Social Anxiety and the Art of Avoidance.

Yesterday was supposed to be my first workshop on organic farming. I say was because I didn’t go…

I have social anxiety disorder (some call it social phobia disorder). I have been working on getting better about it for years now. I’ve had it my entire life in varying levels of severity, and there was a point where I wasn’t able to leave the house because of it. I avoid stores and driving – Especially without someone with me. I’m unable to make telephone calls to strangers or to make appointments even when it’s an emergency. There have been a few times that I have been vomiting due to a migraine and suffering worse because my neighbor’s stereo was too loud and I couldn’t manage to go knock on the door to ask her to turn it down.

Many who know me and are close to me usually don’t see it, or if they do it’s because I’m around too many people at once and have to flee and/or decline invitations to parties. Once I warm up a little, it’s a different story unless it comes to telling people no or confrontation. And since I’m lacking these social skills, it’s pretty easy to be a human doormat and magnet for those who are willing to take advantage of my seemingly good nature.

What happened on Wednesday with missing the workshop, though, is pretty effing painful for me. Google Maps messed up the directions, and the way my town is set up is confusing at best sometimes. In this case, the street it landed me on was the right one, but it ends halfway into the city and then has miles until it starts again in a seemingly random place. So, despite being a punctuality freak, it ended up with me giving up about 20 minutes after the workshops were supposed to start. I had no idea how to get there, and by the time I managed to get there I was going to have to walk into a room full of strangers late. Just thinking about that sort of situation makes my chest tighten up.

The truth is that I started in with my anticipatory anxiety about 4 days before, which was pretty impressive considering that it usually starts about a month in advance. For most of that time my excitement overshadowed my anxiety. But then I started sleeping poorly, and I think that weakened my ability to challenge myself as much as I usually do.

So, since my mother was dropping me off, I had her bring me home. I know she didn’t want to do it, and she even attempted to pull out a map (It wasn’t there). But by that point I wasn’t willing to push myself anymore; I’d been doing it all morning while alone on top of fighting all the irrational thoughts in my head for days before that.

I went up to bed and cried for a while. Mr. NaW brought me my computer, a package I’d received in the mail, and a book to read. I guess he realized I was going to be out of commission for the day. I actually slept most of it. Now I just feel depressed and sort of numb… And, well, frustrated and horrible about myself. Sometimes you have to throw a bit of a pity party, and since today I’m supposed to be in workshops again (which I won’t go to since I missed the first 9 hours of them) I don’t see tomorrow being much better. Hopefully after that I’ll decide to suck it up and carry on with my life.

But I am lonely. I love people, and this illness cuts me off from them. In the year we’ve lived here, I’ve not met a single person my own age nor have I made any friends. I’m so hungry for face-to-face interaction or any interaction at all that if I think too long on it, I begin to cry. For a while I didn’t really care, because my mother hadn’t gotten a job yet after moving. She does her best to keep me going out and doing things, but I see a lot less of her these days. Mr. NaW is very busy with school and research work, and I get to spend about an hour and a half with him each day – Most of it watching TV. I’m not upset with him about it, because he’s doing what he needs to do in life. We have one car, but I have a lot of trouble getting out by myself still. Every week I say I’m going to go do something, attend a UU service, a community potluck, or some meeting for a group I want to belong to, but by the time comes to do it I never seem to gather the strength required.

Even my friends that I’ve typically talked to on the internet for years and years are all super busy with their lives. We talk once a week if I’m lucky, and it’s nice to have that chance to talk to them even if most of the time I’m just handing over small talk. I hear a lot of “I’m here if you need me,” but I’m getting to the point where I simply no longer believe it. There are other people for them to worry about and they have lives to lead, and while it hurts I understand. I’m getting used to them not being there. We all used to role-play, but since I’m no longer involved with a game I don’t get a chance to indulge in healthy escapism. I miss that. A lot. But I don’t bring it up with them, because at this point I just feel like it would be some sort of charity case for the crazy girl without a life.

And that’s just it… I think that’s where the very core of the pain sits for me. I sit back and watch everyone else have a life, and while most of the time I’m content to fill my days bustling around the house, gardening, teaching myself something, or creating… Well, I just feel like my own life is at a stand-still and what’s holding me back is me. Yet I can’t seem to do anything about it.

To add insult to injury, the key part of my avoidance is brought on by things I recognize are irrational thoughts. I realize that what I’m thinking is crazy, but the more I challenge it, the more I wear down and become unable to fight the discomfort of it all. Medication doesn’t help. And just let me say that being sane enough to realize your having thoughts that aren’t right is actually a lot more troubling than being absolutely delusional since you’re aware.

It is easy to sit back without experience with this illness and suggest a person needs to cultivate a stronger “fuck it” attitude, but the very basis of social anxiety is the fear of being judged by others. That’s not just an attitude you can magically develop just because you want to. Personally I don’t think it’s a 100% healthy attitude for anyone to have, but my view may be skewed.

It’s also easy to suggest I get into therapy again. However, despite this situation being the most horrible, humbling experience I can come up with, I still can’t pick up the phone and call for help. Trust me, I’ve tried.

So… That is where I’m at. I had a fabulous couple of weeks despite being lonely. What goes up eventually must come down. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see when things go up again for me.

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10 thoughts on “Social Anxiety and the Art of Avoidance.

  1. Your honesty and self awareness is amazing! I know it's a tough place to be in. Both of my youngest children have autism and social anxiety is part of the package. The further along the spectrum a person is, the more it hinders their life. Being the one who takes care of them means I'm confined to our home most of the time, except when one (or sometimes, both) have an appointment. It gets very lonely some days.Too late to make a long story short, in an odd way I can relate to what you're going through. It's very difficult for my children, especially for my daughter, who is the more profoundly affected of the two. There's a tremendously limited list of places she feels comfortable and I'm always dragging her out of her comfort zone for therapy or doctor appointments. I hope things get better for you soon and you find a way to make the anixiety more manageable.

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  2. It's so hard when you are your own worst enemy! Social anxiety holds me back as well (though not to the same degree, hugs to you). I've lived in my neighbourhood for four years now, and every time I get out of the car I'm terrified the neighbour is going to see me and want to chat. When I got a new job two years ago, I had to attend an orientation session – I nearly bolted when I saw they had arranged seating around tables. I had to converse with seven other people sitting with me – I stuttered and almost cried several times throughout the day (not so professional). Even at work, if someone I don't talk to very often says hi, I automatically duck my head, utter a quick "hi" back and rush away, it's humiliating! I hope you can get to that workshop one day, or find another activity that is done regularly. After your initial visit, it would be great if you could keep going to the same place among the same people, wouldn't it? Though that's what I tell myself about the knitting group I've been wanting to attend for two years now, gah!

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  3. I can totally relate to all of this. I have the exact same disorder. It's caused me all kinds of heinous problems. I, however, am not "really" trying to fix it. I've found that I'm happier if I just embrace my hermticism. 🙂

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  4. Hey, Meganne,I just stopped by, following the link from your comment at No Unsacred Place. Your blog title caught my attention first, and then this entry.I just wanted to say that, as disappointing as this experience was, it's probably a good idea to notice what you did right. No, you didn't succeed in going to the organic farming workshop (something I know I'd feel intimidated by, too). But you did keep focused on your excitement rather than your fear up until almost four days before the event–score! And you did keep trying to find your way in a strange place where Google's directions didn't make sense–score! And finally, you didn't give up until it was certain that you were going to have to not just walk into a strange place full of strange faces while feeling frazzled from getting lost, but to do it late. And you know what? You get points for that, too.How do I know? Well, in my "past life" (before I became an English teacher) I was a therapist for almost twenty years. And one of the things I learned is that complicated behaviors (and interacting with people is nothing if not complicated) aren't mastered all at once. You can't overcome something as serious as social anxiety by willing it away, all at once.It takes a lot of small steps to re-engage with face-to-face humans. And you got an awful lot of them right, you know. No, the outcome wasn't what you'd been looking forward to, but that doesn't change the fact that you challenged your anxiety, and, dammit, girl, you won a lot of the battles that day.It's ironic and sad you lost the workshop you wanted to be at. But if you recognize what you've done right–hell, celebrate it, because it is a big deal!–it becomes easier to try again.And each time you try again, each time you give yourself credit for each complicated little obstacle faced down, whether you meet your final goal that day or not, you hasten the day when you will actually get into the workshop room, and maybe even get to meet some people you'll care about.It's that journey of a thousand miles thing. You gotta give yourself credit for the single steps. (And, no, turning around and going home does not undo the good work of taking the steps to begin with. It's all about conditioning, building strength, overcoming illness. Practice and training… and giving yourself the credit that you are due!)I hope this is more helpful than preachy. I really mean it, anyway, and I wish you well. 🙂

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  5. I know how you feel.When I first moved out of my parents' home and into my own apartment, I didn't step outside for 4 months…my car had even gotten towed and I didn't know it until I got a notice in the mail. We've lived in this town for 7 years and I have one person I can saftely call "friend" and I don't see her very often either. I spend almost all my time in the house (now that I graduated) with the boys..unless it's taking them to one of their activities. I am not capable of making instant friends and I'll never have a huge circle of them… and I've made my peace with that.Like Cat said so very well: you made success on that day even if you didn't go to the workshop. Next time it'll be just a little bit easier =){{big hugs}}

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  6. In general, thank you everyone! Your kind words have helped a lot with this. I do have another workshop coming up at the end of the month (actually 4 days worth of almost 12 hours of classes and socializing!). I’ll be carpooling with a group from around here, but it will be enough people in the car that I’ll be able to be quiet if I need to. There will be 4 months of being around this group, so I figure I’ll warm up to at least one person eventually. :)Shannon, you have my admiration for doing what you do. My fiancé shows quite a few symptoms of autism, and I know how going outside of a comfort zone is in that type of situation. He and I seem to balance out each other’s shortcomings for the other one, so we’ve been blessed with the ability to take care of each other when it’s needed. Still it’s not always easy! The amount of love and dedication I see in parents with autistic children is really inspiring.Amy, that’s very much how I am, too. I don’t tear up as much, but I inevitably get the nervous giggles. I hope you get to your knitting group someday.LJ, I embrace it a lot, too. The homebody part of it isn’t something I really worry too much about, and actually one of the reasons I think farming will be good for me is because I can spend a lot of time at home dealing with people who are helping me on my own terms. I’m proud of being an introvert. I guess I just figure that, to a point, I’ll always have these problems. I just hope the more I work to push myself outside of my boundaries, I’ll learn to handle it with grace.Cat, that’s very helpful! Thank you! And a week out of the situation, you’re very right, I am proud of how well I handled it. I’ve come a very long way from the days I couldn’t go out on my own. And two days after I wrote this, I challenged myself to go to an Asian market alone to shop – Putting myself completely out of my element by driving myself in rush hour, going to a place I’d never been, and wandering around looking at food I’d never seen before. I even forced myself to approach a worker and ask about vegetables that I didn’t know about. I then immediately went to the regular store afterwards, which I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to manage. It was a huge victory for me. I view my social anxiety and bipolar disorder both as a gift anymore. If I didn’t have them, I’m not sure I’d be nearly as self-aware as I am or have come to the understanding of how strong I can be. Granted, they’ve both done their share of tearing up my life, but they’re part of who I am. :)Cora, your car story sounds like something from my past! When I went to college, I didn’t talk to anyone for days on end. The group of friends I ended up with thought it was strange but thankfully they put up with me sitting around and listening to them talk – I learned an awful lot just listening. I’m not sure I’d have the energy to keep up with lots and lots of friends, but I hope eventually I develop at least one friend here in our new town.

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. I've dealt with Social Phobia since getting out of 6 months in the hospital. I used my accident and subsequent broken bones as an excuse to get out of social phobia, but after some cognitive therapy and LOTS of work I'm working on it. I actually took one of big biggest Social Phobia triggers and punched it in the face. I got a job at the MALL. 😉 Been there two years now, and because I've been doing so well with it, I've decided to do the other thing I've been worried about for years. I'm going back to school. A Witch in the Criminal Justice field. beautiful. Thank you so much for stating how I've felt for so long. I still have a hard time driving places for the first time by myself, but GPS helps allay my fears.

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  8. I just came across your blog today when I followed a link from Pagan Mom Blog and I just wanted to say that I can identify with what you're saying here. I do not have it nearly as bad, but I recognize what you are saying. It is hard for me sometimes to play games online with the gamer clan I am part of and most of them are family! I have no problem playing online with my fiance, but with them, it's like I have a panic attack. I start freaking out and I feel tears burning and my heart is pounding and I have to get off or they'll hear it over the mic. The last time it happened, I was racking up the kills on Gears of War 2 and I still had to get off because I was freaking out.I don't know where I'm going with this other than it's nice to know I'm not the only one who has this kind of problem. The whole "you are not alone" thing comes into play. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  9. Amy, I got a job at the mall too when I finally decided to start really working on things! I tackled driving again shortly after that. 🙂 It sounds like you are doing awesome! And criminal justice? Wow! Your presence there is really needed. When I was considering going strictly into ministry, I actually wanted to be a prison chaplain, so I know how badly we witches, pagans, polytheists are needed there!Carolina, I'm glad that what I wrote spoke to you, and you are definitely not alone. Actually, I can't play the vast majority of games because I have that exact reaction to them.

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  10. I'm glad to hear that there are others out there that feel the way I do. I have been doing well for awhile but lately feeling as if regressing. What worries me the most is that my "fears" are going to become a learned behavior with my daughter. Once I get out & going I am fine.. it's the going I am have a problem with. Strength…we need more of it. Good luck! Keep us updated on your progress – you'll get to the class.. just on your timetable. 🙂

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