Newest Review: ... didn't make them any less stressful, but by forcing myself to attend I steadily got to know my midwives and doctors, becoming more comforta... more
I may be strange, but strangers are scary
Social Phobia Disorder
Member Name: sandemp
Social Phobia Disorder
Disadvantages: Fear of the known as well as unknown, hard to make friends, social situations stressful
Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is characterized by intense fear in social situations causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some parts of daily life. The diagnosis of social anxiety disorder can be of a specific disorder (when only some particular situations are feared) or a generalized disorder. Generalized social anxiety disorder typically involves a persistent, intense, chronic fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by one's own actions. These fears can be triggered by perceived or actual scrutiny from others. While the fear of social interaction may be recognized by the person as excessive or unreasonable, overcoming it can be quite difficult.
I can't remember a time when I wasn't shy and didn't find it hard to initiate any social interaction, I'd always thought it was just part of who I was. Coming from a large family with lots of cousins my problems didn't real show themselves until we moved away when I was about ten. After all I knew my cousins really well, we'd spent a lot of time together from birth and I was comfortable with them. My early years at school were relatively trouble free as well. My first school was very small with far fewer children per class than the national average and we'd all started at the same time.
It was when we moved that my problems really started, moving from an environment where I knew everybody and had my family around me, suddenly there was just me and my younger sister and I was transplanted into an established class of over thirty children. I vividly remember that first day, how sick I felt and how I had to force myself through the door. Perhaps this would be normal for anyone, but this continued for term after term. Throughout my whole life I've found making friends difficult, I've always been jealous of those people that can walk into a room full of strangers and feel at ease, it takes all my effort just to walk through the door.
As I grew older my problems continued, through the last years of primary and then into senior school. Only I began to somewhat "act out", with my frustrations with not being able to integrate turning into anger. This lead to my first encounter with mental health professionals, with regular appointments with the school psychologist. So at fourteen I was diagnosed with anger management issues and depression and offered counselling for the first time. Only trouble is this counselling was with a complete stranger and remember just the thought of being alone in a room with a stranger scared the hell out of me. So of course I found various excuses not to attend, which is a pattern I followed throughout my teenage and into my adult years.
Becoming a parent forced me to face social situations, even when pregnant I had to have some contact with complete strangers. The fact that these appointments were necessary didn't make them any less stressful, but by forcing myself to attend I steadily got to know my midwives and doctors, becoming more comfortable with them. Of course there were times when I had to meet different professionals and then I would find myself panicking. Once my children were born, there were a whole new set of circumstances to deal with, mother and baby groups, pre-school and the dreaded school gates. For my children's sake I had to deal with these situations and try not to let them know how terrifying I found them. In fact I think having my children was possibly the best motivator to deal with my social problems and even though I would often be up the night before I did manage to cope with these.
I even managed to go to a breast feeding support group, but one of my coping strategies is to always turn up early so that I would never have to walk into a room full of strangers, so I was always at the door at least 30 minutes before opening time. Luckily I had been diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder a couple of years before I fell pregnant with my youngest, which meant that I had a health visitor who actually understood how I felt, even offering to attend these groups with me. In fact since my diagnosis there seem to have been a multitude of people trying to help, some of which forget that I find it really hard to trust new people.
I know it's silly to feel so scared of social situations and meeting new people, I know that people aren't really judging me all the time, but that doesn't stop the feelings of pure terror I get just at the thought of walking in a room full of people. I've tried various types of counselling over the years including art therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but have struggled so much to cope with just meeting the therapists that I feel I'm wasting my time as I sit in silence. The worst time was when a therapist got me to fill in a form and then told me that my social problems were down to me being at the low end of the autistic spectrum. Now, several years later, I can see where she was coming from, because I'm so scared of and wherever possible avoid social situations, I am very socially na´ve. To be perfectly honest I really don't understand people and why they would say one thing and do another. Personally I prefer computers, they are so much more predictable.
Over the years my SAD became much more defined and there were more things that cause me to have panic attacks. I find crowds of people very difficult to cope with, it just feels like everybody is looking at and judging me. This makes shopping quite difficult, I cannot manage to go shopping in the run up to Christmas without an escort. I also can't cope with the underground on my own, even the thought of it is bringing me out in a sweat. I find making friends difficult, actually making friends demands some sort of social interaction and I'm most likely to be found sitting in a corner at a social gathering. Even worse, when I'm stressed I start to rock, which makes me look like a nutter and means most people keep their distance. But if someone does see past these things and makes an effort to come and befriend me, they'll find that I'm a very loyal friend that would do almost anything for them.
Of course there are then people that have abused that aspect, taking advantage of the fact that I wouldn't see them go without, which means that the next potential friend has an even harder time at breaking through the shell. Even worse are the abusive partners who honed in on my vulnerability and used my social problems as a way to worm their way into my life and then further distance me from the outside world. I'm not going to say any more on that subject because when all's said and done, that's a part of my life that is best forgotten.
I still have social anxiety, I guess I always will, but I've found ways of coping with most situations. Firstly I have a fantastic partner who understands that I have these problems and knows all the signs that show I'm becoming distressed. More importantly he knows how to react to those signs, whether I just need to know he's beside me or whether I need to get away. I also have medical professionals who understand that I need consistency of care and that it's not a good idea to suddenly have a new doctor thrust on me. I have a health visitor who has the best of intentions but is occasionally overenthusiastic in trying to help me access different groups. We've also moved to a small village, where I have relatively few neighbours. It took me a while to get to know them, but now I know they are looking out for me as much as I look out for them, and for the first time in my life I actually feel part of a neighbourhood.
Whatever the future holds, I don't want to pass my fears on to my sixteen month old baby (and hopefully haven't passed them on to the older children). So I force myself to deal with the situations I find stressful, I've already touched on the fact that I turn up to groups early. Well I actually turn up to almost every appointment early, it really is my way of coping. It's all in my head but there's something about being the first in the room that helps me deal with strangers, even just knowing I'm early helps. To be honest there is absolutely no way I could force myself to go to anything knowing I was late, I even turn up at GP appointments half hour early. This also gives me time to calm myself if the panic starts to rise, maybe the only yourself thing I've got out of years of counselling is breathing exercises. A few long deep breathes and the panic moves a bit further down where it can't do any damage.
One thing I don't do is take any sort of medication, prescribed, legal or otherwise. I did take antidepressants for a time, but these really didn't do much more than mask the problems I was having, the only way I've found of dealing with the fear is to actually face it. (Nothing is quite as bad as I build it up to in my head). At another point in my life I did use alcohol as a way of helping me deal with social situations as it helps to break down the inhibitions I've built up. But of course this only works while drunk and it soon became apparent that I was abusing alcohol and now I barely touch the stuff.
===Am I SAD?==
Everybody experiences the feelings of dread, embarrassment and shyness involved with SAD at some point in their lives, maybe you were waiting to be called in for an important interview and had the sweaty palms, butterflies, nausea and need to pee. When it becomes Social Anxiety Disorder those feelings are pervasive and occur in situations where deep down you know that you shouldn't feel scared, but it happens anyway. If these feelings are preventing you from carrying out normal daily activities then it's a problem and you should speak to your GP about being assessed.
The earlier you can get the condition recognised the more likely that you will be able to deal with the condition and maybe even beat it. So if you start to recognise the symptoms of anxiety in your child, find that they are excessively shy and wary of people, then please ask if there is anyone that can help either through school or your GP. I received totally inappropriate help growing up and through most of my adult life and now my fears are so deep seated that I don't think I'll ever completely conquer them.
If you know someone with SAD then please be patient with them. You may think they are unsociable or don't like you, when in reality they are sitting in the corner of the room absolutely terrified that everyone else is judging them. I really wish there had been a few more people that had made that attempt to break through my walls to find the real me. As things stand, I have a small circle of very close friends, who all understand me and realise that I'm not being rude when I don't talk, it's just that I find it so hard to make the first move. They can also cope with how blunt I am, some people think I'm harsh, but the reality is that I say things as I see them, and don't have the social skills to tell the little white lies that everyone else seems to find so easy. And that's something you'll find with many people with SAD, because we find social interaction so difficult, we don't learn the "rules", which of course makes social interaction even more difficult.
SAD is something I wouldn't wish on anyone, but it's part of who I am, it's something learnt to live with and even in some strange way embrace. Ok, so most people wouldn't find talking to a new health visitor a challenge, but neither would they have the sense of pride at managing to cope with a visit to a baby clinic. All I ask is that people respect that I'm a bit different from them and they don't push me into social situations I can't cope with, even though I will often push myself into those situations. Oh and I'd like them to realise that I may be a bit strange but I'm certainly not mad.
Summary: When it's not just a case of being shy
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