Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), like every other mental disorder, is no joke. The emotional distress, physical symptoms, struggle to socialise, and inability to be rational in even the simplest of situations can be seriously disabling, exhausting and humiliating. Some individuals with SAD tend to avoid social or performance situations out of fear, despite knowing that their fear is unreasonable and excessive. When a feared situation is not avoided, many individuals end up feeling intensely anxious and distressed. But as soon as they’re alone again, or perhaps with people they feel comfortable around, they feel a whole lot better.
I’ve had social anxiety for as long as I can remember. But it was manageable until I moved to a socially intimate neighbourhood. Since then, the social anxiety has developed into SAD, and it’s interfering with my everyday life. Just this morning, my social anxiety played up over a ridiculously straightforward task…
I woke up feeling pretty good this morning, so I decided I was going to make pancakes for breakfast. But much to my dismay, I realised I didn’t have one of the key ingredients – milk. I proceeded to get dressed and grabbed my purse as I headed to the front door. Just as I was about to leave the house, I began to feel apprehensive and retreated into the kitchen. I asked my S.O. to accompany me to the small grocery store near our house, but he refused to come as he felt rather tired. I really wanted to make pancakes as our daughter enjoys watching me flip them in the pan, and (of course) loves eating them. So I asked my S.O. again. He calmly stated that there was no need for both of us to go to the store for one carton of milk, and that we’d have to wake our daughter up as she can’t be left alone at home. He had a point, and knew I was being unreasonable. There really was no reason for all three of us to go out to buy just one carton of milk.
Still, the thought of walking to the store alone made me nervous. I knew I’d bump into other people, there was no doubt about that. Without my S.O. and our daughter by my side, all eyes would be on me. And I’d have to say hello, everyone in the area says hello to one another. The thought of politely saying hello to neighbours, acquaintances and strangers while walking past them made me fearful. What if some individuals wanted to have a conversation? I’d panic and most likely say something stupid. And what about when I reached the store? The thought of entering, taking the milk, and interacting with the cashier made me incredibly anxious.
After sulking for a while, I somehow managed to force myself out of the house. The walk to the store was only going to take 10 minutes, and I was only going to buy one item, so how bad could it really be? As usual, there were other people out and about. I felt extremely anxious as I approached each individual, my mouth went dry and became excessively self-conscious. I managed to say hello to the people I know, but after I walked away I couldn’t stop replaying each encounter in my head. Did they hear me speak? Did my voice sound croaky? Did my hello sound forced and insincere? What if they noticed I felt uncomfortable? Did they think I want nothing to do with them? As for the people I didn’t know, I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact, let alone say hello. It wasn’t my intention to be rude or anything, I was just too afraid to interact with them. Ignoring them made me feel like a shitty person, but there was nothing I could do.
To calm myself down, I started counting and fiddled with a pebble I keep in my pocket. The self-soothing helped up until I reached the store, then my anxiety hit me again, harder. My heart started racing, I had butterflies in my stomach, my legs felt like jelly, and I had trouble breathing. But despite all of these unpleasant physical sensations, I entered the store and picked up a carton of milk. Thankfully there weren’t any other customers around. Whenever there is, I always tense up and feel incredibly uneasy, especially when it comes to standing in a queue. Anyway, I took the milk to the cashier and proceeded to pay for it. My cheeks were flushed as I shakily handed her the money, I’m not sure if she noticed. I wanted to buy a small plastic bag too, but I was too embarrassed to ask.
As soon as I walked out of the store with my carton of milk, I felt this wave of relief wash over me. I was still a little anxious, as I knew I’d bump into people on my way home, but overall I felt more relaxed. After all, I’d bought what I needed to make some delicious pancakes, and I was on my way home to make them.
I try my best to not let my anxiety disorder control me. Some days, like today, I’m able to complete simple tasks that involve social interaction (even though they bring me a lot of emotional distress). And then there are other days where I can’t bring myself to leave the house, as my fear and anxiety consumes me. Regardless of whether I am able to go out not, I always end up feeling pretty stupid after my symptoms of SAD subside. I recognise that I have nothing to fear, but I can’t help it when the fear arises.
If you also struggle with social anxiety or SAD, feel free to share your experiences with me in the comments section below.