For me social anxiety is like this:
It’s not wanting people to look at me when I’ve put on makeup because they might see my flaws, but then not wanting them to ignore me either because that hurts my feelings as a highly sensitive person. It’s not wanting to feel their eyeballs on my skin because that sets my nerves ablaze and I can’t handle that feeling. It literally makes me want to jump out of my own skin jacket on a regular basis. Social anxiety is saying things and immediately wanting to take them back because I can hear the echo in my own head and I can’t stand the sound of my own words. They are always wrong and too loud. My laughter is cacophonous. I laugh like a hyena on steroids. Social anxiety is going by two names because I don’t want to offend either my religious community or my parents and I can’t make up my mind which name I should use at the age of 42.
SoI use both, still. When people ask what my name is, I hesitate. I don’t want to offend myself either.
Social anxiety when I was younger was getting my hand slammed in a car door while I was sitting in the backseat of a friend’s car and being too scared to tell her mom that she had hurt me. So I just sat there while the car took off. I quietly mouthed the words ‘ouch, my hand’ so as not to be offensive. I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. When the adults finally understood what happened, obviously they were more upset that I hadn’t loudly said my hand was caught in the door. I was embarrassed then that I hadn’t spoken up. Social anxiety didn’t allow me to defend myself that day, so nobody ever realized what had happened and why I stayed quiet. Social anxiety for me means not getting my needs met on a regular basis and sometimes being in harm’s way. It’s feeling a sense of loneliness that threatens my sanity to its core, but not wanting to be around people for fear of being judged and laughed at. Social anxiety is like a prison for me.
It’s feeling like I don’t fit in with any of my friends or family members no matter how hard I try and wishing that I did. It’s not going to gatherings because I can’t stand the way my outfit looks and I’m sure other people will feel the same way about my clothes. It’s being sure people are judging my body and the way I look in my clothes even though I’m losing weight. It’s anticipating responses to conversations that I’ve had in my head and fleshing out full dialogues with people days in advance so I know what they might say to me, then getting mad at them for their part in the imagined conversations. Social anxiety makes me a mind reader at times too, you see. It’s writing replies to people online or in texts and immediately regretting what I said because they don’t respond right away. Was I offensive? Did I say the wrong thing? Do they not like me anymore? Are they mad at me? The questions always plague me until I wish I hadn’t said anything in the first place.
Social anxiety is wishing I were mute sometimes. It’s wanting to stay quiet when I read what’s going in my friend’s lives online because I’m afraid if I chime in and comment, they’ll say it’s none of my business. Social anxiety robs me of the ability to understand normal social conventions and how to interact with people in a typical fashion; which is why I’m often more comfortable staying home by myself. It’s making jokes with people then immediately thinking I’ve hurt their feelings or crossed some line of acceptability and apologizing profusely until I become annoying or end up actually committing a social faux pas.
Social anxiety makes me think I’m always stepping on toes, that I’m always hurting people’s feelings and that I’m always doing things wrong. Sometimes I wish there were a book of social interactions that I could read to tell me how to be less socially phobic and to fit in better. I feel as though that might help me weather my social anxiety better. It’s not knowing my turn in a conversation when I’m talking on the phone so I end up talking at the same time as people or not speaking and leaving awkward silences. Social anxiety makes me not know how to have conversations in a typical fashion. For me, social anxiety is so many things on a daily basis. I could say so much more but I’m afraid I’ve annoyed people already with the length of this essay and I feel like I’m complaining so I’ll end here. I hope I haven’t bored anybody.
I’m a mental health advocate and mentor in the dc metro area learning to come to grips with mental illness and the role it plays in my life. I’m a mother to 3 beautiful children who are my inspiration and my world. I