People Scare Me: The Realities of Social Anxiety Disorder
Growing up, I never really saw myself as a confident person. I recall that my earliest memory of being shy around people occurred in preschool. As we did our usual routines and some children were trying to talk to me, I felt uncomfortable with myself.
Something about new situations always bothered me. I always perceived new situations as negative, that they are something to endure until the day is done. Even as a young child, I was overly self-conscious, to the point that I couldn’t carry a conversation because I kept thinking that other people were noticing weird things about me.
My self-consciousness got worse when a popular girl in my class bullied me. She stepped on my books and mocked me as I tried to pull them away from her shoes. Another student made fun of my lunch, saying that it looked like “poop.” Another girl said we could be friends if I paid her some of my snack money every day.
Even as a young girl who was barely seven years old, I felt a sense of shame about a lot of things in my life. We weren’t well-off financially, so I was ashamed about a lot of things. I was ashamed of my dad driving me to school in his delivery truck. I was ashamed of what people thought of my lunch. I was ashamed of my plain bags and notebooks that were nothing like the fancy ones that my classmates had.
Although I love my parents, they didn’t raise us with affection. I wasn’t hugged, kissed, or told “I love you.” Our love language was more through acts of service. This, coupled with the bullying in my early school days, helped make me an insecure and sensitive person growing up. I always wanted other people to see me in a good light. I always wanted to prove myself in the eyes of others, so I strived hard to be at the top my class.
If I was insecure, I took the time to develop skills to build me up. In a way, my achievements were my efforts to mask to what I was really feeling inside: insecurity, anxiety, and the need to constantly seek approval.
The more I tried to hide them, the more my anxiety and insecurity grew. I felt anxious about a lot of things, even the simplest ones. The thought of calling someone on the phone made me sweat. I cringed at seeing someone I knew from school in another place. I hated passing someone I knew in the hallway. I did not like greeting people in church because it felt so awkward. I ripped my hair out when I recalled saying something I thought was stupid, even though nobody even bothered thinking about it as much as I did. I avoided going to places where I might have seen someone I knew. Awkward silences in conversations with friends terrified me.
Everything was an awkward moment for me! I found almost every social situation to be draining, to the point that I sometimes avoided them so I could feel safe.
I never really understood why I felt that way, but I was honestly sick of it. I was going through the cycle of fear and fighting through it, but I wondered why I even felt such fear in the first place.
Afer I married, I still found myself trapped and fearing social situations. My husband is a preacher, and I dreaded Sundays, because I knew I had to greet unfamiliar people. I dreaded talking to Walmart workers. I feel like I even dreaded accepting phone calls from a friend! I knew that something was wrong with me. When I finally told my husband about the extent of how I felt about things, he encouraged me to see a psychiatrist.
After several tests, professionals diagnosed me with Moderate Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). The doctor told me that I have more fear in social situations than a regular person would, but that my coping mechanism does not have to interfere with my daily life. He told me that I could still function normally.
The diagnosis helped me understand a lot about myself. As the doctor told me about the concept of coping mechanisms, I began to understand why I often overcompensate with accomplishments to try to hide my insecurities. I also began to understand why I always tried to act eager and confident in front of people even when deep inside, I felt that such behaviors were fake. It was a constant battle to deal with everyday. After I recognized my condition, I have been more forgiving with myself. I am seeking ways to overcome my struggles in a healthy way.
One thing that my husband made me realize is the fact that people think differently. This means that if you feel very critical of yourself, this does not mean that other people will think of you the same way. He also told me, “Angela, even if you screw up, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I repeated that line over and over because it is true. What is the worse thing that could really happen?
My self-critical self thought that I might have looked silly saying the line, but I said, “So what? When I made mistakes, did I run into any real danger? Was my life at risk?”
Yes, I may have felt stupid when I awkwardly smiled at someone I knew when they did not even notice me, but so what? Did anyone get in trouble? In that situation, there was no real danger, even though our anxieties in our minds and hearts might make it feel as if it was dangerous. This is what I discovered, and I now do my best to improve my mental health through holistic strategies such as journaling, meditation, socialization, and fitness activities.
My diagnosis led me to a better understanding of myself and other people. If I had not taken that step to go to the doctor, I would have lived my life always feeling like I need to avoid people and situation. If I did not discover that I have a mental health issue, I would not have accepted that I have a problem, and I would not have tried to move forward.
My goal is to encourage others who are battling with such problems their minds. Our brains are parts of our bodies. You would go to the doctor or dentist if you felt like something was wrong with your eyes, your skin, or even your teeth, right?
Why can’t we do the same for our brains? The stigma surrounding anxiety and other mental illnesses is nothing but a trap. Mental health is still health. Like my social anxiety, people’s opinions shouldn’t matter. Instead, you should prioritize yourself and your health needs.