i don’t really know how to start this post. there’s so much to say about social anxiety and the issues that come along with it, at least in my personal experience. i can only talk about my experiences, i’m not an expert, i’m not anything. i’m just an anxious worm. however i feel like almost everyone claims to have experienced social anxiety to the point where it’s kinda annoying. some people only experience it mildly, and only in certain situations, but not enough to the point where it’s a serious complication in their life. others have it so bad they can’t leave the house or go anywhere without experiencing a panic attack. i would be the latter.
when i was a very little kid, a toddler even, i didn’t like interacting with people. i preferred to be on my own most of the time. i didn’t really know how to talk to others my age, so i mostly made friends with adults. not understanding other people made me have pretty severe anxiety all the time. i bit my lips and mouth constantly until it bled, over and over again. i liked going to school for the sole purpose of learning. i think that’s how it’s supposed to be, but it always seems like most go to socialize and have fun. how i ended up making friends is totally beyond me.
anxiety became so much worse in middle school. i knew for a fact that everyone around me hated me. i was the weird kid nobody wanted to be friends with. i try not to remember that time period.
high school was better. i actually somehow made friends. however, i did not go out of my way to make friends. i let them befriend me, instead. it’s safer that way, to me anyway. by this point i had learned to mask my autistic traits just enough that people wouldn’t straight up avoid talking to me. i wanted friends, it was just something i didn’t know how to make happen. i didn’t have as much anxiety during this time, or at least i didn’t really notice it. in fact, the only time i REALLY had anxiety was when i had to do presentations or participate in speech class. it was only when i started speech class that i began to realize i had any social difficulties, weirdly enough. before, i was generally oblivious to why i was always so anxious around people. i didn’t even know what anxiety was before that. i just kinda always assumed i was an alien or a demon.
after high school, things continued to be okay, anxiety-wise. i was able to leave the house almost every day, go to the library, converse with the librarians and occasional stranger. however, the illusion of functionality was just that, an illusion. wearing the mask of a neurotypical for so long wears a person down. it can become harder and harder to keep it up over time, and can eventually lead to all kinds of other problems. but that’s a whole other topic i probably won’t get into.
i think it was 2013 or 2014 that i finally went to a doctor about my anxiety. i was told i had social anxiety (i think) and also depression or something. i was prescribed some medications, one or two of which did not react very well to. once i found the right ones though, it was really good for a while. i’m also going to therapy, though that’s never really been very helpful to me with learning how to talk to people. i don’t think that’ll really happen.
i think people all have different reasons for having anxiety in social situations. for me it’s not being able to read people, or predict what their intentions are, etc. i just can’t do it. i never know what i’m supposed to say, how i’m supposed to react to people’s words or emotions, and i’m very…very…aware of it. after every interaction i tend to replay the whole thing in my head and pick apart everything i view as a potential mistake. i feel extremely embarrassed. i wonder what that person must think of me. they must see me as a total failure. my memory is really bad, but i remember everything i perceive as a mistake for a very long time. i think about it and obsess about it to the point where i’ll either avoid the person or the place that it happened for almost forever.
one time i went to the store, needing to pick something up for my mom. i don’t remember what i was looking for but whatever it was i couldn’t find it. i wandered around for probably fifteen minutes, starting to get nervous. i tried texting to ask where i might find it, but there was no service inside the store. it’s like the bermuda triangle of cell service. i kept looking. i knew that i would have to probably ask an employee if they could help me. i could feel myself starting to sweat and i started hyperventilating. panic attack. i didn’t mean to overthink the situation, i didn’t want to be having this amount of panic over such a simple task but it was happening and i couldn’t stop it. i immediately left the store as quickly as possible, without the item i was supposed to get. i felt guilty for not finding it. it was probably several months before i went back to that store.
i’m a little better at talking to strangers at the moment, but only for so long. sometimes after a day of socializing, being around people, or out in public in general, i have to take a while to kinda recover from it so i can function the next time i have to go out. if there is no time to do so, it’ll be a lot more difficult to keep my cool and i’ll end up having a meltdown once i get home.
i have learned though, that not all social rules, or whatever you wanna call them, are really THAT necessary. if you need to avoid eye contact, just don’t do it. it’s okay to keep words at a minimum if you need to. if you need to wear headphones, mess around on your phone, as long as it’s safe to do so, just do it. sure people might have some weird thoughts or comments, but they’re only gonna think about whatever YOU are doing for about five mins and then they’ll forget. people’s absorption in their own thoughts can be an advantage for you sometimes, because they’ll most likely not being paying much attention to strange things other people might be doing. i know though that remembering this info might not always help, but sometimes it can.
i feel like this post is a little vague. there’s a lot more i could say on this subject, lots of anecdotes i could probably come up with. i’ll probably write more about it some other time. but for now, my brain is scrambled eggs. i need a nap.