In Which I Talk About Social Anxiety

It’s time to come clean, I think.

I tweeted this a few days ago:

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 7.48.04 PM

And this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 7.48.18 PM

So… social anxiety’s a bitch.

I hesitate to call what I have a disorder, because it makes it sound so official. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) by a real shrink, but we didn’t talk about social anxiety.

Claiming the “disorder” might make me seem like some sort of poser.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely how social anxiety works.

I have no fucking idea who most of you are, but already I anticipate how you might respond to my post. This is how it works for me.

This is my life.

Every single thing I do, every single word I say, every fucking text I send: I immediately wonder how people will respond.

If I tweet something at someone and don’t get a reply within two seconds? My scumbag brain  starts sounding the alarms and tells me that said person hates me.

Fucking hates me.

And there’s no logic to it, which is so very painful for someone like me. I want everything to be rational. I like things I can understand.

When my own brain fucks me over like this?

It hurts.

So when I text you and you don’t reply, or when I crack a joke and you give me a wan smile, immediately I run through a list of things I might have done wrong.

I’m not funny.

I’m not interesting.

I suck at this.

I suck at everything.

It escalates so quickly. It’s like my brain goes from “okay” to “absolutely fucking insecure” in the speed of light.

This is why I like to be alone.

Alone, my brain doesn’t give me this shit. I don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing, or doing something incorrectly. I don’t have to worry about people liking me. I don’t have to think about what other people are thinking.

It’s relaxing.

It’s also the reason why I rarely go out, even with friends I love. I would gladly make plans, talk to friends about trips, but then chicken out at the last minute with some stupid excuse.

It’s the reason why I dread events.

It’s the reason why I don’t like small talk.

True story: In grad school, I purposely went to class late all the time so I wouldn’t have to spend time doing the small talk thing with classmates while waiting for the professor.

People try to be nice and engage me in small talk but what I see is people being all fake and shit.

So classmate says, “hey, what’s up?” and my scumbag brain’s response is “she doesn’t really care so respond as awfully and awkwardly as you can

I mean, I don’t know that, do I?

I’m writing this person off immediately because she asks me how I am?

That’s just awful.

I can’t help it, though.

The thing is that over the years, I developed two main methods to combat social anxiety:

(1) I assume everyone hates me, so I hate everyone right back.

(2) I hide and stop interacting with people.

Option number 1 is wrong, because this is a very unnecessary and hateful road to take.

Option number 2 isn’t easy at all since I do have to work and live and all that shit. Plus, I’m a part-time teacher, so you can just imagine how much of a nightmare this is.

Weirdly, I can handle teaching because it feels like I’m detached.

When students start talking to me after class, though, that’s when things go to shit. I find my throat closing up and my chest hurts. It’s a disaster.

I do my best to stay away from people I don’t know. Short of growling at them, I think.

The worst thing about social anxiety is that I don’t want to be this way.

I know it’s cool now to be aloof and cold, but I don’t want to be that. I want to be normal and friendly and not get nauseated every time someone I don’t know talks to me.

I don’t want to worry about every dinner or coffee date like it’s a meeting with the fucking Dalai Lama.

I don’t want to flinch every time someone touches me.

(Weird thing among other weird things: I like touching people. I hug my friends. I like to lean into people and just mess with them. The problem is when they touch me. I flinch involuntarily.)

I want to be able to speak to people without wondering if my bitch face makes them hate me. I want to interact people without wanting to run away and hide.

Because you know what? Social anxiety is — among other things — very, very exhausting.

I want to not hate people in advance. It’s an unnecessary defensive position that makes every single fibre of my being hurt like hell.

But there’s kind of an unexpected silver lining to all this.

When you find someone whom you know loves you without question, it’s fucking incredible.

I’m not talking about family. That’s pretty much a given, but even then it’s an entirely different manner of social interaction.

I’m talking about friends (or more than friends for the luckier among us).

I have a friend named Mei, and I am often horrible to her. I mean, I am aloof and detached and cold. Sometimes when I don’t feel like talking I just respond to her texts with smileys. Nothing but smileys.

(Bland smileys, too. Not even cute emojis.)

But I am so confident in her love for me that even when she doesn’t respond to my text immediately, I feel perfectly okay.

I don’t get that nagging worry that she doesn’t like me anymore, or that maybe I said something to offend her, or that she’ll no longer want to be my friend.

It’s not that I like being horrible to her. I am just plain horrible most of the time.

I think what I want to say is that even when I’m at my socially inept worst, I can count on her to continue being my friend.

And that’s a wonderful thing.

So… social anxiety’s a bitch.

I don’t have a real solution in sight, except right now I’m lucky enough to have maybe a couple of people look past my social shortcomings and accept me still.

It’s a goddamn blessing is what it is.

Because I’m not really doing anything to get over this problem. I don’t like seeing shrinks. I would much rather drink myself into a stupor than see another shrink or go back to Buspirone. Shit makes me dizzy. (Dizzy makes me forget I’m anxious, so it sort of works.)

And maybe this is just it for me, and I’ll continue to function as best I can even when every single interaction with other humans makes me alternately scared, angry, or nauseated.

So here we are with yet another post with no useful or logical ending.

Sorry.

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9 thoughts on “In Which I Talk About Social Anxiety

  1. This is so spot on. I’ve always thought of it as social awkwardness. A chronic inability to make small-talk. No knowledge of unspoken norms, like when a text conversation (or a verbal conversation is supposed to end) and a paranoia when no response is forthcoming.

    It’s so stressful talking to people and meeting them unless and until I cross that threshhold where I know them well enough to know what to expect from them and what they expect from me in social interaction. Sometimes it’s just not worth bothering trying to think of stupid crap to talk about. Other times, I find it helps to just not care what they think of you. But that’s hard if they are people you have to deal with professionally or more than once. Also, I hate parties and meeting people, so when it is unavoidable, I stay near the walls and leave early. I’ve all but moved past the point where I take a book to gatherings (also, my wife won’t let me). Also, I’m kind of at the age where being a prickly emo kid is unbecoming.

    I’ve sort of taken comfort in the fact that with the people that I am close to, conversation overflows and I can just be myself without overthinking. But sometimes, when I haven’t seen someone for a while, it takes time to recover the former easy familiarity and I sometimes wonder if they can still be bothered with me. I’m probably fortunate in my choice of friends, because they have stayed friends.

    Frankly, apart from a Cracked article about social awkwardness and the conversations and descriptions that created my head-canon about Mr Darcy’s aloofness in Pride and Prejudice, your post is the first thing I’ve read which describes how I feel. Maybe more people than we imagine find social interactions to be an unspeakable chore that we prefer to avoid.

    • It probably is quite common, though the spectrum ranges from “mild” to “severe”. Since I can still leave the house, I assume I’m at least functional.

      I like how you mentioned familiarization. I have a number of people I interact with regularly, and I’ve figured out their safe topics, their hot buttons, etc. It makes conversations easier. It’s a lot of work, though.

      Also, cues! I have a list of topics I warn myself not to talk about. Every time I talk to people, I add more topics to the list.

      I just wish I was “cool”, you know? Like I could talk to people and not be all awful and awkward and nauseous.

  2. AHHH YOU ARE RIGHT, YOU SHOULD HAVE DEDICATED THIS TO ME BECAUSE I AM THE SAME WAY. THE EXACT SAME WAY. AND I HAVE A MEI, TOO, EXCEPT HER NAME IS ISA.

  3. This resonates so much, thanks for writing it down. I’m not really all that concerned about being liked just for the sake of saying I’m popular, but my awkwardness worries me. I worry all the time that the people I like, whose opinions matter, are annoyed at me and frickin hate me.

    I can get through a coffee date but I stay up wondering if I was liked or merely tolerated. I replay everything in the perspective of my companions and think I wouldn’t wanna spend time with me because yadda yadda yadda…

    It is so exhausting.

    • I think we’re still lucky because we can get through the day somehow. I know some people with social anxiety can barely leave the house.

      Two things I hate most about this: (a) I am constantly replaying all interaction/conversations for post-mortem analysis and the conclusion is always “I should have said less” or “I should have said more” and then “they all hate me”; (b) It’s literally nauseating to speak to strangers. I just want to be the cool person who can have normal conversations without bludgeoning myself with criticism afterwards.

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