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The Phases of My Social Anxiety

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My anxiety often makes me feel isolated and at odds with the rest of the world. It doesn’t fall neatly in to one of those categories you see listed all over the place. For me, the anxiety seems to be a Venn diagram which encompasses various anxieties and phobias. General? Tick. Agoraphobia? Tick. Social? Tick. Strange anxiety which doesn’t seem to fall in to any group I’ve seen before and just makes me feel ill at ease for no good reason? Tick.

The “tick” which can and often does trigger a downward spiral of depression is social anxiety. It is a particularly cruel beast. The term “social” doesn’t always mean what a lot of people probably think it means, i.e. that the anxiety cranks up in a normal social situation such as a party or meeting a group of friends for a meal. To me it can mean being in the company of anyone – family, my dearest friend or someone I’ve never met before. My anxiety just doesn’t care who it is.

The hardest and bitterest pill to swallow is when I meet up with old friends who live overseas and they make a special effort to come and see me when they are in the U.K. These events bring different levels of struggle, and I wonder if they resonate with anyone else.

The Build Up 

During this phase, which can start many weeks before their arrival, I try and find things in my life to talk about when they ask, “I haven’t seen you in years – what have you been up to?” I know they have been traveling all over the place, having nice holidays, fostering a busy social life, enjoying their kids growing up and all the milestones and events that brings. Me? I’ve been working, coping, trying to carry on. I can’t travel anywhere, I shun most things and I have no children. As well as slowly cranking the anxiety up, this phase also stokes up the feelings of worthlessness. “My life isn’t as fun or interesting as theirs, ergo my life is sad and pointless – I am inferior!”

The Event

I try to recall anything interesting I thought about in The Build Up through a haze of medication. Medication I take just so I can sit in the same room as them. It feels utterly ridiculous to need meds to calm myself enough to feel vaguely comfortable just sitting in a room with another human being! It’s not as if I’m sitting down to chat with a tiger! Anyway, I try to look happy, but inside I am continually beating myself up for needing medication just to sit and talk with someone I’ve known for years, without sweating, choking and all the rest anxiety has to offer.

Push Me-Pull You

If the meeting is more of a visit that takes up several days then I enter yet another state. I may actually be having some fun (no really!) and the company is bringing some much needed color to my life. I want them to stay – but my anxiety wants them to go and looks forward to waving them off so I can retreat in to solitude again. It’s like loving someone and hating them at the same time, scratching a healing wound because it just feels so damn good even though you know it will feel doubly sore again once you stop.

The Aftermath 

Well, it all happens here! Self-loathing, hatred, depression and the endless asking of questions in my head. “Why am I like this? Why can’t I just be ‘normal’ and enjoy having people around me? What’s the point?” ad nauseum. The conflict between the wanting and the rejection weighs too much sometimes, and I buckle beneath it.

Time passes, the strength of the emotions fade. Time doesn’t heal – it just puts things in cupboards and covers them in dust until an anxious mind finds them again.

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Thinkstock photo by stevano vicigor

Originally published: December 8, 2016
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