Saturday, 7 May 2016

Social Media & The Social Anxiety Sufferer

"Social anxiety disorder" is one of those phrases that you hear used a lot these days but I often wonder what people think constitutes social they think it's a mere case of shyness? Social awkwardness? Not being a very sociable kind of person and preferring your own company?

Sometimes I feel that the name doesn't give enough weight to the problem that sufferers have - I don't know what I'd rather it be called, but at times when my social anxiety is at it's absolute peak (As it is right now) I do feel like it needs a name that fits more closely with how it makes me feel - Ultimate Impending Doom Disorder maybe?! Punching-Bag-For-My-Own-Mind Disease?! Constant Self-Flagellation Syndrome? 

Yes, right now I feel much more connected to any one of those names..."Social Anxiety Disorder" just doesn't sound dark enough to describe how truly bleak life feels to me when it's at its worst.

I don't know if people can really appreciate how very difficult social anxiety can be to live with when its at its worst if it's not something that they've experienced themselves - and even then, everybody experiences it in different ways and to different degrees.

It comes in peaks and troughs I guess - for me personally, I find that sometimes my social anxiety is at a manageable level and I can function like any other human being.

 I can go out and about in the world and look and act like a normal member of society - but the voices of doubt will still be there in my head and I will be silently berating myself for everything I think I'm saying or doing wrong, I'll be quietly terrified incase you mock me or dislike me or get offended by something I say - I'll probably be twiddling my fingers or playing with my skirt hem as a way to let the nerves physically manifest - but you probably wouldn't notice because I'll laugh along at your jokes, I'll try my best to engage in your conversation and if I can't manage that then I'll smile politely and make sure I look interested instead.

You'd probably never guess the way I felt inside, I doubt you'd ever guess the things my mind was screaming inside my head "You're being weird! Everyone hates you! Don't stand up now, everyone will look at you...I don't care if you need to use the bathroom, you'll have to wait until the meetings over! What if you trip and fall in front of everybody?! What if you can't find the bathroom and you have to ask somebody and they think you're stupid?! Just wait!"

On the outside - I'd look just like anybody else.

These are the good times - when things are manageable. This is the everyday "norm".

But then there are times when it's at its worst and it doesn't feel manageable anymore. I'm in one of those phases now - it's possibly the worst it's ever been.

I'm not sure if it's a post natal thing, they say that post-natal hormones combined with disturbed sleep and what not can make things like anxiety and depression worsen - and its a definite possibility for me but whatever the reason - it's very bad right now.

My head is a constant noise - my inner voice is there all the time, telling me I'm stupid, telling me I shouldn't have said or done this or that, telling me that nobody likes me, telling me that people are laughing at me.

Some days I can't handle it and I can't force myself to leave the house because it's all too much.

People warn me, of course, that I'm getting into dangerous territory by indulging myself in staying indoors -  but when I try to force myself out I end up having a panic attack and that's not something I want my kids to see - so it's a lot easier all around to not fight it on those days and just stay inside.

When I do leave the house, my anxiety goes into overdrive - right now I'm writing this on my phone in the car because I wanted to document just how many of these intrusive thoughts i've had during the 10 minute car journey I've just sat through.

Every person who walks past the car makes me jump as my mind panics - "what if they talk to me? What if Jon has parked wrong and they shout at me? What if a parking inspector comes along and tells me our ticket isn't valid? What will I say? What if I cry? They'll think I'm stupid."

When I called into a shop a moment ago to pick up some bread - my minds voice said "that woman just looked you up and down, she thinks your fat and disgusting. Don't go near the junk food aisle or people will judge you. Don't take so long to get your money out, you're holding people up - hurry up! Hurry up you idiot! Oh forget it just pay by card- oh shit, what if your card doesn't work? You'll look like an idiot! Oh my god it won't go through it won't go through..... Oh phew, it worked. You should have put your stuff into bags by now, you're holding every one up - be quicker! You're not doing it right, everyone is judging you! You can't even pack shopping properly!"

Then an old man speaks to me - he makes a joke about something or other, and the panic rises 

"oh no! He's talking to me! I don't know what to say - I should be funny back, quick say something funny - make a joke back! Of course you can't think of anything funny to say, you're useless! Just laugh instead! Oh no....Your laugh sounds so nervous and stupid. Why are you still laughing at what he's saying?! Is he even still joking with you anymore?! Pay attention! Say the right thing! Oh that was a stupid thing to say, he didn't laugh - well done now everyone thinks you're an idiot."

And that is my life.

And that's how it sounds in my head every single day.

And so I avoid. Avoid avoid avoid.

As much as I possibly can I avoid people, I avoid social situations, I keep to myself and my own family which is the only place and the only people with whom I don't doubt myself and I don't feel nervous.

But I know that having such limited social interactions isn't good for me and so I convince myself that social media is the perfect solution.

A way to interact and be social from a safe place.

A great way to connect with people because there's no pressure online - you can take time over your responses, you can think out what you're going to say, you can be the absolute best version of yourself.

But slowly over the past week or so i've come to realise that I've been wrong about that....that it's not a safe place, at all.

Social media is just that - social. 

It might be a different, more controlled kind of social situation but it's a social situation nonetheless.

And the pressure and the fear are just the same.

Usually the people that you interact with on social media are not your nearest and dearest, but people who don't know you all that well in "reality" - old school friends you haven't seen for years, other bloggers you know (or co-workers, if you're not on the blogging scene), neighbours, etc - people who would be on the periphery of your life if it weren't for Facebook but who suddenly become much more involved in it on a daily basis thanks to the constant presence of social media in our lives.

People who might think that they know you but who only really know the version of yourself that you present online. Who don't really know the YOU behind the screen - who don't know how nervous every interaction makes you, who don't know how personally you'll take their seemingly meaningless and innocent words, who don't know how harshly you'll judge yourself and every tiny little thing people say to you.

And that voice is still there in my mind, even when I'm just online, telling me I'm stupid.

Why did you put that status up? Nobody cares what you think! You just sound stupid! Oh my god you spelled that wrong, now everyone thinks you're an idiot. Oh what did that person mean by that comment they just made? Are they being mean or making a joke? We'll never know because we can't hear how they "said" it so we'll play it over and over in our mind this evening and worry about it endlessly...

Social media is a place where people converse and share their opinions on EVERYTHING, and it can often be a place where drama occurs and confrontation happens - and when you're somebody who can't handle those things, who will crumble at the very slightest crossed word or misunderstanding -  then it really isn't a good place to put yourself.

I can't handle confrontation in a face to face environment, I burst into tears at the slightest hint of it and so I hide away from anyone that I don't know well and avoid any possibility of it in my day to day life because it's better for me - and really the only way I can get through the day.

And lately I've come to realise that just because people you're interacting with online can't see you cry when you're struggling in an exchange, and they can't see your hands shaking with nerves or hear your voice trembling, or see how much you're struggling to know what to say -  it doesn't make the symptoms any less real for YOU - only for them. 

And so I shouldn't be putting myself in that situation right now - online encounters are not a virtual reality, they are just as real as any other encounter and the emotional impact of them is just the same... they will affect you just as much online as they would in the "real world".

And while I know that opting out of all social situations in life - in everyday life or online - is not the answer in the long term, until I figure out what is, it's necessary. 

Social media and this socially anxious nervous wreck just do not mix.

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