I Don’t Hate You (The Face of Social Anxiety)

Social Anxiety Sucks

Folks with social anxiety are all around you. Yes, we were probably at that meeting the other day together — I’m the one who didn’t talk. You might have noticed the sheen of sweat that gathered on my forehead as time went on. I watched everyone carefully and if we met eyes, I smiled at you. Then I probably turned myself slightly away from you, a body signal designed to discourage small talk. I was scared of you — an irrational emotion – but there just the same. I sat and tried very hard to not be overwhelmed by the number of people in the room, the noise level that made it difficult to focus, and the rising fear descending over me.

Or maybe I’m the one who made the playdate for our kids and at the last minute chickened out. Perhaps I did go but was too nervous to make plans for a new one even though I enjoyed your company.

Especially if you caught me during PMS. Because on top of all my other anxieties… for that week or so, I am convinced that the entire world hates me.

BUT, I don’t hate you. It’s just social anxiety.

I really do, at times, believe that you hate me. Not for any specific reason. Logically, I know that I am a good and caring person. Most people would describe me as kind, thoughtful, and even sometimes a little funny. I am loyal and trustworthy and extremely non-judgmental. And even if we have already been friends for years and you are used to my strange ways and I know that you love me — I could still think for a short while — that you hate me.

You should know that if you make me try to see you in person too often before I feel truly safe with you — I can withdraw and come up with thousands of reasons not to hang out. And if I do force myself to go, I will stumble over my words and sweat bullets in your presence. Unfortunately, the phone can be difficult also. I have auditory processing issues, throwing in the high anxiety and ADHD, and focusing on your words can prove to be an insurmountable task. Texting is better, but I hate it for being so impersonal. (I do know how contradictory I sound.)

Social Anxiety = No Talking on the phone -- I have ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder and wouldn't really be able to follow a conversation for very long anyway
Social Anxiety = No Talking on the phone — I have ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder and wouldn’t really be able to follow a conversation for very long anyway

Just to clarify: I probably will not call you back.

Email used to be good. I was able to answer at my leisure and take my time deciding what and how to say things. I no longer bother opening my emails these days.

Facebook was fantastic. Before I left. With a couple thousand *friends* and almost 5,000 liked pages (there’s that ADHD thing showing), my newsfeed got very crowded. I would often have to visit individual pages to find out what has been going on in my real-life friends’ lives. The divorce happened and I didn’t feel free there. And oh my goodness, when politics made people’s values glaringly obvious – I had to leave there also.

Face of Social Anxiety
Hi. I am one of the faces of Social Anxiety.

I will do social things for my children. After taking a Klonopin (not sponsored/just an explanation), I’ll be able to run that class event or like in previous years, teach those Meet the Master sessions, and even take them to your child’s birthday party.

And if you are nice enough to try with me and we hang out more than twice, you can hear the echoes of Sally Field in my head: They like me. They really like me.

What should you do if you come across a face similar to mine at the next PTA meeting or at the gym? You see the raw fear in her eyes, gauging the distance from where she sits to the nearest door to escape from so want to help put her at ease. Just be yourself which will allow her to feel safer. Be okay with being the one to make the bulk of the plans in the beginning. Meet her at the park or for a quiet lunch, nothing too crowded.  You may wind up with a super empathic personal cheerleader type friend who will know the Goddess that you are for putting up with all of her quirks.

P.S. I originally wrote this about 10 years ago. My children are basically adults so I no longer have their activities to push me out of my comfort zone. A little maturity and all of that practice have helped in ways that I cannot put into words. Being a divorced mother to three has given me a sense of self-confidence and a level of bravery that I did not have at the time this was written. Nothing and everything has changed with my social anxiety as with most things in life.

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