True Life: I Have Social Anxiety

Hiding behind a mask may be favorable for some, but not for me.

I’m two months shy of twenty-four, and I can list of whole host of things that could be going on inside of me: IBS, inevitable heart problems (these two run in the family), Lordosis, Seborrheic Dermatitis, plus Body Dysmorphia, OCD, ADD, Depression and Social Anxiety, with all the mental issues stemming from Asperger’s Syndrome. These are all undiagnosed, and I’m not going to literally say that they are, for a fact, what’s going on inside of me, but these are realizations that I’ve made based on learning and noticing my own patterns, especially from people around me who study psychology and brought all of this to my attention.

I’ve waited for this episode of True Life as soon as I learned about it during last week’s Real World, a show on a network that I haven’t watched in quite a long time. The episode did not disappoint as the guests were exposing things that I deal with on a daily basis, just on a less extreme level. Like many shows that catch my attention, I follow the Twitter feed and live-tweet, and the tweets made me feel more open about my own probable mental health issues.

It’s great to see so many people that go through similar social misfortunes. I don’t mean that it’s great that it happens because anyone with Social Anxiety knows otherwise. But it’s great to see so many people express how this form of anxiety affects them. It was also pretty humorous to see the response to my tweet about how trips to Walmart and other crowded places send my anxiety into overdrive. However, it was a bit unnerving to see how many people interpret “social anxiety” as “total isolation from anyone and everyone.”

Upon every refresh, there were at least three people tweeting something in the tune of, “#TrueLife: I have social anxiety…but I’ll let a camera crew follow me.” It’s nothing pejorative, but extremely ignorant. See, people who suffer from Social Anxiety shy away from certain environmental triggers. That is, the anxiety is on blast when in public places, at social events and gatherings, in school, at work—any other public square. That’s far different from being in a controlled area, typically your own space, with a camera crew of, say, five to ten people. The latter is a controlled environment while the latter is not. HUGE difference.

Nonie and Scott were two twenty-somethings who have their own dealings with their anxiety. Nonie’s story seemed to be more focused on her response to the public in general while Scott’s seemed to hone in more on his fear of approaching people. I can connect to both of these. See, Walmart is one of my necessities. I also like to buy clothes and clothes are, of course, found in the mall. Unluckily for me, I also fear these places to the point of almost running. My back and body get stiff, I walk weird, I may or may not have a scowl and I’ll either have “tunnel vision” or I’ll constantly yet subtly look around me.  The bass in my voice vanishes, I have to force myself to look people straight in the eye and I begin to stutter like crazy. It’s an awful feeling.

Beyond that, I’ll have a constant urge to fix my face and clothes as I’m moving because I have so many imaginary voices from the public filling my head. Any passing glance, laughter or stray whispering causes me to think that someone is staring or talking about me, thereby turning the anxiety up to eleven. All of these were things described and shown in the True Life episode. No one can fully understand it unless they’re living it and even still, everyone’s scenario is different. I can consider myself blessed that my issues aren’t borderline debilitating like theirs. But I chalk that up to me having dealt with it for the past seven years. I feel that I’ve become used to it. That still doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable.

From what I remember, Scott had a job while Nonie didn’t. Having jobs that relate to the public is like torture for someone with this kind of anxiety. But when you’re an under-qualified teen or twenty-something still in college, very few jobs are on the list of possibilities other than that good ‘ol retail job. I’ve held four jobs, and the two in the middle were at retail stores. Since the bulk of the job requires you to walk up to rude and unsuspecting people in a crowd, make eye contact and talk to them, you begin to feel like you’re in your own little prison. Let’s just say that I left neither job feeling good about myself, that is, until I learned about what just might be my problem: social anxiety.

It also leads to having a weakened self-esteem as you feel the need to compensate—you try to drown out the feeling that everyone is watching and judging you. In the social media during True Life, I also recalled an instance in which I had a meltdown in my Speech 101 class two years ago. My angle was to make an unforgettable project because I felt the need to make a name for myself amidst these strangers who I’ve never seen since. Due in part to a sugar rush, I stumbled on one word at the beginning of my performance which was synchronized to music, and it turned into an angry, bumbling disaster from them on. Things like this stick to you!

That may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back as I took time to examine it all. What triggers me? What am I afraid of? All of this is recurring. What can I do differently? Knowing what I know now, these situations are easier to stomach, but I still avoid them as much as possible. I’ve long contemplated seeking an evaluation and I’ve even had an appointment set up at a local clinic, but I haven’t gotten around to it because I want to be sure that I have the proper funds, even though I’m insured. For the most part, I refuse to go to public places and outings alone, and because music tends to keep me sane, a good song always pops up in mind as a way to distract me (feel free to check out my stuff here). However, I’m still left with one nagging thing: my job.

My day job definitely benefits me financially, but it still triggers a rather strong anxiety. I’m a library aide, which means that people come up to me for help on their computers, devices and other library equipment. But things become more complicated because I don’t work at an actual desk, but at a patron station smack in the middle of the library floor, completely surrounded by foot traffic. I’ve been there for a year, and the discomfort hasn’t ceased, nor do I expect it to. So with that, I harken back to the concept above; I bring my MacBook to work. I do all of my graphics and things on this beautiful machine, but I make sure to stay occupied on it because it helps deflect my paranoia of my surroundings.

One of the worst aspects of social anxiety, however, is your approach. Already nervous, you’re only cognizant…okay, SOMEWHAT cognizant of what you’re saying, but you’re not so much cognizant of your delivery. With this, people mistake you for being rude, aggressive or both. It takes little knowledge of basic interpersonal skills to know that one’s boorish approach will almost always trigger an equal or worse one from the recipient. This has put me into a few near-altercations with some patrons, as well as acquaintances past and present. Combine that with my already bad nerves and temper and it never leaves me feeling calm afterward. That’s why I turn to writing.

All of these mental concepts, specifically ones that I can relate to, have caused me to have an increased interest in psychology. My mom studied it while attending the University of New Orleans (UNO) when I was a kid, and I never thought that I’d consider studying psychology after I get my certificate in Graphic Design. My Sociology class in 2012 also caused a piqued interest as well. I’m a feeler. Despite the fact that I hate being around a lot of people, I love to be one on one as I not only feel that I’m a good judge, but I’m a damn good listener too. After all, there’s a reason why people tend to come to me for advice.

Here is a similar blog related to homophobia, stemming from another psychology-related show on Bravo called LA Shrinks.

I hope that you’ll continue to follow me and my work here, as well as on TwitterYouTube and Soundcloud. Toodaloo.

–Javan H.

Title image source:

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8 thoughts on “True Life: I Have Social Anxiety

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  6. I watched that episode. I could relate to Nonie a lot. Even though I have come a long way, I feel as if I’ll always have some form of social anxiety.

  7. Pingback: “The Bold and the Beautiful” — No One Wants to See That? | Javan H.

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