How I Gained My Social Freedom
Having social anxiety is a curse, a nightmare that’s hard to escape from. It can steal from the person his security, his ability to function socially and creates a lot of stress that can be paralyzing in different areas of life, whether it’s in school, in business and pretty much everywhere. You may experience anxiety attacks- in public, while you are with strangers, co-workers, classmates, bosses, teachers, and even with friends and family.
A person with social anxiety is similar to a mind reader, who can’t even read minds. You hear and try to interpret everything. You may spend the time wondering why your neighbour didn’t smile at you, or why the guy at your local store was looking at your shoes. Every sigh is thoroughly analyzed to the point where you begin to imagine you know what everything is happening in people's heads. You tend to think that they are having bad thoughts about you. When you are in group meetings, your brain keeps telling you that all lights are on you, and convinces you that in reality, all people in the group are criticizing the way you dress, the way you sit, and pretty much every detail about you, while in fact maybe no one of them notices you are actually there. Therefore, you'd take the decision to not say anything, unless forced to speak, and when you speak, your brain start guessing what they thought about what you just said, and if they found it to be stupid or not.
I had social anxiety since I was a child, and it was a really painful and overwhelming feeling to go out every day and face people. It was extremely difficult for me to live every day seeing human interactions as monumental challenges. I always felt like whenever I am surrounded by people, my true personality subsided to leave my shadow to take the lead instead. It was hard for me to show my skills and who I am to the world, because of my awkward social behaviour, and this prevented me from attaining my full potential, which made me lose several professional, and academic opportunities as well as personal connections.
For instance, I used to be reluctant to ask the bus driver to drop me at a specific station, as I was intimidated by the fact that everyone would be staring at me, and the painful thoughts that would come as a consequence, would ruin all my day, so to make my self more comfortable I would wait till the next station, where there would be someone stopping the driver, and go back to my destination by walking or taking another transportation, all in order to stay in my comfort zone. Calling the waitress in restaurants to ask for something I really needed was not an option for me. Public speaking was like a social suicide for me, I would start shaking before starting my presentations, a huge discomfort at the level of my stomach would attack me, and I could even hear my heart beating very fast. While presenting, it was always hard for me to say the first sentence no matter how prepared I was. I would start my presentation by rambling several times, and my voice would seem very unstable, and I would start feeling the presence of the attendee’s thoughts in my head, brutally judging me. During lectures, I would panic whenever a professor asks me a question, while everyone is staring at me, even if I was sure about my answer. Walking in the school hallways was a torture for me, it felt like I was walking into the middle of a dark room where everyone's thoughts were similar to arrows that were reflecting into the walls to converge towards me.
My social anxiety could be triggered by the simplest things, for example, I could panic when the phone rings, so I always keep it on the silent mode in public places simply because I would start shaking if it rings and I see everyone looking at me. My social anxiety used to attack me everywhere; sometimes even if I am meeting with three people that I know well. It can get very hard for me to talk or act while everyone is looking at me. Social anxiety leads me to frustration, isolation, and loneliness, I was always refusing to go to social gathering, especially if I don’t know anyone there, the idea of thinking that everyone sees me alone or approaching people seemed really scary, so to reduce my anxiety, I would stay in a corner, and pretend I am checking my phone, while having no idea what I am doing, which made me sad, and wonder why everyone could fit very well into this world except me. I can't stand to have somebody mad or upset with me, the stress that results from that is too much to handle for me, so I would stay overthinking what happened all night, overthinking each conversation many times, and forming several scenarios, which eventually makes me sad and miserable. I always imagine conversations with people a week before they happen, and the closer the person is, the worst my anxiety becomes.
Social anxiety is a disorder that I inherited from my life experience, I was never born having it, and it’s the case for everyone. Understanding the reasons behind my social anxiety, was the first step towards recovery. The main reason was the fact that I was bullied at school from primary school to even high school by my classmates and other kids from my neighborhood, I even remember I used to be sent home crying on several occasions, and not telling anyone. I never understood why they had to be that harsh with me, it’s just that I faced a hard time trying to fit into the world, I wasn’t against anyone neither in a direct way nor in an indirect way, I was always kind to my classmates, but found it unacceptable to just follow the crowd, which made me harshly bullied. Another reason was my voice, when I was little, my voice was less masculine, it wasn't my choice to have a similar voice, but yes it was the main reason that made a lot of them bully me, and with time my personality started to shut off, and my social anxiety manifested in a very cruel way during my teenage and adult years.
Many people tend to confuse social anxiety with shyness, while they may seem similar, in reality there is a huge difference between these two concepts. Shy people are comfortable with whom they are, as being shy is a trait they have as part of their personality, they accept it and learn to live with it eventually. Some break out of their shells as they grow older. social anxiety doesn’t feel like that, it’s a disorder that you develop along the journey of life, it’s a tension that you feel every day and at every moment, that keeps telling you that something is wrong with you. Social anxiety or social phobia can fluctuate in tension and frequency, depending on the environment, and other factors, sometimes it attacks you to the point where you become completely paralyzed unable to do absolutely nothing, and sometimes, it’s less harsh I would and more manageable.
What helped me get rid of my social anxiety is forcing my self to get out of my comfort zone, even if I didn't feel up to it. So, I started approaching strangers in the street, smiling at people, pushing my self to take the initiative to talk during social gatherings, and participating in workshops about public speaking and so on. It was so painful to do all that, but I convinced my self that the best way to get out of it is to go through it. While doing so, I was giving my self credits for the small victories I achieve every day, and this helped me reduce my phobia. Another thing, that was useful for me was building my self-confidence and being kind with my self, and less self-critical, by understanding the importance of self love. Besides, it was very crucial for me to understand that my social anxiety was mainly triggered by another disorder that I had since I was a child, which was clinical depression, so addressing my depression helped enormously to manage and even suppress with time, my social anxiety symptoms. Reading about self-development and coping mechanisms helped me accept my self more, so I started understanding that what other people think of me doesn’t really matter, it doesn't define me and that the social torture I was suffering from was like a slow social suicide that needed to end, I needed to fight to gain my freedom.