I don’t often write personal posts, but occasionally I feel the need to share something, even if it’s just to get my thoughts down for my own sake. Today I wanted to talk about living with social anxiety, which is something I’ve battled with since the age of 16-17.
Previously, I discussed how I used an online game to get through depression. My social anxiety stems from the same time; I was diagnosed with both together. And like with the depression, although circumstances have changed greatly (and for the better), this is something that is still stuck with me. Here’s the definition of social anxiety from Wikipedia:
Social anxiety is a specific form of anxiety. It is an emotion characterised by a discomfort or a fear when a person is in a social interaction that involves a concern of being judged or evaluated by others. It is typically characterised by an intense fear of what others are thinking about them (specifically fear of embarrassment or humiliation, criticism, or rejection), which results in the individual feeling insecure and not good enough for other people, and/or the assumption that peers will automatically reject them.
One of the reasons I am happy to talk about this on the blog is that I feel that as introverts, this may be something that affects many of us bookworms and book bloggers. Not to say that we are all introverts, but I know that is the story for many of us. For me, social anxiety presents itself in the following ways:
- I pretty much always assume that members of the public are judging me for one reason or the other, so I’m never entirely comfortable in public – even with things as simple as eating something unhealthy in public or trying on clothes in a shop
- I have an utter fear of being the centre of attention or public speaking
- Humiliation/embarrassment are actually almost physically painful
- I do like going out – but it has to be with people I know and enjoy spending time with, and often even if I’m really enjoying myself I’m working out when I can slip away and go home
- I don’t really crave social contact, I spend a lot of time by myself and don’t feel lonely unless other things in life aren’t working out, e.g. when I hated my previous job – but communicate regularly with people online, however this has mostly been the case since moving to Oxford as my friends are all over the country/world now
- When I do spend a lot of time with friends, I feel emotionally exhausted and need time to myself afterwards to ‘recover’
- When I make new friends, for a long time I assume that they’re just ‘putting up with me’ and aren’t really interested – this stems from all the crap that happened when I was 16-17 and that caused this whole mess
Things felt a little different in Leiden. I discovered that I actually did like going to clubs and bars in the evening, and staying out until silly o’clock in the morning. But I think that was down to two things – firstly, a fantastic group of friends and secondly, the university environment. You’re thrown into situations where you meet all these new people and bond so easily, everyone is in the same boat. It’s a completely different story when it comes to working.
It can be a tricky thing to explain to people, and to be honest I don’t really like explaining it unless I know they’ll understand, because some people have reacted really negatively in the past. I’ve made a lot of excuses for a lot of social events since I’ve been in Oxford, because basically I’ve been too anxious to go. Whilst I don’t often feel lonely, and am actually pretty happy spending time by myself, social anxiety can still be difficult to deal with. I worry far too much about the most ridiculous things, and spend far too much time feeling uncomfortable about something rather than just enjoying myself.
It’s interesting to meet other people with social anxiety. Last month, a good friend came to stay for the weekend, and she suffers from it too. Because she also needs ‘recovery time’ after socialising, she stayed Friday to Saturday night, which gave us both Sunday to recover. We had a great time together, but also managed to have time to ourselves – and it worked perfectly for the two of us. However it’s much trickier with people who don’t completely understand!