People ask me how I can have social anxiety and sing karaoke in front of people. It’s a valid question. However, in order to answer that, I first need to describe what social anxiety is…for me, anyway. And since this topic is certain to come up again, we need to start somewhere.
I wrote this piece a little over a year ago in an attempt to describe social anxiety. I posted it on Facebook and also on an anonymous blog I had for a hot minute. There’s no sense in me reinventing the wheel.
As for the social anxiety/karaoke question, I’ll cover that in another post because this one is long enough.
TL;DR: There are GIANT SPIDERS EVERYWHERE!
Let me explain a little something about my social anxiety. Many people think social anxiety is about being shy. This is like saying people who can die from eating peanuts are a little bit sensitive to nuts. Perhaps you’re a bit shy. What *I* have is social anxiety. Very different animals.
And yes, before you ask, it IS possible to be shy AND have social anxiety.
Everyone’s anxiety is different, but mine manifests itself in quite a few ways. I generally am uncomfortable in any situation which involves a group of people…increase the number of people and you increase my anxiety. Make those people strangers and my anxiety is worse.
So let’s say I go to a party of 30 people for a few hours, and they’re people I mostly know. I’m anxious, but I may find pockets of comfort if I hang with certain people. Now make those 30 people mostly people I don’t know. That’s 3 hours of torture for me. 100 people? Even worse. A concert in a stadium? Anxiety levels are through the roof. I’ve been to many concerts where I had anxiety attacks. I can often hide those attacks from others. I have learned some ways to…I don’t know, absorb the panic inward? But they are horrifying to me, even if you can’t see it.
(So why would I go to a concert if it can be that dreadful? Because I love music so much I’ll endure that shit. And it’s easier for me if I’m going with friends. They’re like portable comfort zones.)
I have been known to do the Irish Goodbye throughout my life. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means ducking out of a social gathering without saying goodbye to a single soul. Sometimes, when my anxiety gets unmanageable, and there are no spots of isolation for me to get a little social battery recharge, I will disappear out the back door and head (preferably) home, where I can curl up into a tiny ball, stick my fingers in my ears, and sing “La la la la la la la la” over and over. It’s not about being rude, though I’ve been chastised for this behavior numerous times. It’s about me doing what I need to do, and sometimes that means getting the fuck out of Dodge.
I cannot count the number of times I have turned down invitations to parties or outings because of my social anxiety. In order for me to accept such an invitation, I need details…the more, the better. What time does it start? How long will it last? Who specifically is going? (I’m looking for people I know to see if I’ll be able to find a safe zone.) What should I bring? What should I wear? The list goes on and on.
And the further the event takes place from my house, the more likely it is I won’t be attending. I almost never will go somewhere at the spur of the moment, unless I am extremely comfortable with who I’m going with, who is going to be there, and where the venue is. Another thing I cannot count? The number of times I have called and canceled at the last minute. Again, I know it’s incredibly bad form, but sometimes I just can’t go forth into the world.
My social anxiety is also part of what makes me despise shopping in a brick-and-mortar store so very, very much. People. Lots and lots of people. Strangers, often crowding together, bumping into one another with little regard for the people around them. Grocery shopping can be a monumental task for me, but what are you going to do? We actually do finally have grocery delivery in my little town, but paying delivery fees and a tip on top of buying the groceries themselves is a luxury.
I will ALWAYS CHOOSE to shop online over shopping in a store. ALWAYS. Clothes? Shoes? Electronics? Food? No matter what it is, if I can have it delivered to my house and avoid going to a store, I am all over that shit. Because shopping in a store for me IS AGONIZING. I am convinced the Internet was invented for people like me.
My Mom doesn’t understand this. Hell, nobody else does, either, unless they themselves are faced with anxiety.
When I go to the grocery store, I must have a shopping list. And I STICK TO THAT LIST. I don’t casually meander through the grocery store to look for other things that I may have forgotten to put on the list. Fuck that. I buy exactly what is on the list, nothing more. I treat grocery shopping like a surgical military strike…get in and get the hell out. FAST. Because again, every moment I am in Winn-Dixie is a moment I am miserable. Strangers. Ugh. It sometimes feels like I’m drowning.
On the other hand, my Mom loves to shop. When she goes grocery shopping she loves to wander each and every single aisle, slowly looking at all of the items on all of the shelves. You might as well slice my entire body with paper cuts and then shower me with lemon juice because that is how I feel about “window shopping.”
Shopping is NOT a pleasurable experience for me. It is akin to me being waterboarded. I make lists of things I need. And I go out of my way to seek those things out online so I do not have to shop locally. Shopping in a store is ALWAYS PLAN B for me…hell, it’s probably Plan D.
I will do whatever it takes to avoid going to the store. And when I DO go, do NOT make me go BACK to that store. I don’t want to go back because you forgot to put something on the list. I do not want to go back because you got the wrong size screws and bolts when we could have easily brought the original screws and bolts to begin with.
And when I leave the house, I want to know before we put the car in gear exactly where it is we are going. If we are going out to eat, do NOT tell me as we are driving down the road that you want to add to our list of stops. “Hey, while we’re out, we can stop here…and here…and here.” Because you’re adding to my already increasing anxiety levels. Don’t you see?? Every extra stop means extra PEOPLE!
It’s not that we can’t run those errands. It’s that I want to be able to mentally prepare myself well ahead of time. Springing things on me last-minute when it comes to running errands is not a good thing. I want to know specifically what we are doing and where we are going and the more prep time, the better. I would prefer to know a day in advance. At least. And don’t be surprised if I say something like, “You know, we can buy that online.”
Let me put it in a way that you normies might better understand. Let’s say you’re terrified of spiders, as many people are. You do everything you can to avoid spiders, right? You don’t want to come into contact with spiders, you don’t want to see spiders, and you sure as hell don’t want to HANG OUT WITH SPIDERS.
Now pretend that every time you leave your house, you are going to come into contact with spiders. If you go to get gas in the car, there are spiders on the gas pump. You go to the mall, hoards of giant tarantulas are going to be crawling and climbing the mall floors, walls, and ceilings…they are going to be wandering the aisles in each and every store in that mall.
When you go grocery shopping, as you must, big spiders are traipsing among the shelves, often sitting right on top of that jar of peanut butter you need to grab. When you want to go out to listen to your favorite band in concert, you have to also sit with thousands of spiders for that 3-hour concert. Spiders are just the price you pay for going out and socializing or enjoying the world in any way. You know, if you want to ever leave your house.
How would you handle living in such a place? I’ll tell you how. You would do what you had to do, and no more. You’d meticulously plan every moment you needed to spend outside your house. You wouldn’t hang out with the spiders ONE MINUTE LONGER THAN YOU HAD TO. You certainly wouldn’t be window shopping or casually say things like, “Well, if it doesn’t fit, we can always come back.” No, we CANNOT come back. CAN’T YOU SEE ALL OF THE GIANT FUCKING SPIDERS?!
That is what it’s like for me when I leave the house. The world is FULL OF GIANT SPIDERS. No, not ALL the time, not like that. Sometimes my anxiety is far worse than it is at other times. Sometimes it’s barely there at all, typically whenever I’m with friends. But if I ever go to, say, the city for a day out, you can be assured that I’m seeing lots of spiders. And the longer I’m away from home (God forbid it’s a week-long vacation in another state), the worse my anxiety gets and the gianter those spiders become. I can’t predict when my social anxiety will come and go, but I DO know a lot of my triggers, some of which I described above.
Now, keep in mind that everything I wrote above does not apply when I am manic. But that’s for another day.
Social anxiety sucks big donkey balls. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Just like I wouldn’t wish my depression on anyone else. Or bipolar disorder. Or PTSD. I’ve been living with the social anxiety, at least, for half a century. The other things, for decades. I do my damnedest not to let any of them define me, but they ARE part of my identity. And like any amateur person, I’m doing the best I can and I’m learning as I go.
So there you go. Social anxiety. It’s not in a nutshell, mind you, because social anxiety can’t FIT inside a freaking nutshell, but there it is.