What The Hell Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety: some people just don't get it. And I understand a little. I mean, who doesn't want and sometimes need those social connections? Who really wants to live alone in their hobbit hole?
Just kidding. Even I crave social interaction from time to time, but it's incredibly difficult for me to pull off. That's the part people don't get. It's not just a lack of desire for such things, it's a wall of anxiety attacking me at the meer thought of socializing.
When I know I've got something coming up where I'll have to go out and speak to people, the dread comes knocking. It can come early, sometimes days in advance. I'll think about all the ways the socialization could go wrong. (Keep in mind, this "socialization" can be a trip to the grocery store.) I'll regret ever planning to go out and see people.
Then comes the event. It's awkward as hell. I second guess my every interaction. I know that everyone I talk to can tell how weird and uncomfortable I am. Obviously, they now hate me. But at the same time, I'm relieved. Because I do, on some deep unconscious level, want to connect with people every now and then.
Then again, when I say I don't want and am not looking for any new friends, I mean that too. The issue is that new friends are fine, my old friends are better. My old friends already know I get flakey. They already know that when we go out, I'll probably put my foot in my mouth and be awkward at some point. They get that most of the time, I prefer to stay home, safe in my own realm. New friends want to do stuff. And because they are new, interaction with them is more trying than with my old friends. I can't hang out with new friends all the time without imploding in on myself.
Because these interactions are absolutely exhausting. When I come home from a social event, I am wiped out. Oh, you had a bunch of stuff to do? Not today! That one event may have only taken an hour, but it ends up consuming my day (and let's not forget the days leading up to it that weren't great either).
So, that's what it means to me to socialize, but that isn't all my wonderful social anxiety does! No, I also get anxiety when thinking about past interactions. I believe everyone can dwell on things they should have said in conversation, but I'm not just dwelling. My whole body gets tight, my heart pounds, I can think of little else. Ultimately, I become 100% certain that this person I had this small interaction with a decade ago hates me. Not only do they straight up despise me, but they talk about me to other people and have formed a group of people that hate me. Cue the panic attack.
I also stress and stress over my son's social interactions. How they'll go, how he'll be judged, how he'll be bullied. Because he will. Because people suck. I can see these things happening in my mind's eye. I can see all the struggles he'll face, and that makes me want to keep him home with me. But I can't do that, can I? No, children need social interaction. So I face my fears, and we go out. Admittedly not as much as we should, but he does go out and see people. He does get the opportunity to make friends. I don't want him to be like me. I don't want him to ever experience a panic attack because his mind invented some stupid scenario.
So, there it is. I recently had a family member try and pressure me into "making friends." I can't fully express how incredibly stressful the whole situation was. For days, I had to keep a constant dose of anxiety meds pumping through my system. Just the thought of being pushed out into the world before I was ready sent me into a tailspin. And nothing I said could make them understand. I think that just added to my stress.
And this is just me! Plenty of people with social anxiety experience it differently. That's the thing about mental health, it is deeply personal. I understand the need these days to sweep someone who says they have anxiety under the rug. It's turned into just a word for stress and worry, but they aren't the same. I'm not just worrying... I can't function. The best thing to do, in my humble opinion, is to assume that everyone who says they have anxiety does. I would never want to tell someone to get over something when they are having legitimate panic attacks over it. (And here's a side note: No, you can't always tell when someone is having a panic attack.).
In the end, I suppose the moral of this story is not to be a pushy asshole. When someone says they can't do something, just accept it and move on.