In January, I wrote a post about social anxiety and it was the kind of post that I was scared to push publish on. Talking about my social anxiety makes me feel incredibly vulnerable, but I also refuse to keep silent about this aspect of my personality. Because keeping silent means I feel ashamed that I have social anxiety, and I’m not ashamed. Not anymore. I have simply accepted it’s part of who I am.
The first response I received to that blog post was… unpleasant, to say the least. I wrote out a lengthy response to this comment, but the email address was invalid. (Of course it was!)
I’ve never done this before because, generally, I don’t see the point in giving negative comments any sort of attention, but this comment showed me that there are people who really do not understand what social anxiety is, and it’s time to lay some truth bombs for these people.
Here’s the comment:
You sound like you have some real self-esteem issues. This seems like more than social anxiety, it’s a real problem with the way you think the rest of the world is constantly judging you. Literally no one cares how you park your car. You’re not an idiot if you have to look around a restaurant for your friends. EVERYONE has done this. You sound like you really need to get on medication and into therapy.
I won’t lie; for about five seconds after I received that comment, I considered deleting the post. I understand that when I decided to put my life on display via a public blog, I must take the good with the bad. But the bad really hurts sometimes. That comment hurt. But it also showed me how little people understand of social anxiety. So, let’s discuss some truths about it:
Social anxiety is about self-esteem and the fear of being judged by others. The comment above states that I have “real self-esteem issues” and “a real problem with the way you think the world is constantly judging you.” Funny enough – this person describes social anxiety perfectly! It is about self-esteem and it is about the way we feel people are judging our every move. This is social anxiety – our fear of how we are perceived in social settings. This fear is so pervasive that it can cause panic attacks at just the thought of going on a job interview or a date or your church’s picnic. And, since social anxiety develops based largely on environment, it’s those of us who grew up feeling less than, unwanted, unloved who often have social anxiety. We weren’t given safe spaces to grow, so we became fearful of the world and being judged.
We understand that our fear is not logical. When I’m in my logical mind, I know that nobody cares how I park my car. I know that I’m not an idiot if I have to look around a while before spotting my friends in a restaurant. I know that. But social anxiety does not play on logic; it plays on our biggest fears. Our fear of being judged harshly, of people laughing at us, of being embarrassed. So, yes, I will worry about people judging me for how I parked my car because that’s how my social anxiety works. You don’t need to tell me it’s silly because I know it is. I already feel completely ridiculous by how crippled I get by my thoughts when I’m worried about a social event. I already feel as if there’s something wrong with me because I get so damn worried all the time about things most other people don’t even concern themselves about. But social anxiety is not about logic, so please don’t make someone feel bad for the things they are fearful of. That’s not helpful, that’s harmful.
We are not weirdos with no social life. Thanks to years of deep introspection, understanding friends, and taking huge risks, I’ve developed a good social life. I didn’t always have this. I didn’t make any friends in college because I was too scared to speak up in class or talk to the people next to me. I cried every day the year I lived on campus and would hide out in the bookstore because it felt safe. I didn’t join any extracurricular activities in high school or college (well, aside for a semester of basketball cheerleading during 10th grade – how’s that for a fun fact?!) because I was too afraid of being judged. And then I learned about what social anxiety is and realized this condition described me perfectly, and I was letting it win. So, I joined a book club on Meetup, said yes when a new coworker invited me to her place to hang out, started talking more with the people around me at work. It’s been difficult and sometimes, I still wonder why I have any friends and why they even like me, but mostly, I’m happy I took risks and found the people who don’t think less of me for having social anxiety and, when I tell them about it, their response is, “Is there anything I can do to help?” (<– Best response to anyone who opens up about their social anxiety, btw.) Our social lives may be lighter than others, and we may turn down a lot of engagements because we know they’d just ratchet up our anxiety and make us incredibly uncomfortable, but we do have social lives.
We are not unfriendly and we don’t hate people. Not in the least! I may not be the most bubbly individual, and I may be able to endure an entire elevator ride without saying a word to you, but I don’t consider myself unfriendly. I’m just shy and have a hard time talking to people sometimes without stumbling over my words and feeling like a complete fool. I will do everything in my power to keep myself from doing that, so, usually, I just stay quiet. (Which is why I’ll opt for the stairs instead of the elevator if I see a group of coworkers waiting by the elevator when I’m leaving the office.) And I love meeting new people! Okay, okay. I like it. People are inherently fascinating and I want to talk to you – it’s just not always easy for me, so be patient with me, okay?
Ah, I could go on and on and on! I truly could. But this post is long enough already. I hope I made my point. I hope this person who left that comment understands how hurtful their comment was. And I hope they have a better understanding – and more empathy – for what we experience on a daily basis. Social anxiety is illogical and frustrating and makes me feel crazy sometimes, but I don’t deserve to be shamed for it. Shaming someone for a mental illness is such harmful behavior, and we need to be better than that.
For my comrades suffering with social anxiety and still managing to make a life for yourself, I am so proud of you. You are brave. You are incredible. You are worthy of taking up space.