What would you say to someone who told you they hated talking on the phone? They screen every call before they answer, already irritable because the sound of the phone has made them jump. What about avoiding invitations to parties and get-togethers? Or going and then hoping to blend into the scenery, reluctant to chat or make eye-contact. Would you tell them they were just shy, to get over, get out there, meet some people? Or would you stop & consider they might be socially phobic?
It’s taken my husband 11 years to concede that I could be socially phobic. I think the millionth, “Why are you calling? Why can’t you text, for the love of all that’s holy?” finally got to him. He’s slowly comprehending how much my anxiety takes out of me, and the cost of ‘functioning as normal’. He’s your textbook good guy, a decent human being that would never want to see his loved ones in pain, but if it’s taken him long to ‘get’ this, how much do others suffer?
My social anxiety manifests itself in interesting ways. I don’t struggle with shopping, mostly because I do it online. I’ve been known to mutter frequently, “I hate people”. I have worked from home for 5 years now, because I am safe in my own space, behind my wall of screens, connected by the internet. On the rare occasions I have to do face time with clients, I psych myself up, practice everything I need to say, plan everything down to the last detail, and lay off the caffeine. But if there is any deviation from plan A, I have plans B, C & D. Is this time-consuming and exhausting? You betcha. But it’s the only way I know how to cope, and a darn sight better than the overwhelming sense of apprehension, nausea, clammy hands and gut-churning panic attacks that I used to have. What a rush, said no sufferer, EVER.
I’m the chica in the corner, on the fringe, at the edge. I’ll never be the person with my back to the door, or sitting in the middle of a restaurant. My anxiety gives me the strength to ask for a corner spot! Or it is my hyper-vigilance? I don’t discriminate in my anxiety; my husband has been on the tail end of my temper if he stands behind me for longer than 1.6 seconds. I’ve never been in active combat, so I don’t know why I am this way.
Many psychiatrists and psychologists believe, as with many mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder is most probably the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the exact nature of the relationship between genetics and learned behaviour is uncertain. The parenting you experience may influence whether you will develop social anxiety disorder. If you have worried or anxious parents, it can often affect your ability to cope with anxiety during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
People with social anxiety disorder often describe their parents as:
- not affectionate enough
- constantly criticising them and worrying they may do something wrong
- overemphasising the importance of manners and grooming
- exaggerating the danger of approaching strangers
Biologically, social anxiety disorder is currently thought to be related to abnormal functioning of brain circuits that regulate emotion and the “fight or flight” response centre. There is no cure for SAD. There is medication, which I don’t enjoy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which seems to be working slowly. I’m working on identifying unrealistic beliefs & behavioural patterns. I want to de-sensitise myself to certain triggers, and question certain gut-reactions.
I want to be the person that can just say YES to adventure, to sit in the middle of a cafe and look strangers in the eye. Most of all, I want to stop planning and start living.
Wish me luck!!