Social anxiety feeds off of negative energy, thoughts, and feelings–anything negative, really. Those negatives grow with the anxiety, drowning out anything positive. When you’re given a compliment, you don’t believe it. When you get an A on a paper, it’s not good enough. When it’s sunny, you close the shades. Eventually, you completely succumb to those negative feelings. They keep you a float, they are who you are; and they grow and grow and grow until one day you wake up in the morning and immediately filter out anything positive. You only see the world in darkness, there is no light. At that point you lose hope. You’re crippled. Everyday social interactions are almost impossible to manage. You have Social Anxiety Disorder.
If you’re reading this, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. But if you don’t you may be wondering, How does all this start?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer, in my case at least. I can go on and on about what I feel in the present, how I’m going to feel in the future, and how I felt in the past, but it’s not easy for me to pinpoint where and when social anxiety started to manifest.
That said, I still think the answer lies in the here and now. Looking at how I interpret the world in the present, should help me understand the past.
Social anxiety started the very first time someone verbally judged me. This set off a chain reaction, causing the anxiety to grow and grow, settling into the debilitating form it’s in today. In my case, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact judgments, because there’s nothing glaring. There’s no red flags or neon signs, no arrows pointing me where I need to look.
In school I got picked on quite a bit because I was different looking. I had an under bite, bad acne, and red hair. Kids made fun of me for being different. To this day, I still wonder if people can see my under bite and acne, even though they’re gone, and I’m still conscious that my hair color is different from most others. Outside of school I remember my aunt commenting one time about how I look like I’m not having a good time. Somehow my facial expression was conveying something negative. I’m always worried about my expression. I really believe that my resting facial expression is negative.
Hearing these judgments made me wonder, Is everyone judging me negatively? And I started asking that question during every single social situation, and as the anxiety grew, I began asking it before and after each situation as well. Finally, I started avoiding social situations altogether so I wouldn’t have to ask such questions.
What’s more, the answers to that question were, more often than not, negative, which fueled the anxiety even more. I could never be good enough. I could never be smart enough. I could never be the way I thought I should be. I set myself up for defeat, in other words. Over time I began to see things in a much different light. I could no longer see the positives; negatives were the only things I could relate to. This lens or filter blocked out part of the world. I wasn’t seeing the world for what it really is; I was seeing it how I wanted to see–that is, how my social anxiety wanted me to see it.
You see, social anxiety is a being. It needs nourishment and attention, just like you and me. Those come in the form of negative thoughts, and as I fed it, it demanded more and more. Once it grew big enough, it exerted its will whenever it wanted. It no longer demanded food–I was perfectly willing to feed it myself. And as I fed it, I engaged less and less in the world, and that question–Is everyone judging me negatively?–came up more and more. Suddenly I couldn’t go anywhere or see anyone without wondering whether they were judging me.
With questions came answers, and with answers came more questions. … It’s a vicious cycle that, at its worse, leaves me debilitated, broken. I’m afraid of people, or, more precisely, I’m afraid of what they think of me.
I’m at the point where I can’t stop the questions, or the answers. It’s very, very frustrating being aware of my destructive behaviors yet not being able to stop them. This behavior is deep within me; it’s all I know. When I enter a social situation, the question is there before I can stop it, as well as the answer. It happens in less than a second. How can mindfulness work with something that happens so quickly?
As time goes by the anxiety plants it self deeper and deeper into me. The longer I went without seeking professional help, the worse the anxiety got. It wasn’t until I said enough is enough, I cannot deal with this anymore on me own, I need help, that I actually could halt the downward spiral. And I believe I’m starting to reverse the process–I’m starting to get my life back.
I know I’ll never be completely free from anxiety, but my hope is that one day I’ll be able to smile, for I know I’ll be able to recapture some of the experiences I missed out on. I have a long way to go.