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    What I Wish You Knew About Social Anxiety

    Social anxiety is the third largest mental health issue in the world. Millions of people world-wide suffer from this traumatic condition every day. In some cases it’s a specific situation that is triggering, for others such as myself, it’s a lot more general.

    I’ve mentioned it briefly a couple of times now.

    My social anxiety, I mean.

    To be honest, I’m not even sure where to begin. It’s very difficult to explain what it’s like to live with social anxiety to somebody who doesn’t suffer from it themselves. How scary and debilitating it can be to just go outside for a walk on a Sunday afternoon. Not always, but often, it feels as if I’m being watched, judged, by strangers on the street. It can be small things, like my choice of clothing that day. I can be all up in my head about it, thinking I should have worn something different because now everybody are staring at me. That’s usually not the case of course, but that’s how somebody with anxiety view it.

    As a 5’10” female there really isn’t any hiding for me. When I walk into a room I get noticed. Period. I can keep my head down all I want, avoid eye contact until I go blue, and even try hiding behind other people (don’t try it, you’ll only draw more attention to yourself. Ha!), it isn’t working. The only thing for me to do is to accept I’m a wandering flagpole and do my best to get on with it. Some days are good, others are filled with anxiety and I refrain from going outside at all.

    It’s all too common that when I tell people I’m not a people-person I get a “Yes, I hate people too!” for reply. I’m always taken aback by it. Is that really what people think of me? That I hate people? I don’t hate anyone. Especially not people I don’t know. I’m typically the kind of person who accept others just the way they are and aim to always see the good in others. I can’t think of anybody I hate. Yet it seems to be a very common misconception that shy people, reserved people avoid people out of hate or dislike. I can’t speak for all, but a lot of the time it’s more fear-based than anything else. I lack confidence in my ability to speak. I speak too quietly a lot of the time, or I stutter if I get too overwhelmed. I can have something to say but I hold back in fear of sounding silly or being judged for what I said.

    Smalltalk is so difficult for me. More often than not I’ll just stand around feeling awkward while desperately trying to think of something smart to say while the other person is just looking on, seemingly wondering why I’m acting so strange. Inside I’m frozen, I feel like sinking through the ground cause it’s so embarrassing. What you can’t see is that my mind is working hard to save the situation, to make a comeback of sorts. Usually to no avail. It’s exhausting to spend the next three days wondering what the other person must be thinking of me now after our encounter, and in hindsight think of things I could have said, should have said, instead. It’s an endless road of beating myself up over what said or didn’t say or do. It’s like I can’t win with myself.

    The worst thing you can say to somebody with social anxiety is probably “you’re so quiet, you never speak”. I’ve lost count of how many times people have told me that. Nobody would think of the idea to walk up to a person with only one leg and tell them “hey your leg is missing”. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s similar. All I have to say is I know. I know I’m quiet, I know I’m socially awkward at times, and having people pointing it out, even if they mean no harm, makes us more self-conscious about it. A lot of the time it will have me desperately attempting to talk more, but since I’m so stressed about the situation already it usually backfires and I just go blank. Just be nice and friendly instead, and don’t get angry if I can’t keep a conversation flowing, or if I forget to ask you how you are after you’ve asked me. It’s nerves. It happens to me a lot.

    I know there are situations most people are anxious in. An important job interview is probably a good example of one. You feel closed in on, your stomach is acting up, the heart is racing. But imagine feeling the emotions of going to a life-changing job interview when in reality you’re simply going to the supermarket to buy groceries. On some days I’d even avoid going into a store I’d like to check out just because the shop clerk might speak to me and I know I will choke up. It’s exhausting. For a person with severe social anxiety is a job interview almost impossible.

    The phone is probably one of the worst inventions ever invented for somebody like me. Often times I’d usually leave my phone on soundless to make it less stressful for me to deal with it. It stems from childhood I think, when I felt constantly chased and controlled. Whenever my phone went off I knew I was in trouble. Especially checking it and seeing 15 missed calls within the last half an hour. Calling authorities is another high on my what not-to-do list. It’s the feeling of being small and inferior, I think, combined with fears of bothering others with my questions and inquiries. Troubling people, being ridiculed or rejected are definitely the three main reasons to my anxiety.

    The only place I ever feel completely safe and comfortable is at home. Preferably home alone, knowing there’s nobody around I must please, or could potentially annoy or bother. That’s the only time I can truly relax and just be, without feeling like I’m on the edge. There are people I feel comfortable around but they are few, and very specific.

    People who suffer from social anxiety (or any anxiety) can’t help it. Just with all fears and phobias we know it’s all in our heads, that we’re not being rational but knowing something isn’t the same feeling or thinking something. To us it feels very real which makes it difficult to just brush off.

    It’s a pretty fine, confusing line between ordinary social anxiety and Avoidant Personality Disorder, and I can’t fully tell which is which. To me it feels like the social anxiety is simply one of the symptoms of the Avoidant Personality Disorder. If the social anxiety is so debilitating that you live isolated and your quality of live is affected, it’s most likely a personality disorder and not ordinary social anxiety. In certain situations I’m considered pretty high functioning for an Avoidant, in others, not at all. In the end it comes down to life experience I think. Many Avoidants wouldn’t dream of using public transport. I, however grew up in a family without a car, therefore taking the bus wasn’t an option if I wanted to get somewhere. I’ve been trained, and got certain experience and skills, while I lack completely in other areas. I got no clue how to make friends for instance, and I’m even worse at maintaining friendships.

    Lastly, please don’t take it personally if we’re quiet, avoid eye contact or even avoid you altogether. Most of us are not trying to offend anyone, quite the contrary. We are afraid of what you think of us because we want to be well-recieved and accepted above anything else.

    With Love,


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    Living with Avoidant Personality Disorder

    My life was chaotic towards the end of 2017. People around me urged me to turn to professionals for help to treat a stubborn depression and I finally caved in. The underlaying issue was however much deeper than we thought.

    After a couple of sittings together with a counsellor she carefully told me about Avoidant Personality Disorder. However, she wasn’t in position to officially diagnose me. I went home to conduct my own research on the subject, and suddenly all the puzzle pieces of my life came together. I finally understood me. Let us start from the beginning, though.

    I was always that shy kid.

    Yes, you know the one I’m talking about. The one sitting in the back of the classroom with their heads hanging low, avoiding eye contact with everyone- especially the teacher!

    From the tender age of 9 I was already a whole lot shyer and more withdrawn than my peers. It was noticed in school and I was relentlessly teased for how I looked, which I think made matters even worse. Afraid of conflicts and of people thinking badly of me I said nothing, I did nothing. I just bottled up as my self-esteem was shredded. The teachers were telling me I needed to speak up more in class, answer questions and participate. I was too afraid to comply, thinking I’d embarrass myself if I was to give the wrong answer, or say the wrong thing.

    Up until the age of thirteen I had some friends, but I slowly started to withdraw and with that, my friends no longer got in touch either. I had a handful of people I saw in school, but they were strictly schoolfriends, or people who took pity on me for being the sad, lonely girl. I went within. Created a dream world to where I’d go when my real life was too depressing to stay in. It was my escape of sorts. I battled eating disorders for most of my teen years, and I do think the eating disorder contributed to my avoidant behaviour. In order to not get caught not eating I needed to keep people at a distance, and it became a habit of mine that I’ve continued even after the obsession with food subsided.

    My teen years were nothing like the usual. I’d sit home every evening, usually locked away in my room. Much of it related to the overprotective nature of (unnamed) family members of mine. I was never allowed to go out, meet people, practise social skills and get over the shyness. At the age of 19 when I graduated high school and it was time for me to head out in the real world I knew nothing. Socially I was still thirteen years old, still afraid to speak to strangers. I avoided finding a job. Not because I was lazy or didn’t want to work. The anxiety I felt in regards to put myself out there, to possibly face rejection and embarrassment was debilitating. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

    When I was twenty I met somebody overseas, married and moved countries, prepared to turn the page and start over. Without going into detail was the situation in my family home highly dysfunctional, and I was relieved to get away. For a while I did better. I even managed to complete two language courses with the best results in my classes, but when it came to work I was still stuck, very anxious. I couldn’t do it. When I got pregnant I was relieved. The work situation could be postponed further.

    Once my son was born in 2014 I was hit with a Postpartum depression and my life crashed completely as I slowly realized I was living the wrong life for me. I’ve been trying to re-build ever since but many days are difficult, and terribly exhausting to get through. I’m spending 2018 just focusing on me (and my son), on what I want and what I need. Therapy is likely to start later this year, and I’m already on antidepressant to deal better with the social anxiety. It enables me to make important phone calls, and get things done in general.

    The common signs of Avoidant Personality Disorder are:

    • Easily hurt by criticism or disapproval
    • No close friends
    • Reluctance to become involved with people
    • Avoidance of activities or occupations that involve contact with others
    • Shyness in social situations out of fear of doing something wrong
    • Exaggeration of potential difficulties
    • Showing excessive restraint in intimate relationships
    • Feeling socially inept, inferior, or unappealing to other people
    • Unwilling to take risks or try new things because they may prove embarrassing

    It’s important to point out that not all avoidants are the same. Not all are experiencing the exact same symptoms, or have the same coping mechanism to deal with it. Some avoidants go on to marry and have children and can manage intimate relationships with people they feel safe and secure with, while others live in complete isolation.

    My personal experience is that it is an extremely crippling disorder. A fear of everything that makes life worth living. I got two alternatives. Either I isolate myself which helps with the anxiety aspect of things but instead I dig myself into a hole of depression, or I socialize and trigger overwhelming anxiety and fears. The latter is the only real option I got at this point, and hopefully with some help I can manage the anxiety and possibly get over the worst of it and gain my own independence. That’s the most crippling thing for me. That I’m completely relying on other people.

    Before I end this post I want to ask everybody who relate to my story and are not yet in treatment to please reach out and get professional help. I wish I would have recognized the signs in myself ten years ago already and gotten help straight away. It could have saved me a lot of pain and misery.

    With love,