Dear Whoever doesn’t have Social Anxiety

I’m deeply sorry if whatever follows comes out as rude, I’m going to be using this post to blurt out all the things I wish I could’ve said to people about my social anxiety throughout the years I’ve been alive….

No, I’m not shy, being cripplingly afraid of people, is not being shy. It’s not cute either. Though I guess I should take that as a compliment, if you think I’m only shy, then that means I’m handling my anxiety well … on the outside, at least. Social anxiety is a mental health disorder. For something to be considered a mental health disorder, it needs to have a significantly negative effect on the way a person thinks, behaves or interacts with other people.

Shy people don’t feel like throwing up or crying when they’re at a social gatherings. Shy people don’t scream and hyperventilate when driving to a place they’ve never been before, to meet people they’ve never met. Shy people can still breath when speaking in front of a classroom of students, because their throats aren’t trying asphyxiate them. Shy people are timid, people with social anxiety are terrified.

No, going and ‘putting myself in social situations’ is not going to fix my anxiety problems. The most that will do, is probably land me in a hospital, (which has happened once.) Anxiety is not something you can easily fix just by exposing yourself to whatever it is you’re afraid of. It’s not just a fear, it’s a disorder. If someone like me tried to dive head first into a social situation, it would not end well. (But if we’re being realistic, I probably wouldn’t have even made it to wherever I was going anyway.) I’ll tell you how I would react, because everyone experiences anxiety differently. If I just ‘went out and did it,’ I would definitely be hyperventilating, I’d have that horrible tickle at the back of my throat, I would most definitely be shaking and my throat would be so tight, you could forget about me speaking to anyone let alone breathing. I’d also be focusing my undivided attention on keeping myself alive and figuring out how on earth I’m going to get out of that situation. After getting home, I will have decided that that was the worst situation I’d ever been in, and would be more afraid of speaking to people than I was beforehand. Saying ‘you just got to do it’ isn’t good enough, the ‘you just got to do it’ could end with someone throwing up, passed out or crying in a dark corner. So how about you just don’t recommend that.

This next one is on account of my personal preference but possibly something worth noting. If you see a person you know to be quiet, introverted or has social anxiety and they’re sitting alone. Do not go up and pity talk to them (unless they express otherwise.) ‘Pity talking’ is when you have no motivation to actually speak to someone, other than the fact that ‘you think they look lonely.’ In my experience there is nothing worse, than when you’re happily sitting alone, casually minding your own business and someone comes up and awkwardly tries to make conversation with you. Usually the conversation (if you can even call them that) consist of ‘the weather’ and ‘how’ve you been doing?’ Just, no. Stop it. If they are a person who does not mind being alone then they probably aren’t lonely. A hint that someone doesn’t mind being alone is; if they consistently and purposefully sit by themselves whilst making absolutely no effort whatsoever to try and get other people to notice/pay attention/talk to them. I believe that more often than not, those types of people probably do not want to talk to you. Also, if the previous applies and they are also reading a book, writing in a book or something of that nature, that is a definite ‘NO GO ZONE.’ I don’t know why, but I sometimes get people who come up to me and say ‘oh, where are your friends?’ Then try to make conversation whilst I’m obviously way more interested in reading about people murdering dangerous shadow creatures than I am about the freaking weather!

But look, I appreciate people trying to help. It’s just, if you ever meet or are friends with someone who has social anxiety, please do your research first before you give them the wrong advice. The best kind of help you can suggest to a person with social anxiety is to see a therapist, psychiatrist, social worker or any other type of mental health professional, they actually know what they’re talking about. Professional’s teach you ways of dealing with and recovering from panic attacks, not just how to face a fear. If you feel like you’re not doing enough, or the person doesn’t want to see a professional and you still want to help, then at least research what types of strategies professionals recommend to anxiety sufferers, please. Don’t just act like you’ve cracked the code to someone social anxiety after 2 weeks of knowing them. They’ve probably been suffering from it their entire lives, or at least long enough to know more about it then you do, so just be aware of that.

And side note, please be respectful of other people’s personal space, thank you :)