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.