A Day in My Life With Social Anxiety

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I wake up dreading a day full of people, with no time alone to rest. I wake up early, but am too anxious to fall back asleep. I get ready, being careful to style my hair and find a nice outfit, nervous my client will judge me, along with my classmates later on. A lot of days I don’t have the energy for this, but this morning, my nervousness compels me to put myself together.

I’m running late for my first client. I’m nervous she will criticize me for being late. I work as a home health aide. Today, I don’t feel up to going to her senior yoga class, with all the people there, so I try to convince her to go walking at a park instead. It’s a gorgeous day — 60 degrees and sunny. But she says it’s too cold and wants to go to yoga. In her yoga class, I am self-conscious. There is a whole wall of mirrors in front of me and I try not to look at it. I feel like all of the senior citizens in the class are judging me. I’m 34 and they are better at the yoga moves than I am. What’s wrong with me? OK, so maybe they have been going to this class for years and I have been coming with my client for six weeks. But I think I should catch on quicker. What are they thinking about me? Are they judging me for being too slow catching on to the routine? Are they judging my outfit? Am I being too quiet? Maybe I should be friendlier? Maybe if I’m just really quiet, no one will notice me. Finally the class is over and we can leave.

As soon as we get outside of the building I feel a wave of relief. Then, back at my client’s house, I am OK again. At her house, I can relax and recharge.

In the afternoon I see my other client. While I am with her, her nurse visits. The nurse asks me a few questions and I am embarrassed that I don’t know the answers. I feel so awkward. I wish I knew more medical terms. I feel dumb and incompetent. The nurse leaves and I feel relief again.

I leave the house and notice I have voicemails from two co-workers. I gather my energy and call them back. The calls are simple, but I keep worrying I said the wrong things. I put down the phone in relief and head to class.

In class, we are working in groups. I am anxious because someone joins my group who is always criticizing me. I keep worrying I am saying the wrong things. I keep stuttering as I try to explain my point of view. I feel my face flushing as I look away, down at my laptop. I keep my laptop open so I can sit safely behind it.

In class, our professor keeps asking us questions. I look down at my laptop and try to avoid her gaze. I’m too afraid of saying the wrong things and sounding dumb. It’s safer to be quiet. There are long pauses as no one responds to her questions. I feel more and more anxious by the silence, but I stay quiet.

We watch a documentary in class that triggers anxiety for me. I can feel my anxiety building. I suddenly realize I am about to have a panic attack. I try to put my things into my backpack very quietly. Then I try to slip out of class quietly without too many people looking at me. I have to get out before the panic attack hits, because having a panic attack in the middle of the class would be mortifying.

After I leave, I wonder what my classmates thought of me as I walked by them. I wonder what my professor thought. As I walk to my car, I wonder if the people I pass can see the anxiety on my face. I feel completely exposed. I walk faster.

I finally get inside my car and breathe deeply again. I feel safe. But then on the drive home, I have to call my mom to wish her a happy birthday. I take a few deep breaths and call. I am nervous that she will hear the anxiety and panic behind my words. I tell her about leaving class early and am afraid about how she will judge me. She doesn’t judge me. It feels silly that I even worry about how my mother views me.

I hang up the phone and relax a little more. I get home and relax, finally starting to calm. Finally alone, I start to feel like I am OK again. But then I text a friend from class about what happened with me during class, about how the documentary upset me. He doesn’t respond for a few hours. I start worrying I offended him. I worry he judged me for leaving early. I wonder if he is tired of hearing about my problems.

He finally responds to my text with encouragement. I feel more relief. Then my husband finally comes home. I feel safe and secure with him home. But my anxiety isn’t over, I have difficulty sleeping due to a stressful day of social anxiety. And then it is time to get up and start another day again.

My social anxiety makes many everyday things difficult. But I am so grateful for my alone time when I can relax. And I am grateful for the safe people in my life, like my husband and friends, who give me relief from my anxiety. It was a difficult day, but it ended happily, relaxing at home with my husband, discovering a new show on Netflix and telling each other funny stories about our days, while I connect with the friend who had my back in that night’s class.

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Thinkstock photo via artant.

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A 'Discombobulated' Monologue of a Socially Anxious Individual

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I am my own worst critic. I have been typing and deleting whatever I have typed over the last 25 minutes. Truth be told, I am not even sure if I should continue typing. A thought popped up in my head: “Give up. Whatever you write isn’t going make any sense. People are just going to scoff at what you have written and ridicule you.” I am frozen with fear. Do I go on or not? If I don’t, I will have just wasted the last 25 minutes for nothing. What if people I know see this? What are they going to say? Maybe I should just forget it. Forget this whole idea. What should I do?

I just deleted another sentence. I typed something silly. I really don’t know if I should go through with this. I think I am going to regret this. Thoughts in my head, please go away. Please stop criticizing me.

Breathe in and out.

I feel light-headed, which is ridiculous because I am lying down. My thoughts seem to be racing at a thousand miles per minute, which is also ridiculous. I don’t know what to do. I am exhausted: mentally, physically emotionally depleted.

What can I do when there seems to be a constant war waging within me?

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Photo via Unsplash, by Larm Rmah

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Thanks for 'Dear Evan Hansen' From a Person With Social Anxiety

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To the cast and creators of “Dear Evan Hansen:”

If I could tell you one thing, it would simply be this: thank you.

Thank you for creating such an honest depiction of what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder. While I have not been lucky enough to see the musical in person (crossing my fingers that will happen this summer), I fell in love with the story as soon as I listened to the soundtrack on Spotify. I related to Evan instantly. Evan is anxious and awkward, but he deeply, desperately wants a friend. He’s scared to open up to others, but that doesn’t mean he’s antisocial or that he doesn’t want someone he can share his heart with — which is an aspect of social anxiety I think people often overlook or misunderstand.

As someone who has spent most of my life either in toxic friendships or friendless, Evan’s loneliness both broke my heart and made me feel less alone — and that’s what I love about this musical. “Dear Evan Hansen” has shown me I’m not alone, even when I feel like I am. These past few months have been extremely lonely for me. My friendship with my best friend ended very suddenly and very painfully, and I’ve spent the past few months feeling alone and betrayed. I’ve struggled with social anxiety for a long time, but losing her made it so much worse. Not only was I without a friend, but I started to struggle to even speak in school without nearly having a panic attack. While this is gradually improving, it is still difficult. It’s still embarrassing and isolating. But when I listen to this musical, I feel like I have a friend who knows exactly what I’m going through.

Thank you for the aspects of Evan’s emotions which each song depicts. Thank you for showing how incapable of interacting with people he feels in “Waving Through a Window” — how he feels like he’s safer staying silent, even if he’s lonely. Thank you for so beautifully showing his longing for a friend through his made-up story in “For Forever.” Thank you for being honest about his self-hatred in “Words Fail.” Thank you for creating such a vulnerable character, for not shying away from depicting the anger and disgust he feels toward himself. Thank you for the fact that despite the serious themes of this musical, there is still humor in songs such as “Sincerely, Me.”

I want to say thank you for all these things, but more than anything, thank you for the hope you have shown me and others. Even with themes such as mental illness, suicide, having no friends and growing up without a father, “Dear Evan Hansen” pours out hope in every song. And it isn’t the fake. It doesn’t dismiss Evan’s problems and emotions. It’s honest. It’s genuine. It’s hope that says no matter how terrible things are, no matter what your problems are, things will get better. It’s hope that says even when it feels like no one loves you and your brain itself is trying to kill you, your life isn’t over. It can get better.

I’ve only been a fan for about a week or two, but these past two weeks have been hard. I’d like to think your musical has played a part in helping me to choose to stay alive and keep fighting for recovery. It has reminded me I can get better, that my anxiety doesn’t make me a bad person and that it won’t control me so much forever. It has reminded me that I matter. It has reminded me that no matter how lonely I feel right now, someday I will be found.

With all my heart, thank you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via “Dear Evan Hansen” Facebook Page

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How My 2-Year-Old Son Was the Catalyst for Challenging My Anxiety Beliefs

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There’s only so many times you can be told you’re not good enough before you absolutely cannot hear anything else. The kids who didn’t want to be my friend in primary school because they thought I was a loser and “smelled funny.” The family member who told me I had to like the same music as everyone else or I’d get bullied in high school (spoiler alert, it made no difference whatsoever). The teacher who said I couldn’t play the clarinet because I didn’t have the memory ability. The math teacher who told me I didn’t need to bother trying too hard, I just wasn’t the type to understand math. The girls who said it was OK to be their friend, but not at school, not where people could see. The kids who laughed at me when my Nan died and I cried on the school bus.

All my life, I’ve behaved how other people think I should, because I’ve been terrified of more people telling me I’m “substandard” as a human being and the result is my oftentimes debilitating anxiety disorder. If I couldn’t keep everyone in my life content with my existence, I fell apart and ended up damaging either them or myself emotionally. I’m sure this is a scenario that sounds all too familiar to a lot of us:

Twenty people: “You’re a great person!”
One person: “You’re an awful person!”
Me: I must be an awful person.

For every family member or caring friend that told me I was worthy of my place on this earth, there have always been voices that call out from the dark, reminding me, actually, there’s not a lot I have to offer. It doesn’t matter if those things were actually said, or if they were remnants of memories long passed. And therein lies the utter devastation of an anxiety disorder. The spiral of “what if someone really thinks that?” picks up speed very quickly and before long, I cannot distinguish between what I’ve convinced myself is true and what is not. The long-term effects of bullying are only recently outlined to me since I’ve become a parent and have been forced to look at myself objectively. Why have I never challenged the negative? Why do I just accept I don’t seem to be perceived as a good person?

Weeks before my wedding, my husband and I endured some trying times and people taking advantage of us. It hit us both hard, but still I let the cycle continue. I believed as long as others were happy, it didn’t matter.

While going through an episode of grief so consuming I’d spend hours staring at walls, I was emotionally unavailable to everyone, even my husband. Right there and then, the people who trotted off out of my life should have been a big red flag for how I was allowing myself to be treated, but I continued to ignore the pale, rotten grass under my feet, thinking it was just as green over the enormous fence. I mirrored other people with ease, seamlessly adapting my personality based on what shape hole I was supposed to be fitting in and then I would wonder why I’d spend hours of the day fighting anxiety attacks. Why did I say that? Perhaps I shouldn’t have laughed at that point. Should I have said more? It comes full circle and the “what if” maelstrom thunders back into play.

But I have a message that is clear.

If you deal with social anxiety on any level, especially based on how you’ve been treated in the past, it is not forever. I assumed I’d be like this forever, constantly alienating myself and others from the dynamics of human relationships. I was lucky enough to have a few exceptions in my life (husband and a loyal friend or two), so I should just be OK with that. I was wrong. One day — some day — I believe something will happen that will shake our own beliefs about ourselves down to the core and it’ll change everything.

For me, it was my son. At the time, he was less than two years old and saying only a handful of words to go with his standard issue toddler whines and grunts. I’d recently been ejected from another person’s life because I “wasn’t good enough,” and my little boy, in his barely legible language, asked where this person was.

All at once, I saw his life tied closely to mine. People bonding with him through me and then breaking his heart because I was all too desperate to make connections with people. At the time, I believed I’d doomed him to years of feeling left out, but now, more than six months later, I can look back at recognize that experience was the catalyst. All my life I’ve been terrified of having no friends like in school, because it felt so horrible and lonely and so I’ve had no standards when it comes to trying to make and retain friends. Behaviors that made me uncomfortable, not speaking the same language in terms of morality and outlook — I’d just ignore how my gut felt and try to fit in. That’s not good enough for me anymore.

Let me make myself abundantly clear. No one can tell me what I deserve. Neither I, nor you, are required by anyone or anything to put on an appearance. You may not feel this way now, but I promise one day you will. Maybe you’ll start clambering out of the fog with medical intervention. Maybe someone will come into your life and make you realize that you, in all your glory, are enough.

You. Are. Enough.

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How Starting a Support Group for People With Social Anxiety Helped My Recovery

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It was early September while I was on my hour-long bus commute to work. I have a pretty lovely view for half of it. A long lake with plenty of forest surrounding it, kayakers and paddle boaters out for their early morning practice rows. I do a lot of pondering while staring out the window on the bus, and on this particular day, I was thinking about how I’ve lived in Halifax for 5 years and I really don’t have a lot of friends. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s not that I don’t get the opportunities to make friends. I just, suck at it. It terrifies me.

All I’ve wanted for years is to have a group of friends I’m comfortable being around. Comfortable inviting to do things, or just to hang out and have a conversation with. Friends with whom I don’t have to contemplate every word I type in a text message in fear it will be interpreted wrong, or I’ll come off the wrong way or they’ll think I’m weird, rude or stupid. I know I’m not rude or stupid. Weird, I can admit to, but how do I know how someone else is perceiving me? Do they know I’m fumbling my words and having trouble making conversation because I’m anxious? Do they notice my constant touching of my face and awkward gestures because trying to talk to someone new can be absolutely unbearable for me? If they did, how would it make them feel? How would it make me feel if I knew they knew?

This is the mind of someone with social anxiety. Not everyone’s brain is the same, but this is mine. So, while gazing out the window, ignoring all other passengers on the bus, I thought to myself, I can’t be the only one. I know I’m not the only one. If only I could meet people who know how I feel. Maybe then I could make connections without the constant fear of judgment and rejection. I already knew this to be true because my best friend has social anxiety as well.

This friend is Alyssa. Alyssa and I have known each other for a lot longer than we’ve been such close friends. For both of us, it takes a long time to become comfortable enough around another person to open up and really let them in. Alyssa’s fiancé was my manager at a previous job and through him, we became friends. Alyssa, our boyfriends and I would get together to have some drinks. After a few nights, Alyssa and I came to the conclusion we had one major thing in common: social anxiety. It still took over a year of only being comfortable around one another while drinking before our friendship blossomed.

It was from this that we became each other’s “security blankets” for stuff we wouldn’t have the confidence to do on our own. I was able to send texts and overanalyze them and explain my thought process to her. All the while knowing Alyssa wouldn’t judge me because she understood. I think it’s this flourishing friendship that made me realize how great a support group would be. Having the ability to be around people you know feel the same can give a much-needed sense of ease in social situations. Being able to vocalize how I feel without fearing judgment and rejection is therapeutic for me.

Upon the realization of my epiphany, of course, the first thing I did was text Alyssa and ask her what she thought about helping me start a group for people with anxiety. A group to get together, share issues and help each other, while simultaneously maybe making some friends along the way. Of course, she offered her assistance without hesitation

We started the group on September 12, 2016. It’s now April 12, 2017, and we have nearly 200 members in our group. We’ve held various meets and have met a plethora of amazing people. Starting this group has truly changed me for the better and every time we host a meet, I notice my anxiety getting better, and I hope it can do the same for those who attend.

Thank you to all who join us on this journey to a healthy mind and healthy social life. It’s possible for everyone, don’t ever think you don’t deserve to have good people around you.

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Thinkstock photo via g-stockstudio.

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Thinking vs. Doing When You Have Social Anxiety and Depression

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You stare, petrified, at that shoebox full of receipts a day before tax day. Or that mountain of dirty laundry the day before traveling. Or that growing pile of bills that are due tomorrow. And you think, “I can’t even.”

So, you go back to reading that book, or bingeing on Netflix, or head right back to your comfy bed in the middle of the afternoon — hoping to distract yourself. It’s not working. You’re not organizing. You’re not doing laundry or paying bills, and you’re certainly not sleeping. You’re thinking. And all you can hear in the deep, echoing canyon of your racing anxious mind is, “Do it! Do it! Do it!”

“Doing it is easier than thinking about doing it.” This is what I tell my sketch and solo show writing students. They often admit waiting until an hour before class to put their ideas on paper. They want the first attempt to be perfect. Don’t we all? And they think about how no one will care about their ideas. And they think about how impossible it’s going to be to create a perfect first draft instead of just going with the flow and “vomiting out” that first draft. But let’s be real – you don’t have to think too hard to vomit out some ideas.

Full disclosure: I knew I wanted to write a piece about “thinking vs. doing” and I spent a good week thinking about writing it instead of what I am doing right now, which is writing it. I think.

Now, here’s how it relates to my social anxiety disorder. I stare at that invite to a fabulous party and I think about what will happen if I attend that party:
“Will I know anyone? And will I even want to talk to them? What if they’re boring or I have nothing to say?”
“Will I not know anyone and get forced into conversation by an extroverted stranger?”
“Will I show up to the party, realize I made a big mistake and spend half the time in the bathroom thinking of ways to excuse myself from the party?

Then I think about what will happen if I don’t go to the party:
“Will I miss an opportunity to meet a new person who might become a new friend or business associate?”
“Will I miss out on a much-needed good time?”
“Will the person who invited me hate me forever for not attending?”

My anxiety grows. So, I sit and stare at the invite and just think and think and think until I’m back to reading that book, or Netflix bingeing, or just throwing the blankets over my head and turning off the world in the middle of the afternoon.

And then I bite the bullet and I do it. I reply “attending” … and I attend … and … it’s not nearly as awful as I had imagined! Doing it was actually easier (and certainly more fun) than thinking about doing it.

In addition to teaching, I’m also a solo show performer – a natural choice for someone with social anxiety. I’ve had two different solo shows playing across the US and UK pretty consistently over the past 4 years. But last year around this time, I hit a major depression bump. Leaving the house was hard. Writing was impossible, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would be depressed like this for the rest of my life. I had nothing to write. No one would care anyway. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d do next, because the more I don’t do something the more depressed and anxious I get. So I knew I had to do something or else I’d once again be caught up in the really fun cycle of anxiety and self-sabotage I don’t recommend to anyone.

Then I thought, “Wait. I’m an improviser and a storyteller. What if I just forget about writing something, show up at a theater and make a show happen on the spot?” The idea seemed simple and terrifying, so I booked dates a month down the line. Wait, what?! I just did something. Now I was accountable to the theater and myself. Crap! The more I thought about the show, the more I realized I did have to write something. As fun as it might be to just “show up” and make something happen, I knew I had to have at least some pre-written content to work off of.

I opened a blank document one dreary morning and typed, “Show Up.” That was it. Hey, I had a title! Now I had to actually write the darn thing. After about five hours of anxiously thinking about it and not writing it, I came back to the doc, terrified, and wrote a few ideas and jokes. And before I knew it, it was midnight. I’d forgotten to eat dinner and forgotten to make that phone call and forgotten about that trashy reality TV show I planned to watch. But, I had pages and pages of random ideas. I’d improvise a show based on the life experiences of the audience and share my life story in the process of getting their story. The next morning, I had something to look forward to – reading and rewriting what I had written. And it wasn’t too bad, so I wrote and wrote some more. I stopped thinking about it and editing myself and my ideas and I just did it. I put those words on the page. And I didn’t hate it. Doing it proved to be easier than thinking about it. Knowing I had something to do helped me stop thinking. It’s like that party – as long as I showed up and did something at the party like talk to a stranger, help clean up empty cups or stay out of the bathroom, I was fine. Party down!

Cut to now. I’ve performed “Show Up” for the last six months over a dozen times in NYC, gotten great reviews, and submitted it to festivals. In the next four months, I’m doing the show over 40 times in the US and the UK. I’m still showing up and making something happen on the spot, but I’m also boldly and truthfully opening up about my social anxiety and depression. I’m telling other people’s stories. And I’m reaching people who struggle with the same thing. And I’m enlightening people who don’t understand why their friend never goes to their parties. I’m no longer doing it for me, but for them. I feel like I have a mission and a purpose.

Doing it turned out to be much easier than thinking about it. Doing it took my mind off of the anxiety that crippled me from thinking about it. Doing it is doing something for others.

But now I have something else to do — getting people who are anxious about leaving the house to see a show, to actually leave the house to see a show about people who are anxious about leaving the house. But, no use thinking about that right now. I gotta get back to that stack of bills…

For more information about Peter Michael Marino and “Show Up,” please visit www.showuptheshow.com

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Image via Alicia Levy/www.joopashoots.com.

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