May is Mental Health Awareness Month so before the month is over I’ll be covering mental illnesses that affect my life. One that has impacted my day to day the most is social anxiety.
What is social anxiety?
According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), social anxiety is defined as a mental disorder in which the individual experiences an extreme fear of being scrutinized or judged by others in social or performance situations. Social anxiety is not the same as shyness although many mistakenly can associate one with the other. It is a social phobia that is diagnosed by a mental health provider and managed with medications and therapy.
What are symptoms of social anxiety?
About 15 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with social anxiety. Mayo Clinic states physical symptoms that accompany social anxiety disorder can range from fast heartbeat, nausea, trouble breathing and dizziness. Daily experiences such as using a public restroom, entering a room where people are already seated or returning items to a store are avoided by people who experience social anxiety.
My experience with social anxiety
I was diagnosed with social anxiety when I was 17 years old. With therapy and medication, I was able to manage it well as a young adult. In 2015, my social anxiety became difficult to manage again. A few months ago, I wrote about my experience with this mental disorder. I hope it can help you to understand what social anxiety is really like.
I want to talk to you about something that affects my life and many other peoples lives. It’s Social Anxiety. I have a Friday afternoon class that I go to every week and after being in an apartment for the entire week, I am forcing myself to go outside. After commuting and sitting in a class for almost two hours, all I want to do is just go back home. I feel exhausted after being around people even if it is only for a short time. In class, I always sit in the back so that nobody notices me entering or exiting the room. I hardly raise my hand, and if I do, I feel so embarrassed afterward and replay the response over in my head. Those I talk to at school are usually people that talk to me first which is rare.
A friend suggested I go to the park nearby my school to study. Although I would love to, I can’t muster up the energy to go somewhere new alone. I dread independent exploring. The anxiety of an unfamiliar place and being looked at or observed makes me tired. I think that people love to observe others when they are alone or lost somewhere. With social anxiety, I always have to plan ahead. “Where you will sit? or what you will do there?.” I think to myself, “You’re not ready.” but I tell myself I must go for my sanity. So the anxiety grows as I walk the two long Manhattan blocks in my uncomfortable boots.
I walk around aimlessly, trying not to draw attention as I find a space to sit and clear my mind. The sun is setting, birds are chirping, and I’m tired but glad I took the risk. I sit by a large oak tree hoping it would hide me under its trunk. I’m sitting on some of the tree’s visible roots. It’s uncomfortable here but I feel safe because I won’t be found. As I sit, I find myself in the way of the last traces of the sun. I breathe in the fresh air and listen to the leaves sway in the wind. The birds are chirping in the background and it feels like I’m free. In that moment, I realized that many people around me may have come without thinking twice.
There are so many families, singles, and couples that surround me. Some are hanging out with their dogs, others are playing with their kids, and the rest are reading or walking. They probably didn’t even think twice about coming to this park on a beautiful evening. For me, it was a battle and a victorious win. I know I will feel so emotionally and physically spent from the anxiety I felt this whole time. However, I try my best to breathe, take it all in and give back to myself. I thank God for this small success. For a long time, I haven’t gone to a place alone or ordered my own food or went up to a stranger to ask a question. I’m aware that I’m different but in the midst of it all I’m trying to do the little things that soothe me, refresh me, and give me perspective. For many, it’s not a big deal or a monumental thing but for me it is. I know this small step will make me better. Today I learned that exploring alone is not such a bad thing after all. Maybe I’m not as abnormal as I think I am. For those with mental disorders, it’s the little steps and goals that count. The win is that we still try to fight and see if there’s more to life than our thoughts, feelings, and our diagnoses. That is the definition of being brave, to try and try again.
Do you know someone or have you been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder? Let me know in the comments below.
The Best is Yet To Come,