How I Successfully Live with Social Anxiety Disorder
Everyone these days wants to look at “empowerment” and “strengths” and “how wonderful you are.”
I’ll be honest with you – social anxiety disorder brings with it a lot of hardship. And I’m still having a hard time looking on the bright side of having it.
If you don’t know what social anxiety disorder is, just think of it as shyness. Based on what I’ve learned from others, it impacts your life in different ways.
One common theme, though, is that you get excessively and unnecessarily fearful of what you think people think about you, or what you think they’re going to think about you. For example, an anxious person could be in a group of 2-3 people they don’t know and feel as nervous as you would delivering a speech to the United States of America without having practiced it at all.
Why I Have It
Hindsight is 20/20 with just about everything in life, and that’s certainly the case with social anxiety disorder. For me, I think I’m biologically wired to be shy, and that’s the case with a lot of shy people (but not all in my opinion).
But, on top of that, almost major authority figure in my young life, until about 23-25 or so, spent most of their time criticizing me and pointing out what I was doing wrong. I could count the number of good things authority figures said about me growing up on one hand, definitely two.
I’d get screamed out for making minor mistakes. Bosses would curse at me to my face.
For most of my life, I felt awful that I was so shy, like something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I handle working in “normal” conditions with bosses who constantly disapproved and cursed about what I did? Why did I mess up so often and make people angry?
That was normal – everyone else lives with that, right?
Now, I realize people choose their reactions, and that I don’t have to define my self-esteem based on how others are acting toward me.
Enough with the Sob Story – Here’s the Reality of Living with It
Anyway, I don’t like to dwell too much on the past. It is what it is, and it was definitely unpleasant growing up. That’s that, and now it’s time to move on.
So I’d like to talk about some other ways social anxiety disorder impacted my life so you have an idea of what it’s like to live with on a daily basis. I’m taking the sob element out here, and just giving you the cold, hard facts of living with social anxiety:
Many times, I’d be too fearful to speak up and be assertive at jobs. So, I’d get afraid and look like a “deer in the headlights.” I didn’t make good decisions at jobs. I had a hard time staying employed. I quit jobs I couldn’t tolerate, and got fired from others.
I was fortunate to have great friends growing up, so I didn’t struggle as much with social isolation as other social anxiety sufferers do.
But then they went away to college, and I went to a different college than they did. I’d spend the whole weekend playing videogames (literally 20 hours+) because I was too afraid to go out and meet people. I wouldn’t go to the gym because I believed people there were just waiting for me to “screw up” so they could “attack” me verbally. I didn’t go outside for a jog as frequently for the same reasons.
And asking people in class for their phone numbers? Forget it – too scary. It rarely happened.
Even simple things like ordering food at a restaurant were hard. I’d get nervous and stutter when the waiter looked at me and forget what I wanted to order.
Then, on top of that, I’d get ashamed of myself afterwards for being such a “fool.”
Walking down the hallways at college was difficult because so many people were there and whenever they looked at me, I’d wonder, “What are they thinking? They probably hate me and are calling me names in their head.”
Social anxiety is a brutal, vicious downward cycle – and my story is not one of the most extreme ones.
I did have my fair share of relationships with women, none of which I’d call healthy now, and they were all short-lived. Many times, I couldn’t get myself to speak to a woman, even in a casual conversation.
What’s interesting is that despite knowledge of the condition, I could not will myself to feel more relaxed, even though I preferred to be that way. Social anxiety is a mental condition you cannot control.
How Did I Get Through It?
I know this story has taken on a negative tone so far, but that’s the unfortunate reality. Living with social anxiety is not pleasant at all. At its worst, it completely isolates you from the rest of the world, making it difficult to form new relationships and hold down a job – all things many people do naturally without thinking.
Some people can’t even leave their home to shop for groceries! Others are 50 years old and have never had a meaningful romantic relationship. By comparison, I had a relatively easy time.
In my experience, people get through social anxiety in different ways. Some are fast, while others are gradual. For me, it’s definitely been gradual.
I tried medication. That helped a little for a while. I went off of it and don’t use it today because it didn’t seem to help much, and I’m skeptical about the long-term effects of prescription medication.
I tried some counseling for a while. That was helpful too. But here’s the hangup for social anxiety sufferers: it’s tough to hold down a job that pays any decent kind of money. Your low confidence rubs off on others, you get distrusted, and then you lose your job. Counseling costs $70 – $150 or $200 per hour, so I didn’t stick with it. In fact, the first time I had health insurance was at 29 – through my wife’s employer!
Last, I also tried going to a nonprofit that held meetings for anxiety sufferers. That sort of helped, but it was for all anxiety disorders, not the unique challenges faced by social anxiety sufferers. I think I moved away from that city not long after.
All I did was keep putting myself in anxiety-provoking situations and work on letting go of them. Before I met my wife of almost 5 years, I’d go on dates with whomever. I conducted myself with honesty and didn’t lead anyone on.
I figured out where my comfort zone lay, and then took a step outside of it. I met new people and hung out with new friends. I tried new jobs.
A lot of the time, things failed and fell apart completely. So, I had to let go of the outcomes too, and that’s hard too. Social anxiety sufferers love to constantly obsess about outcomes, and the possibility they’ll turn out negatively.
What Things are Like Now
I’m still anxious these days, but not nearly as bad. It’s hard to walk up to people and greet them, have client meetings at work, or be assertive for my opinion when I disagree with someone else.
But you know what? It’s a lot easier today than it was years ago. Now, I am happily married to my wife (she’ll tell you that herself) and we will be married 5 years in September.
I started my own successful freelance writing business (you can check it out at http://www.freelancewriterinchicago.com), support both my wife and I with the income, and we’re able to go shopping for a home this Spring!
Even though it’s tough, I think overcoming difficulties like this make you a better person in the long run, when compared to someone who does everything naturally. It’s a good lesson to know what life is like when things don’t go your way for years at a time. It makes you very resilient.
Ultimately, I’m glad to be who I am, even with the social anxiety. In the meantime, it’s not easy and takes a ton of hard work to make it through.
Hopefully, though, this posts helps those who do not have the condition understand what it’s all about. And for those who do have it, I hope it inspires you that your life can get better too.