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What It's Like to Have 'High-Functioning' Social Anxiety Disorder

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Three years ago I stood in front of 300 people and shared about my mental illness.

Two years ago I shared in front of 600.

Last year, I shared in front of 700.

This year, I’ve shared in front of thousands.

Twenty years ago, I developed social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Today, I still live with SAD, and today, I still speak.

And because of it, most people will never believe the extent of my social anxiety. We’ve spoken about “high-functioning” general anxiety, but high-functioning social anxiety also exists. It means I can stand up on stages all around the world and share the most intimate parts of my life. It means I can write a memoir detailing things my own consciousness wanted to forget. It means I can be a part of networking events and discuss world problems with everyone from politicians to corporate executives. I can do it, and you view me as a people person, as a socialite, as the opposite of social anxiety.

What you don’t see are the sleepless nights before and after each and every event. You don’t see the sweat making its way down my spine as I share about my anxiety, %%slQIN9TvIA%%, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation and so much more. You don’t see the strain in my eyes every time I have to talk to a stranger. You don’t see me crawling underneath my covers because I don’t want to step outside my door and interact with anyone. You don’t see me struggling to post on social media because I’m afraid of harming someone or being hated for my opinions. You don’t see me staring at your texts and Facebook messages for hours before giving up on finding the right response.

The truth is, you don’t see any of it. You don’t see me. You see the illusion of a man who has learned to walk in a world that rarely listens to individuals with mental illness. But I will not be silent. I will tear my wounds open every time to make sure my voice is heard. I have lived in silence for too long, and I’d rather the pain of my anxiety, instead of the pain of my silence.

There’s another side to my social anxiety you also don’t normally hear about. When I speak, I don’t speak senselessly. If I speak, I make sure every single word is worthwhile and heard. Because I can’t waste words. Wasting words is not worth it, but speaking the truth and fighting against oppression of individuals who are marginalized within our society, is.

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Stock image by Ingram Publishing

Originally published: November 4, 2016
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