Social Anxiety can make it difficult to make and sustain friendships. I’m very appreciative to one of the readers of this blog, Jane, for her courage in sharing this post in the hope it would be useful to others.
By Jane, Guest Blogger
I have had Social Anxiety (SA) for as long as I can remember. I was even a kindergarten dropout! Still, I was moved forward to first grade despite my insistence that I was just fine without school.
By the end of sixth grade, I essentially dropped out. I did attend sporadically in Junior High School, but just enough to keep out of trouble…sometimes. I was wily about finding ways of skipping school and finding places to hide out. I used the local shopping mall often and became the youngest mall walker there as I spent hours window shopping. I had the added exercise benefit of dodging security when they eyeballed me. I skipped school whenever and wherever I could and, at my lowest point, once hid in my brother’s closet; my dad hadn‘t gone to work yet and thought I’d left for school. I unfortunately spent an hour with the ghastly odor of dirty socks until the coast was clear.
Finally, the system gave up on me as I’d done with them many years prior. I spent four years as a virtual shut-in, which exacerbated my SA because I didn’t get the practice with social skills I needed at this critical age. I lost my friends and my ability to make friends. I was using TV quiz programs like The Price is Right to ease some of my loneliness. At 18, after studying for my High School Equivalency Exam for a couple of months, I surprised myself by passing with a high score. I went to the university near my house so I could stay close to my home base. Security. Well, I passed through my first year with a few F’s for non-attendance, then collapsed emotionally. The pressure of interacting with my underdeveloped social skills combined with a fear that felt like I was facing a firing squad every day took its toll.
In my mid 20s I went back to college determined to fight. I didn’t care how scared I was, I was going to stick it out to the bitter end and get my Master’s degree in Speech Therapy. By this time, there was some awareness out there of SA, but my therapist still balked at the idea of diagnosing me with it; I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder instead.
Misdiagnosed and untreated, I went back to school with the exact same anxiety I had a few years earlier. What do I say to this person who sat next to me? Just start furiously writing and pretend I’m busy. What if I’m called on in class? Just keep my eyes from meeting the teacher’s and fade to invisible. Where do I look as I’m walking down the hallway? I don’t know if and when I should make eye contact. What if I run into someone I know? I’m not good at this thing called small talk. How am I going to fulfill this incredible dream of graduating from college if I can’t even give a speech to pass this class? And what’s with the flop sweat all over me?
I discovered a secluded restroom in a building that was used for office personnel; it was my safe haven. This is where I hid between classes, did some deep breathing, gave myself pep talks, and hated myself. No one else is doing this before class; I knew it! My self-esteem was taking a beating on a daily basis.
I made it though! I graduated in my late 20s with a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology. I even had a high GPA despite the F’s I had received in my year of non-attendance at 18. I framed my cherished diploma and put it on the wall as a constant reminder of what I could do if I stayed tough and didn’t give in to SA. I’m still very proud of that success, but it’s somewhat tainted because I dropped out of graduate school which is required to practice. Another bashing of my self-esteem which is typical in the lives of those with SA. Always a disappointment to ourselves.
I gave birth to my beautiful son soon after I slinked away from graduate school. I now had an excuse to stay home, not finish school, and not work outside the home. He gave me a good reputation; I was now a dedicated stay-at-home mother, not someone too afraid to hold a job. Being a stay-at-home mother is great if there’s a choice involved.
Because Social Anxiety wasn’t recognized as a diagnosis until my teens, and wasn’t taken seriously as a diagnosis until fairly recently, I never received treatment for it despite the fact that I had a therapist. I still did improve dramatically through the years most likely through practice. I’ve just recently found a therapist who specializes in SA and other anxiety disorders and I have high hopes for myself.
With SA, we have to remind ourselves that we’ve got major obstacles in our lives and that every step forward in social situations is a huge success and something to celebrate. I have trouble with that one myself because I’m forever comparing myself to other people who are more traditionally successful than I am. Conquering a fear, no matter how big or small, is a success to be proud of, with or without SA. Any success I’ve had was from arduous and emotionally draining work, so I consider myself successful despite our traditional views on the subject.
If you think you may have Social Anxiety Disorder, make sure to bring it up with your doctor. It’s so treatable in this day and age and you just don’t have to suffer with loneliness, a lack of friends, depression, or problems achieving life goals. It will also be such a relief to dump the Please Like Me syndrome. Just know that there are countless people in your shoes and that you’re just a person who needs a nudge or two in the right direction from a qualified professional.
Be kind to yourself.
Jane has started a blog, Social Anxiety Comfort, to bring warmth and comfort to others with SA.
Some prior posts on The Friendship Blog that discuss shyness, social anxiety and friendship:
- Shy all my life: Will it just go away?
- Why Can’t I Make Friends?
- More than Shy: Could it be Social Anxiety?
- Mind Matters: Anxiety in the Workplace (on the website of the American Association for the Advance of Science)
Information from the National Institute of Mental Health on Social Anxiety (also called Social Phobia)