For the most part I’m a high functioning adult. I’m even responsible for the care of three other tiny people (my children) and even my husband. But I cannot keep scheduled appointments, I hate having small conversations because I feel like I am obligated to keep the small talk going (and I regularly fail at that) and I have an even harder time staying in contact with friends.
I live with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Panic Disorder and Social Phobia. It seems like a lot and, honestly, it’s probably not the only thing I could be diagnosed with, but I feel the need to talk about it so more people will understand. People who are unaware of my conditions usually think I am bitchy, uninterested, bored, rude or distant. They may think I am purposely avoiding them and to some degree that may be true. But it certainly isn’t because I don’t want to get to know THEM, but it’s because I feel the need to avoid the social situation.
- GAD involves non-stop worry about everything. There is a constant fear looming and I very rarely can pin point the reason why.
- Panic Disorder involves a sudden fear, panic and feeling that you need to get away. My panic attacks are usually accompanied by chest pains, dizziness and shortness of breath and I am exhausted afterwards. They can last anywhere from 15 mins to several hours and literally leave you confused and unsure.
- Social Anxiety/Phobia means I have a fear of social situations. I do not like to initiate conversations because I am afraid the person may not want to talk to me in the first place, I have a constant fear of being judged or that someone will notice how I am acting.
The three of these make a great combination for a pretty socially awkward person. That is not to say that I do not sometimes overcome my fears. There have been a few times where I make myself aware of how I am feeling and I simply go for it, but that is rare. I usually feel very strange afterwards and I immediately start worrying about what I said, how I said it, am I standing funny, don’t cross your arms, don’t itch your nose, etc. Until I am standing there staring at the person, thinking, and they decide to politely leave the conversation all together. This makes getting to know anyone on a substantial level extremely difficult. Even online relationships have proven hard to establish. I tend to avoid saying anything so that I don’t say the wrong thing or for fear that I will be judged wrongly for what I said.
Very few people know that I have this problem. Most people I meet tend to interpret my behavior incorrectly and that can lead to hard feelings and grudges that are hard for a normally functioning social person to overcome, let alone someone who is extremely afraid of confrontational situations Unfortunately, being so socially inept has led to me being quite lonely. Besides a handful of friends who we see on occasion, I do not have a friend that I am especially close to. I don’t have someone I can call up if I’m having a problem, or go shopping with, or talk about the latest gossip with.. and it is hard being home alone with three children all day with so little adult interaction.
Learn the symptoms and clues of social disorders so you can help put those you are talking to at ease:
- shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or abdominal discomfort
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- chills or heat flush
- muscle tension
- difficulty sleeping
- profuse sweating
If you think someone you are speaking with or that you know has a social anxiety disorder you should encourage treatment, which can range from medications to yoga, to help alleviate some of the symptoms.
To help someone who is suffering from a social anxiety disorder you can try some of the following tips:
- Do not continue behaviors that may be enabling their disorder (making phone calls for them, running errands, making excuses, etc)
- Be patient. Overcoming a social disorder takes time. Don’t expect them to be better overnight.
- Keep your own emotions in check. If a loved one or friend is having a panic attack, keep as calm as possible to help them through it.
- Invite them on Social Outings/Situations. Give them a chance to be in a social situation with a trusted friend/family member (YOU!). It will make the process easier to be with someone they trust.
- Be a Good Listener. Be available to listen to their fears without judgement.
- Do Research! Educate yourself about other symptoms, treatments and coping mechanisms.
- Don’t tell them that are silly or that their fears are irrational. Most people who suffer from a social disorder are completely aware of how ridiculous it is, but we cannot control that fear. I like the quote below from Beating Social Anxiety:
“If you feel the need to say it, stop and think for a minute. Maybe that emotional person is exaggerating, maybe her/his perception is way distorted, but there must be something that got the person so upset. And telling her/him that it’s all in her head will not help at all. Clarifying the issue will help everyone.”
For me, when I have a panic attack I just need to let it pass and take a nap. Being held during an attack, usually accompanied by crying for no reason, can help my attack end sooner and when it does end I’m usually drained. I don’t usually want to talk.. talking during an attack is hard for me.. the words just get jumbled. Plus, it’s hard to talk while you are crying.
My social phobia and GAD are something that I have to always deal with. I hate having to run errands and I avoid phone calls like the plague. Procrastination seems to be my biggest motivator. I tend to hold off on my duties until the very last minute, or until it is too late, and that can cause even more problems. I’ve tried so many different kinds of organizational techniques and budgets that it has gotten hard to keep everything on track. I’ve decided to sort of build my own and I hope that since it is catered to my needs it will help me keep schedules, phone calls and bills more accessible.
Luckily for me, women are twice as likely to suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder and an estimated 40 million have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. And even though that should make me feel better, to know there are more people out there that understand living with this, it makes me realize how very little is understood about anxiety and social disorders.
By Jessica McDaniel
Copyright 2013 The Sometimes Chaotic