A Rant on Social Anxiety Disorder


Sometimes I read anxiety forums and it makes me sad.

I have social anxiety disorder but I live with “SA” very differently than others live with it. I'm rarely depressed by it. I also have great posture and don't mumble in public places, and am assertive. Atypical for someone with SA. It's been a double-edged sword, making it harder for people to understand what is wrong with me, but at the same time giving me more self-esteem and the compliments of those who do understand what I go through. Their respect, more than anything else. I also never fell into drug or alcohol abuse, another common fault of so many of us who live in a frightening bubble. And yet, like so many, I have no education to speak of and really no prospects, undermining just about every ounce of my intelligence.

But on these anxiety forums I sometimes read things like “I don't like when people tell me to cheer up or 'just do it.'” I can't understand why others, very much like me in what they deal with, say these things. More often than not people aren't even aware that I have a problem being around people, and I get no kind of verbal emotional support. I would love for someone to tell me to cheer up or encourage me to get out. Yet I see others complaining that people support them (or so it seems to me). I guess it could get annoying if I was not ready to change, but that leads me to the next difference.

I'm assertive. It seems that most people with anxiety disorders are anything but assertive, and this is a huge problem for them, which leads to a lot of depression and to many of their panic attacks. I never let anyone walk over me, and will let anyone know what my limitations are, and when I'm ready to try for something. This at least gives me a sense of control over my situation, which a lot of others don't have.

Reading forums I get a sense that many with SA are angry, don't know why, and have no idea how to fix it or even that they can. They think they suffer alone, that others cannot understand them. I call this “Kurt Cobain Syndrome.” In my opinion it's one of the most destructive behaviors we with anxiety and depression and other mental disorders can exhibit. It's assuming that “normal” people don't have bad days, don't know what it's like to suffer internally, or have never experienced long bouts of severe depression or fear.

Most people have not done something they wanted to because they were afraid to try. I think most people can get a feel for what having anxiety every single day is like.

Another difference is that I never feel “regret” and definitely not “guilt” for having anxiety. It has been years since I have internalized my fears as those emotions, and as an adult I have taken a rather clinical outlook on my issues. I am the way I am because of my life experiences and genetics. It's not my fault, and even though I may never be cured, that doesn't mean that I cannot live with this, or even that I am sick in the medical sense of the word, as someone with a severe mental illness would be sick. I can still function, I just have to find my own way.

I've spent my adult life figuring out my own way in the world. It's my personality. Even before I ever showed symptoms of social anxiety disorder, as a child I was acutely introverted and did my own thing as often as I could do it. I was not a “team player” but I was not anti-social. I was just me, and I continue to be me.

I do not get the sense that many with anxiety feel this way. They're bombarded by guilt and regret. Things they've missed out on, their faults. It is what most often drives depression related to anxiety.

This depression is possibly the worst part of social anxiety disorder. Panic attacks are awful, but I've felt the most freedom in my life when in the middle of a severe panic attack when I could smile and know I'd be all right. There is never that feeling of being okay when I'm in a bout of depression.

It's a terrible ordeal to go through: this mixture of anxiety and depression. To me it's obvious that, though the anxiety may be natural and unavoidable, many suffering SA bring the depression onto themselves by the way they view the world. It's obvious by the things they say. I know, because I had to learn to view the world the way I do now. I was once like them. It's a place I'll never willingly and consciously go back to.

And yet I feel deeply for their plight, because though I have found something that works for me, there's no guarantee that it would work for them, and I have no right to push it onto them even if it would help. That's one of the key problems with having SA. We have to figure things out on our own time, in our own way, and we have to come to solutions willingly, or risk making our anxiety worse.

There's a fine line there. It takes courage to tread it, and no one else can tread it for us. If it's not our own autonomous decision, it can destroy us. It can destroy us even if it is our decision.

And yet I know that complaining about our position in the world is self-destructive. It's a poison. The most depressing and annoying people I've ever been around are those depressed and anxious individuals who are, with loose lips, eager to bitch about their lot in life, and yet unwilling to do anything to feel better.

I so know how my family and friends feel. Especially my wonderful girlfriend. Compassion gives way to frustration so easily. There comes a time when the reaction is “put up or shut up.” And I'm not always the most willing participant in change.

But I don't want to feel that way, especially about people I know suffer, and at the same time few people have a good enough excuse to suffer. Everything we need to be happy, despite our fears, is right before us, inside of us. Friends and family if we're willing to open up to them, to let them into our world. All of the resources the internet has to offer. Proven techniques in meditation, diet, and exercise. Cognitive behavioral therapy (exposure therapy is about the best). On and on. Maybe the only thing missing is a willingness to be happy? Some people feel they deserve to be miserable. Some people probably do deserve it. But I'm not one of them, and neither are you, whoever is reading this.

I write this in the hope that someone who I describe will read it (or anyone else) and realize that though it may not be up to them to cure their anxiety, it is their choice to be happy or miserable. We have full control over the way we view the world. It can be viewed as a rotten place, or one that is joyous. Despite our panic, despite our fear, we can be happy. No matter what we go through, we can at least have that.

We don't have to own our anxiety (or our depression). We are so much more than a few panic attacks and an aversion to crowds.

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24 Responses to A Rant on Social Anxiety Disorder

  1. Just a thought - most any time I have heard "cheer up" or "why can't you just MAKE yourself do it" it wasn't meant in a supportive way but in a snappy put-down you're-just-whining way. Maybe that's the subtext you're missing when you read these fora?

    I also think there's a difference between "I've never skydived because I'm afraid to try" and "I can't go to the grocery store because I'm afraid of the people there" - it's about the level of impairment. People can't imagine being afraid of things they take for granted, for the most part.

    It sounds like you are a very strong, very lucky individual. These are just some additional perspectives to ponder. Great read :)

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    1. They were things I've thought about and thought about again before I wrote this and again before I published, lol. I know what a burden it can be to be nagged to do things, but I also know the mind of a pessimistic depressed phobic. Anything and everything that could possibly be construed as negative will be! Some complaints are valid, but most aren't. For instance when a person thinks "no one cares about me." It's often not because no one does, but because the person who thought the thought isn't recognizing the compassionate signals coming from others. We're painting reality with our negative thoughts, not seeing what is actually there to be seen. Not understanding what others are going through, as well.

      We may see a friend who doesn't wave at us and get depressed and think he hates us or that we did something wrong, or perhaps that person just didn't see us. It happens a LOT that way.

      Or we assume that other people are fully capable of reaching out, but from their perspective they really only see us, and people with anxiety disorders are well known, if they're known for anything, for putting up impenetrable fencing around themselves so that they turn people off from reaching out to them. It's incredibly difficult to try to get to know someone who sits in a corner and doesn't speak, or when he speaks mumbles. It actually makes people think they don't want to talk.

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  2. I was on pills for half a year that CAUSED S.A.
    It was chemically induced.
    The doctor kept saying it was a 'pre-existing condition'.

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    1. I've never heard of SA being chemically induced but I can see how it could be, tinkering with how the brain operates can linger on long after the drugs are taken away. I have heard of drug abuse (heroin for instance) instigating panic attacks. The bassist of Guns N Roses, Duff McKagan was a drug user, and started having panic attacks when he was 17/18. Not SA, though, obviously. Dude performed in front of crowds of 100,000. But he couldn't fly without getting drunk enough to pass out once he got on the plane because he would freak out in the tight space.

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  3. Like you say, you had to learn how to deal with your problem, you had to learn what worked for you. Everyone does to some degree, but this learning starts at a surprisingly young age. I'm sure there was something about what your parents did that taught you to stand on your own two feet (so to speak), just as I'm sure many of these other people have learned the way of wo and self pity, and not how to dig themselves out of the hole they find themselves in.

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    1. That's giving me a lot to think about, Anna!

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  4. I've never had to deal with those problems. Yes, I've been depressed when nothing seemed to help my allergies that then caused illness after illness. As soon as I could breathe again (dry, desert air) that went away. Almost went into a panic attack when I was fourteen and worried about what people might think and then realized "people" were too busy with their own problems to care about any that I might have. What a relief. It never bothered me again.

    I'm thrilled you had the courage and intellect to plot your own course. Your intellect and the ability to analyze kept you from going into the self-pity portion. Blessings, and if it makes you feel better, smile or laugh. Both are good.

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    1. Thank you so much, Mari. "People" really aren't that concerned with us.

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  5. Thank you for sharing, JR. I think a lot depends on our self-esteem and acceptance of self. Once we come to accept ourselves, we learn ways in which to be happy and to grow. I can see that you have done just that and applaud you for it.

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    1. Thank you :)

      I agree, once we accept ourselves for who we are, the doors open as if by magic on a different world, one in which some pretty terrible things before become positives and enhance who we are. We can find ways to use the bad to our advantage, or at the very least grow stronger by it.

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  6. That IS a perfect post!! It is for me. I suffer from severe anxiety and severe depression, and I know that what you are describing as your way of dealing with it is the best way, much better than medication or any treatment. It starts inside. No one can talk to use the way we talk to ourselves. No one knows how to calm our fear as much as we know what calms our fear.
    Thank you for sharing. I think it's perfect!

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    1. You're so very welcome, Nikky! I'm with you on meds. I've done without them for four years and I cannot be happier because of that. Cognitive therapy and Taoism is enough for me, at least at this point in my life.

      And I'm both honored and stoked that you've gotten something out of this, especially a fellow sufferer!

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    2. I have been on medication on and off for 31 years. Around Christmas just few months ago and although I was on very high dosages of anti depressants, tranquilizers and mood stabilizers for over 5 years, I was feeling horrible and was suicidal. It was impossible to increase my dosages more and the doctor decided I must be in hospital. That day, I decided to stop everything and I did. I don't take anything now, and I'm not visiting the psychiatrist anymore.

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    3. I'm very happy to hear that you've been able to improve after stopping medication. Makes me wonder if they were part of the problem...

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  7. We all have our own little insecurities or disorder and your writing about it makes half the struggle (if it even is a struggle, maybe for others) done. Good for you!

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  8. Great post, JR!

    I suffer from depression (taking anti-depressants) and in the past, severe anxiety attacks. And yes, it is difficult to have these illnesses. But it is still through our own willpower that we can get through them and lead normal, happy lives. The illness is not our choice--it's part of circumstance. But how we react towards our illness and all of its effects--our choice.

    I do hope the others who are going through the same thing would think the way you do, JR. :-)

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    1. My mom has suffered anxiety for years and has gotten over most of it and she says "because I did, so can you." I disagree with her on that (just because she did it part), but happiness is not impossible!

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  9. JR, thank you so much for sharing this. My daughter suffers from stress/anxiety disorder and I she has your outlook on things. It is a horrible thing for a mom to watch their child have a panic attack and not be able to do anything for them. Or to watch them get stressed over something that seems trivial to everyone else around them. She tells people 'that's the way she's wired', but it doesn't change WHO I am.
    Wonderful post and I enjoyed my visit today ☺

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  10. I think I learned to cope with social anxiety at an early age with manipulation. I learned to categorize human beings by what they wanted, and then I took power over any situation by having more knowledge than others.

    but this isn't really healthy, living like Machiavelli... and eventually I put this bad habit away, but if I feel threatened in a social environment, I just bring back the old habits and assert my authority over everyone. maybe this coping mechanism exist more in my head than reality, but regardless of the real world proof I have of understanding most people better than they know themselves... regardless of all of the moral issues of manipulation... it works to calm me down.

    Tell me, is SA spawned from a lack of control? or FEAR of a lack of control? When does it start for most people and why? is there a common denominator? why did it start for you? was it a constant from early childhood?

    I'm a curious SOB, don't answer anything you don't feel like.

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    1. I don't ever remember manipulating anyone, not consciously, but I've definitely been forced to understand people better.

      I think many millions, billions, of people have an everyday fear of not having control over their lives, or the world, and I think this causes a lot of problems for them, but that doesn't seem to be the problem related to the acute symptoms of SA. My current theory, which I'm starting to believe in more and more is that SA, at least for most people, is a coping mechanism in and of itself, the ego unconsciously trying to keep us from situations we feel will harm us. It's illogical in that way, because there are people who have phobias for situations where they are in total control. But that's just MY theory. It may apply to my own life more than it applies to others'.

      Why I hold this theory is because from my earliest memories I was an introvert, and expressed a deep need to be by myself. But I was not afraid of the world--I just didn't want to be bothered while I did my own thing, and yet sometimes, many times in fact, I enjoyed being around people so long as it was on my own terms. As I got older and life got more stressful, and I became a teenager, my anxiety developed at least partly as a response to that need to be sheltered, or to be by myself. Then I became scared, a side-effect of whatever internal mechanism exists in me that demands solitude.

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  11. I used to suffer from anxiety .When I was experiencing this problem I didn’t share it with anyone. It was the only mistake made by me .At that time my best friend suggested me a online site socialanxietyexperts.com It’s good tips of self-therapy really help me out in reducing my stress. Moreover, to cure this disease sharing your problem is very important. The first step is to speak to someone that you trust about how you are feeling. This could be a teacher, a parent, a relative or another adult that you trust. Talking to someone will reduce the pressure of anxiety and stress, it may also help you to realize that you are not alone in how you are feeling.

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    ReplyDelete

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