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Social Anxiety and Friendship: A First-Person Account

November 20, 2012 | By | 8 Replies Continue Reading
Jane talks about social anxiety and friendship.

Jane talks about social anxiety and friendship.

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:


Information from the National Institute of Mental Health on Social Anxiety (also called Social Phobia)

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Category: MAKING FRIENDS, Shyness and introversion

Comments (8)

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  1. Jane says:

    Thanks to everyone who replied. Thanks also to Irene for posting my story.

    L. Kelly: I hope you find a way of bringing this up with your sister. If she’s having problems keeping jobs and seems to be similar to me in many ways, I think it would be fine to send her some info. I would never be insulted if somebody tried to help me. You’d only be acknowledging that she has an anxiety disorder, not that she’s crazy. Even if she can’t go to therapy for now, there are many books out there for this and I have a few listed on my Resource page. Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook is what I’ve just begun reading. Also, having a good sister like you is important. There is nothing more important than social support and understanding people.

    Vena: your SA sounds similar to mine. Misdiagnosed but dramatically improving in my mid-20s through practice. At times, like lately, I backtrack a little, but I find that I’m on a steady course upward. I also like to get out as much as possible to find some fun and not be housebound. For the most part, life is good now. I had enough of that as a teenager! Good luck.

    Jane

    • Jane says:

      I got my last two sentences backwards! Should have said: I also like to get out as much as possible to find some fun and not be housebound. I had enough of that as a teenager! For the most part, life is good now.

      The way it was before, it sounded like I had enough of life being good by the time I was a teenager!

      Isn’t there an edit button somewhere? (Blush)

      Jane

  2. Vena says:

    Thanks for the post. I developed SA in high school, though it wasn’t known as SA at the time. All I know is that I became withdrawn and had trouble with many social situations. I didn’t have close friends at that time either. My relationships with people were superficial at best. It wasn’t much better when I was in college. Although I wanted friends badly, by then I had no clue on how to make or keep them. I was in and out of therapy during that time but in hindsight, my SA wasn’t treated at all because I didn’t know the term for all that I was experiencing. I was either diagnosed as depressed and/or with general anxiety disorder. I did have those things too, but they paled in comparison to the SA. As such, I didn’t get as much out of therapy as I probably should have but part of that was due to the fact that SA wasn’t fully recognized as a valid disorder until fairly recently. It took until I was in my mid 20′s before my condition improved and I had to do it alone, mainly by literally forcing myself to go to social events and staying past the point where I was beyond uncomfortable and forcing myself to at least make small talk with people. Within a year, I discovered that social events became less terrifying and I had developed enough social skills to establish some close friendships. I’m in my early 40′s now and I still make it a point to do something social at least once a week, even if it’s going to a meetup. Like any other skill, social skills will atrophy if you don’t practice and use them.

  3. Sheryl says:

    I never realized just how debilitating SA can be. I admire Jane for her persistence!

  4. L. Kelly says:

    Would love to send this item to my sister, who after reading this, I’m sure has Social Anxiety. I know she’s taken medication for panic attacks in the past. However, I’m afraid of alienating her. Is there a good way to share this info?

    Also, the treatment situation is tough—because of her SA, she’s in and out of jobs (often quitting rather than facing her fears/bosses) and does not have the health insurance right now to see a doctor for help. She’s in that hiding-out mode Jane mentions in the post. Guess I’ll check out Jane’s blog for more guidance. Thanks for running this item.

    • Irene says:

      It’s always hard to suggest that someone may be “imperfect” in any way, even if it comes from wanting to help the person. I would suggest that you carefully choose the right time and place and, perhaps, tell your sister that you read something that you thought might be helpful to her.

      Depending on what you think would work best, you could either print out a copy of Jane’s first-person account or else look at some of the materials from the NIMH.

      There are a number of consumer advocacy organizations that provide information and support to people with social anxiety. One is Freedom from Fear (www.freedomfromfear.org).

      Here is a nice fact sheet they have put together that would be suitable for sharing: http://www.mhww.org/SAD%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf/

      Also the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (www.aada.org) has put together information on finding help: http://www.adaa.org/finding-help

      The insurance problem is a real problem but there may be a public facility close to your sister where she could find professional help at low- or no-cost. This list may be a start: http://www.thenationalcouncil.org/cs/find_a_provider

      Sometimes the best time to approach someone is when they are really struggling, and more willing to seek out help.

      My best, Irene

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