If there’s one thing I sometimes wish I didn’t exist because of it, it would be social anxiety. For me, it’s more than the occasional nervous butterflies in the stomach when you get near a crowd, it’s more like the crippling can’t-do-anything-in-your-life kind of anxiety. Let me give an example from this very moment.
My new apartment is about 15 minutes from the main library branch in town, which is wonderful for someone like me, who is an avid reader. The problem is, I’ve been missing my library card since I was about 15 or 16. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal except in order to get it reinstated, or get a new one, I have to talk to the librarian.
And some of you might be thinking–wait a second, you’re a peer worker. Isn’t talking kind of your job? And you’d be right. And I’d feel like an idiot, as usual. But you see, being a peer worker is quite different, I’m among my own people and the conversation is more of others talking than me hogging up the space. I can handle that. I can’t handle small talk. And speaking to a librarian about a lost library card is considered small talk to my brain.
So, instead I’m sitting in the library writing this post.
I brought a few dollars with me in case I do decide to get a new card, but with the way my head is spinning and my stomach is feeling, I most likely will not be doing that today. It’s not urgent, but I would like some free reading material.
So how do people live with this? There are some people who aren’t able to step foot outside of their door, and I was one of those people until a couple years ago. What has worked for me may not work for others, but I figured I’d share some things anyway.
One thing that has helped me was getting to the root of my social anxiety. What makes me most anxious, what makes me least anxious, and where could this have started? For me, what makes me most anxious is crowds. All of the eyes and voices are overstimulating to me, and can aggravate my own voices, and I don’t like the idea of all of those eyes judging every ounce of me. Eyes bother me because I don’t want to be seen. I’ve never been seen before, not truly. When I was a kid I was taught not to be seen or heard by the actions of my parents. Therefore, when I am seen, physically or metaphysically, I am wholly uncomfortable.
What makes me least anxious is one-on-one communication. There is a lot less stimulation. There is still the risk of judgement, but there is always a risk for judgement and that is something I need to get comfortable with, not something other people need to fix. Judgement is within human nature, unfortunately, and some people don’t have the capacity to not judge. Therefore, I need to have the capacity to not care. And I’m working on that.
What fuels my social anxiety is my childhood, and perhaps a predisposition towards anxiety as well. I was yelled at a lot, chased, around a lot of drugs, alcohol, and anger. I wasn’t allowed to speak unless I was being spoken to directly, and not even then sometimes. Silence became my comfort because I knew I wouldn’t get attacked if I stayed silent.
In learning the truth behind my social anxiety I have been better able to manage it. I realize that that trauma is not everywhere. I am allowed to speak if I wish to, and allowed not to speak if I don’t wish to.
It’s easier to say than do. It’s taken a few years of practice, a lot of tears, a lot of frustration, self-harm, suicide threats, hospitalizations–not all related to social anxiety, but in one way or another those experiences have pushed me further towards being less socially anxious, particularly being in the hospital where I have no choice but to “live” with other people.
What has also helped me has been telling people about my social anxiety. I tell people about my paranoia, about delusions, and my mild hallucinations and in doing that I’ve learned to really, really, REALLY not care what people think, because I’m forcing them to judge me. And if you tell someone that when a celebrity dies, their spirit lives with you, they are going to judge you, trust me.
But telling people about my social anxiety has helped them also become aware of what makes me uncomfortable and what makes me comfortable, and that has been really helpful for me. There are some people who don’t care, and there will always be people who don’t care. But of the few that do, it’s been really helpful.
Everyone is at a different level of their anxiety. Mine was severe, to the point where I didn’t leave my house and if I did I would cry, shake, and have a panic attack. It’s now to the point where I can pick and choose some days to step outside, have some fun, and explore my limits. It takes work and dedication. But severity can be reduced. And that’s today’s Mental Truth