My heart pounds like a hundred race horses are running on the track. My palms sweat like a running faucet. My muscle tense up, and my stomach gets upset, and I shake like a tree. I encounter all of these unpleasant feelings whenever I’m in simple or complex social situations because I have social anxiety disorder (SAD).
SAD causes me to have irrational and unreasonable fears in social situations. I have the constant thought that whoever I encounter in person or on the phone will scrutinize, judge or criticize me, and that makes me want to avoid social situations all together. Unfortunately, not every social engagement can be avoided, and not every phone call can be put off. When the unavoidable happens, I experience a ridiculous feeling of terror, and freeze. Every social situation is like being on stage, naked, in front of hundreds of critics.
I’ve gotten help for my SAD: therapy, medications and holistic treatments, but there are times when nothing makes a difference. I freak out over the smallest social encounters: ordering coffee from Starbucks, calling the pizza place and paying the gas station attendant. I’m afraid I will do or say something “stupid,” like pronounce a word wrong or trip over my own feet. I’m constantly afraid I will humiliate myself, and that fear keeps me in my house and off the phone most of the time.
I use the self checkout at the grocery store so I don’t have to talk to the cashier. I’ve started ordering my pizza online and requesting the delivery guy leave my pizza at the door and take the money from the mailbox. I do my clothes shopping on the Internet so nobody sees me trying anything on and lose the opportunity to make rude comments. All of this is completely irrational, and in the back of my mind I know that. But when presented with these situations, I can’t help but be a turtle and hide in my shell.
I can’t go on dates or have intimate relationships with anyone other than my family. I’m afraid to make new friends because they might find my flaws and point them out. I can’t go out to bars, bookstores or boutiques because I think I’ll fall flat on my face and everyone will point and laugh. I want to do these things, but I just can’t.
Currently, SAD controls my social life, my love life and my ability to seek employment. I don’t want it to be this way but have no idea how to change it. I try to force myself to pick up the phone, to step out of the house. But the anticipation of making myself do something makes me even more anxious and afraid. I want to be able to order pizza and pick it up myself. I want to be able to enjoy clothes shopping without being afraid of what other people think. I know I need more help for my SAD, but I’m too afraid to pick up the phone and call my doctor.
But there are some things I am willing to try to combat my SAD. Deep breathing, essential oils and taking walks with my daughter are all safe techniques that don’t just push me into social situations. I figure I can start there and work my way up to taking my daughter on play dates, going to a yoga class or even going on a date.
It will be a slow process, but I know if I want to be truly happy and enjoy my life, I need to fight my SAD. It’ll be scary, and I may sweat like I’ve been in a sauna for three hours, but I have to do it. I can’t live if I don’t take back control of my life, and finally gain the confidence I need to be able to order pizza.
The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.