonder when I will ever be able to work up to being comfortable going out.
Forcing myself to go out is pushing the limits of what I can cope with, and I think it’s become all too much. I think I’ve been pushed beyond where was safe and sensible and I’ve broken completely. I feel empty, and rock bottom. I can’t stop crying. And I feel physically sick at the thought of leaving.
Social anxiety is a very, very real thing. It is incredibly challenging to cope with. The effects it has are physical, as well as mental. Coping is by no means easy.