Social anxiety, and what it means to me.

I get up in the morning and the thoughts that come after I deal with my basic needs (hunger, thirst, bladder) is that I have to see them again. The people that never stop judging. The whisperers and the ones that hold their stares long enough to make me uncomfortable – it doesn’t take long.

I think about it in the shower and I think about it as I get dressed. I think about it as I make my way to school, work or wherever I have to be. Sometimes, I hit the snooze button a few more times just so that I’d be near late, and rushing, with hopes that it may take my mind off those prying eyes just waiting for me – but it doesn’t work. Still, I try.

I spend more time than I should in front of the mirrors not because I am vain, but because of my crippling fear of embarrassment. I ask the questions that matter, and the ones that don’t. I run through my mental checklist of things that people can laugh at me about, and ensure that I’ve covered all those bases before I leave my house.

My house is the one of very few places that I actually feel safe and not constantly self-conscious.

Taking the bus is generally fine on most days. I’ve learned to deal with it after all these years. It still makes me feel uncomfortable, especially when proximity is an issue, very much more so during peak hours. Most days I just hold my breath and try to act as normal as I possibly can, taking control over my every move. Despite my distaste for public transportation, the real issue is the walking. I hate walking because it is where I am most vulnerable. People walk by, people stare and I never really got over a comment about how I don’t walk like normal people do even though it has been nearly ten years ago. I make a conscious effort to mirror other people, acting as they do, walking as they walk. I walk faster than most people so I cover more distance in a shorter time, which means I have to spend less time feeling exposed and vulnerable.

This fear and anxiety is amplified with the need to take public transportation because walking is half the journey, but I dread the entire journey all the same. There were times where I opted for the hour long route as opposed to the fifteen minute route, just to avoid people.

I constantly reflect on my overt behavior and consider if the things I do are ‘normal’ enough in the eyes of others. The thoughts of other people play a large part in the sense that I often adapt to other people because straying from the norm, to me, is social suicide. At least, I try to, as best I can, not to stand out from the crowd, so to speak.

I keep to myself most of the time because I’m worried about what people will think about the things I say. Most people do too, I just obsess over it more than most. This obsession is not understood by people because disorders are subjective and the ones with these disorders are often misunderstood.

We are rewarded, or punished with the hand we are dealt. Success gurus and motivational coaches will tell you to make the best with what you have, but that does not mean that the creases even themselves out. Nothing comes easy and for some people it is a battle every day just trying to accomplish the simple tasks that most people don’t even think twice about.

We do. I do. I think twice before I exit the washroom (my make-do ‘safe house’, outside of my home). I ensure that I have somewhere to go. An ‘escape plan’ of sorts. I need to know exactly where to go and how to go there before I start walking because If I make a wrong turn or walk a little too far, chances are I would keep walking. The common options from there on would be to either take the long way around back to where I have to be, go somewhere and do something as If it was my original intent to do so or to simple walk on until I am out of sight and hide for a moment before turning around and yes, I have done all of these things and many more and I still do them.

The same goes for when I require assistance, regardless of the matter. I avoid asking for help not because I don’t want to, or need to, but because I am fearful and apprehensive as well as self-conscious to the point where I rather suffer alone, in silence than face the possibility that people may judge me, laugh at me or reject me.

None of this ever gets old. It is the same battle everyday and it does not get easier. The hardest part is the loneliness which is largely attributed to the fact that most people who do not feel, see, experience or face the challenges that I face find it extremely hard to really empathize with me, even if they say they do and even if they really try. The thought of my incessant fears and anxiety associated with simple, daily tasks around people is almost ridiculous to them.

My anxiety with people has, over the years, driven me to do things that others probably would not have had to do, willingly, at least. I have had meals in the toilet because I was too afraid to sit by myself in a crowded cafeteria. The thought of walking around finding a seat is painful enough, much less sitting down and eating by myself.

My reaction time is also compromised, because I spend more time dedicating conscious attention to the things that most people do or react to naturally. I think before I react. When I fall down in a public place, I think, before I react. I think about how a ‘normal’ person would react, and do my best to imitate. When I make a mistake, I think, before I react. Everything is planned with appropriate contingency.

The people that surround me don’t make it any easier. They judge, they laugh and they whisper. Despite me constantly looking for signs of disapproval from others, there are times where this is obvious and undeniable and this disapproval over the years could be one of the larger contributing factors to my anxiety today. I have been judged one too many times over things that I did not do and beliefs that I do not hold. The self-fulfilling prophecy that others hold, in this case, negative preconceived notions about the person I am, show in their body language and I have enough time as a silent observer to be able to identify the gestures and basic micro expressions that tell me what I need to know – enough to know what people think of me.

This balance, however, of what people really think of me and my perceptions and beliefs about how they think of me, is often lost in the mix and it eventually snowballs into a perpetual state of belief – ‘everyone hates me’.Β  It is a vicious cycle at times, in the sense that my fears lead to avoidance and distancing from others, which in turn is interpreted by some people as me being anti social (maybe I am) or refusing to interact with them.

This is an honest account of my experiences and even as I’m typing this, I think about how the people I see may read this and thus be more aware of what goes on in my head and observe me in greater detail. The thought of it makes me more uncomfortable. This anxiety is crippling, painful and haunting in every sense of the word but this is my life, and this is my fight, or rather, flight. I have no appetite for sympathy or pity. I desire empathy and have yet to find any.

Still, I wish they would stop laughing.

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