[Oct 2013] Social Phobia

Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder.  I found the expression on Wikipedia accidentally yesterday evening while reading the mindfulness article. According to Wikipedia, social anxiety is an anxiety disorder characterized by a significant amount of fear in one or more social situations, causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some parts of daily life. Reading about it was an epiphany to me. I realized that this is the very concept that describes my condition most accurately.

I’ve been looking for the roots of my emotional problems for more than a year. The things I can’t handle, and the reasons behind them. I am explaining them myself, trying to connect the dots, trying to understand why I can’t bear situations, or trying to identify what are the things that cause me trouble. Solving problems, handling conflicts, hearing bad news, talking about myself, talking in front of others, losing control, hitting walls, helplessness.

As I read the Wikipedia article and looked at the symptoms, it all became clear to me in a flash. All the difficulties I face to one common thing: people. Strangers or people close to me, and interacting with them in social situations. This is the common point, the key characteristics of my problems: people! It struck me like a bolt of lightning. All of a sudden, everything made sense, everything was clear and comprehensible. Situations got new meanings. Situations that I couldn’t explain earlier. The wedding, presentations, visiting customers, meetings, restaurants, bars, plazas, shops, airport, dates, the trial or working in the office. I feel anxiety everywhere, and now I know why. I have fucking social anxiety!

It all made sense, and at the same time, it frightened me like hell. How can this be? Why is this happening to me? How can I have such a thing? How can I be so ‘defected’? How can I feel like this? What is the cause? Something in my childhood maybe? Okay, I was a shy kid, but it doesn’t explain anything. Did I inherit from someone? I don’t know anyone in my family who had such a disease. But then what?

My head was buzzing. I had ambivalent feelings. My mind said this had to be a key-discovery in my journey to wholeness because I finally knew what my real problem was. On a deeper level, I became desperate because I discovered my true fear, and knew that I would have to face it everywhere and all the time. It was inevitable unless I moved to a deserted island. I also became afraid of situations I wasn’t afraid of earlier. Knowing my fear made me even more fearful. I was scared that it can strike me anytime, anywhere, in the shape of a panic attack.

I had an appointment with my hairdresser in the evening, but with this discovery, I was too afraid to go. Instead, I went to the post office to pay the checks, then picked up Sophie, went home, and isolated myself from the world. It felt safe to be at home with her, it made me calm and relaxed.

The next morning I woke up incredibly tense, with a crippling fear. My body was trembling, and all my muscles were in a cramp. I felt unable to pull myself together, to go out to the street, to see people. The fear was so strong that it convinced me that  I would never be able to go out again. I went to the toilet, drank some water, then grabbed Sophie and laid back to bed with her to spend a few more hours half asleep.

I woke up surprisingly relaxed and calm a few hours later. I felt light and comfortable, and all the tension was gone from my body. I took my chances, dressed up quickly, and went down to the street with Sophie to eat some breakfast at the bakery next corner. I felt anxious down there, but it was bearable.

Then we went home, were working for a few hours, and in the afternoon, when I got hungry, I decided to go down and bring something to eat. I wanted to bring soup from the neighbor restaurant, and Sophie wanted a kebab from the corner. This made me already anxious because she wanted a special one, without the tortilla, just meat and vegetables, but no rice or french fries. So it was complicated. As I was walking down the stairs and approached the ground level, I felt the tension rising in my body. When I stepped out into the street, I could hardly stand on my feet. The thought of going into the restaurant and telling them what I wanted, terrified me. I entered the restaurant, gave the waitress my food-box from home, asked for the soup, and told her that I would come back in a few minutes. I did alright. I left the restaurant and headed to the other one, for the kebab. As I went closer, I saw a long queue of people, ending on the street. It made me scared. I imagined standing in there with impatient and angry people, nobody listening to me, having to fight for my food. I knew I was not prepared for that. My legs were shaking just by thinking about it. I turned around instead and went back for the soup. I thought the long queue was a good excuse at least. I had to watch each of my steps because anxiety crippled my body and made me dizzy. I had to concentrate to be able to walk. As I entered again, my heart was pounding in my throat.
“Are you for the soup?” a waitress asked me.
“Yes,” I answered hesitantly. I was waiting desperately to be told how much I had to pay and leave as soon as I could. As she told me the price, I grabbed the money in my wallet and gave it to her. I took the change from her with trembling hands, then turned around and flounced out. I felt like I escaped from death’s claws.

I went home and sank into myself. My heart was still pounding and my body shaking. I was devastated and desperate. I was devastated because the experience trampled over me, and desperate because I didn’t know how to live my life this crippled. I started reading about social anxiety on the internet, trying to find a way out of my misery. A little later Sophie came and was about to sit next to me. My gut reaction was to hide from her everything, but I was too broken to keep my pride and pretend I was okay. So I let her see what I was reading, then I slowly started to tell her the whole story from the beginning. She was understanding and supporting. It felt wonderful and meant a lot to me.

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