Social Anxiety Disorder. How do I explain it? I don’t think anyone could explain it well enough that someone who doesn’t have SAD gets it. But, I’ll give it a shot.
You’re about to audition for a talent show. Not just your local talent show. This one is going to air in front of the entire country and possibly the world. You get on stage. The audience is applauding because you’re another brave soul who decided to put themselves in front of millions of people. The judges ask for your name.
Suddenly, you freeze up. Anxiety rushes over you like a dam just broke after a year-long rain storm. Everyone’s eyes are on you and you start to panic. You can’t speak. Your mind is racing with questions you never thought of before. They’re all judging you. They all hate you. There’s nothing you can say that will make them like you. You don’t have anything useful to contribute.
You don’t know what to do. You can’t just run away because you waited hours for this moment. But, you can’t seem to speak. It’s like your mind is too busy convincing you that your voice is worth nothing and your vocal cords need to either work or you should walk away. So you stand there like a deer in headlights. Eventually, you turn and run off the stage faster than a horse after a tree falls behind it.
Social Anxiety Disorder isn’t just being nervous during a class presentation. It’s not stage fright. It isn’t the nerves that you get before meeting someone new. It definitely isn’t the butterflies you experience while getting ready for that first date.
Social Anxiety Disorder is being terrified of talking. It’s the constant fear that people are judging you. Your mind tries to convince that everyone hates you and no one cares what you say. Your voice doesn’t have any value. You want to hide in the corner and cry at parties. You hate going out in public because the idea of bumping into someone you know and having to make conversation brings on anxiety.
Just saying “hi” is hard. Then they say “how are you?’ and you just say “good” without asking the question back because you’re afraid that will start a conversation. Talking in any capacity is anxiety-inducing. What if you reach a point where you don’t know what to say next? What if you say something wrong or offensive?
That is what my experience with Social Anxiety Disorder is like. Now, I didn’t get SAD out of the blue. I don’t think anyone does, to be honest. It all started when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I was 11 years old and was already shy. Did I mention that I was also going to middle school, which was honestly the worst three years ever? I have yet to hear someone say that they enjoyed middle school.
Anyway, it was a recipe for SAD to develop and it did, just like mold in a warm, moist, dark place. I was told I had Crohn’s and I decided I was going to retract into my shell, mainly because I was terrified of what people would think and do if they found out. That’s where the fear of judgment started. Pair that with some bullying from the year before and add a dash of natural shyness and bam! You have Social Anxiety Disorder.
My SAD is triggered by a variety of social situations. The level of anxiety I feel depends on who I’m with and where it is. If I’m surrounded by people I know well, it’s not a huge problem. If I barely know anyone there, it’s extremely difficult for me to be social. For example, I feel really comfortable around my mom’s side of the family, so it’s easy for me to have full-length conversations because I have known them my whole life. However, when I went to my brother’s friend’s Sweet Sixteen, I was extremely anxious and couldn’t bring myself to talk to anybody. I wanted to hide in the bathroom the whole time.
My level of social anxiety also depends on what condition my Crohn’s is in. When I am in a flare, I tend to withdraw more. I don’t want to burden anyone with my problems and it’s embarrassing. Crohn’s symptoms aren’t pretty. Also, fatigue and pain would make anyone want to not socialize. I have such a hard time opening about my chronic illness partly because of my mental illness. It’s just one continuous cycle that feels nearly impossible to break.
So, that’s what Social Anxiety Disorder is. You walk onto the stage and everyone’s cheering for you but your mind is convincing you that they hate you and you don’t have anything worth contributing. Suddenly, everyone’s judging every little thing you do- hard.
I realize that no one has the time and energy to waste analyzing my every move. I know that most people are actually nice and wouldn’t mind getting to know me. I would love to get to know more people myself. I wish I could be a social butterfly. I want a decent amount of friends more than I want a car (which is the number one thing on my “material things” wishlist).
But, I am working on calling my mind out on the lies it has created. It’s hard work. I have to unlearn a lot of things. Sometimes standing up to SAD feels like rebelling against an awful ruler who could easily punish me any way they wanted to. Some days I win. Some days I lose. Despite this, I will always keep fighting. It’s not easy and it will never go away completely. However, this is my mind, my house. I am in charge and I can’t wait for the day where I am the owner again.