Inside the Mind of Social Anxiety

At some point in my life, I'm not sure exactly when, I became a worry-wart. Well, that isn't quite as serious as it sounds. I became an anxious person. Most of the time, I categorize my inner demons as "social anxiety." But what exactly does that mean? I'll tell you.

Social Anxiety Disorder is pretty much what it sounds like. It is a disorder where a person has an extreme fear of social situations. People with SAD spend a significant amount of time worrying about being scrutinized by others. It isn't always just about people judging them. It's about this hyper-judging thing that social anxiety tricks the brain into believing really happens. 

For example: While I am waiting for my daughter to finish her dance class, I sit in the waiting room with other parents. Often times, the other parents will be holding conversations among themselves. Even if I have something to contribute to a conversation, I will sit there quietly (usually playing a game on my phone) until someone brings me into the conversation. I don't jump into the conversation myself because, in the back of my mind, I believe that these nice people will hate me for barging into their personal conversation. (And note, these aren't usually super personal conversations. It's usually about school or an upcoming event.) I don't want to be hated so I simply say nothing. 

These are the extreme thoughts of the socially anxious person. It's not as simple as being uncomfortable in a situation. Situations where we have to interact with other people (sometimes including loved ones) are difficult and uncomfortable because of these dark thoughts inside our heads. We truly believe that others will despise us for inconsequential behaviors. That the person sitting next to us will think we are an awful human being for trying to include ourselves in their lives. 

Yet, I try my best to overcome my inner thoughts. I sit in the waiting room while my daughter dances; I agree to attend parties once in awhile; I occasionally walk my daughter to the door when she goes to a friend's house to talk to the parents. I know what the triggers are for my anxiety and I do my best to avoid those situations. (I don't go into a social situation alone. I always have a 'social buddy' with me who will carry the conversation and allow me to step in when I want to.) And while I don't ask people to coddle me, I do ask for their patience. If you text me, know that I may not respond immediately. But only because I am trying to work up the courage to do so. If I ask you a question, know that it took me hours of agonizing whether or not I should ask the (usually simple) question. My heart knows that you do not hate me. My brain just hasn't caught on. 

So feel free to invite me to events. Feel free to join me in the farthest corner of the room. You may not get more than a smile and a nod but there are a million unspoken words in those few motions. "Thank you for including me. Thank you for not leaving me alone. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for being a friend."