I have been writing about social anxiety disorder (SAD) for more than four years now. In that time I have covered every topic under the sun. In addition, I have read stories from countless readers about what it is like to live daily with social anxiety. Every month I look for new topics to write about and new avenues to cover. For this article, I thought I would take a slightly different approach.
It's one thing to read facts and figures about a disorder; it is something completely different to see the world through the eyes of someone who lives with the problem on a daily basis. What I would like to do is describe for you "a day in the life of SAD".
My description is based on everything that I know, have read about, or been told. Perhaps this story will sound something like your own life; or maybe you have your own unique details to add. I hope that at the very least it helps some to feel less alone, and some to understand others better.
This is a fictional account that I have constructed and not based on any one particular person.
Mornings are usually not too bad. At least I know that I won't have to talk to anyone until I leave the house. However, if I have something that I have to do that day that involves talking to people, or even worse, some sort of public speaking to do, well then the day is already shot. I can't concentrate on anything else because I am worrying about what is coming up.
If I have phone calls that I need to make I usually avoid them. Put them off. What if I call and the other person is too busy? What if I am bothering them? So I think to myself, "What would be the ideal time to call this person that I would not be bothering them." I might choose a time like 10:00 a.m. and then worry about it until I make the call.
Driving to work is not too bad. Some of the drive I am able to do on single lane roads, which is nice because I know that nobody is going to pull up alongside me and look at me. Intersections are the worst. I never pull right up beside another car because then the person might look at me. Do I smile? Look straight ahead? It's just easier to stay a car length back.
If I have to get gas, I make sure to go to a gas station that I am familiar with. I wouldn't want to make a fool of myself by pulling up to the wrong pump. I always choose self-serve over full-serve. That way I don't have to talk to anybody.
Every once in a while I decide that I need to get a haircut - one that doesn't involve cutting my own hair (and the disastrous results than can involve). The problem with getting a haircut is that you have to talk to the hairdresser. Usually I answer in one-word sentences and eventually she stops trying to talk to me. I don't have anything interesting to say anyway, so it's better that she and I share the time in silence. Sometimes she will talk with her colleagues because clearly I have become too boring.
Getting back to work - yes I do work. Have done so for my whole adult life. I know that some people with SAD do not work. I guess I don't have it as bad as them. As much as I would love to just stay in my house and never leave, I do have to earn an income, and work is the only way I have found to do so. I have had different kinds of jobs, each with their own problems. As much as people will tell you that you can find a job that doesn't involve people - that's not true.
If you work with animals, you usually have to talk to their owners. If you work on a computer, you usually have to talk to other people about what you are doing. Even jobs that really don't involve people do still involve other employees. And lunch hours. And water cooler talk.
Those times that I do eat lunch with others are a challenge. Sometimes I am OK and make it through fine. Other times it feels like I will never get through the meal. My hands are shaking so bad the food can barely stay on my fork. It always feels like I am narrowly averting disaster. That next time I will surely spill my drink or just not be able to eat at all.
Other people might spend their days conversing with friends. I don't. I know people, but I don't really have any friends. It's not that people don't like me, they just don't really know me. It's hard to get to know me when I am so anxious all the time. People have tried to be my friend, but I don't reciprocate because of my anxiety. I don't call because I am afraid. Eventually the person stops trying.
If it's a day that I don't have to work, and I don't have any other plans, then I usually stay home. Which is good because I don't feel as anxious, but bad because I do eventually get lonely. I think about everyone else out doing fun and exciting things with friends and family. I start to get down if I spend too much time alone. It's a paradox really; I'm afraid to be with people, but at the same time I get down being alone.
If on a particular day, like I mentioned before, I have a specific engagement where I have to speak, I will worry about it all day. If it's a speech I have to give I probably worried about it for weeks. Or months. And when I say worry, I mean panic. Full-blown panic attacks in the middle of the night. Just in anticipation of the event. For the most part, I try to avoid these types of responsibilities. But life sometimes throws them at you.
Grocery shopping is not too bad. I keep list in hand, my head down, and shop as fast as I can so that I can get out of the store. If I see someone I know, I usually do my best to avoid having to talk to that person. What will I say? They will think I am boring. The conversation will dwindle and it will be awkward. Better just to avoid it altogether.
I usually eat dinner alone and then maybe watch television. I don't usually have plans in the evening during the week. Or on the weekend, come to think of it. In order to have plans, you have to have friends. Once in a while I will do something with my family. Once in a while doesn't happen very often.
I don't think I choose to be this way. I don't know why anyone would choose to be this way. It's a horrible way to live. I would rather have a problem that was very specific, like a fear of spiders or fear of heights. That is something people can understand and it doesn't affect every aspect of your life. That is what this does. It affects EVERY part of my life. Because spending the rest of my life alone is not really a life.
When my head hits the pillow, the thoughts return. What did I do wrong today? Who did I embarrass myself in front of? What do I have to do tomorrow? How can I get out of it? If I am lucky I fall asleep right away. I have found that exercise helps to tire me out and let me fall asleep more easily. If I haven't exercised it can take hours to fall asleep. The thoughts just keep churning through my head and don't relent.
I want to get help but I don't know how. Nobody knows about the inner turmoil I go through. They might have noticed a bit of anxiety here and there but for the most part I keep it pretty well hidden. It's not like other mental illnesses where there is an impact on others in my life; it's only me that gets the brunt of it. I just keep on taking it because I don't know how to get over it.
There are some rays of hope though. I know I haven't tried everything to fight my fears and I'm not willing to give up just yet. It's like one of my favorite lines from the Simpsons. The beatnik parents go to a professional to seek help for their out of control child. They tell the professional: "We've tried nothing, and we're all out of ideas."
I haven't tried nothing, but I haven't tried everything yet either. I do believe that meeting other people like myself could make a difference. If I could join a therapy group specifically to help people with social anxiety disorder (SAD), then at least I would know everyone else there was dealing with the same problems. It would feel less awkward because we would all be in the same boat.
In the meantime I continue to read all I can. I may try another self-help program or one day work up the courage to make an appointment with my doctor. It's hard. Every day is hard, but I keep going knowing that it will be better someday. I am better now than I used to be, and I think that just comes with age. I do think that the more I expose myself to social situations, the more comfortable I will become. In some ways I just lack the practice because fear has kept me away.
I know that there are others who have much worse social anxiety than me. There are probably some who have it milder as well. I just know that mine is impairing enough that it affects everything I do on a daily basis. That really is the struggle - that the fear and anxiety never leaves me because our world is so social.
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