If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that I was over thinking, I would have a small fortune– and I would also be over thinking about what do to with all the nickels that I have acquired. I have always been a chronic worrier; I remember being four years old and bursting into tears when my classmates who I barely talk to came to my birthday party. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic that they came. It was the thought of them not enjoying themselves at the party that got me overwhelmed. The feeling of absolute panic that takes over me whenever I’m in a social situation ensued throughout my childhood and into adulthood. For the longest time, I thought something was inherently wrong with me. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties when I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder – social anxiety disorder to be exact- that everything finally fell into place.
Have you ever had a dream where you are standing in front of your class, stark naked, and all of your classmates are pointing and laughing at you? That’s what it’s like being a socially anxious person in public – except you are not specifically in school but in any social gathering and you are most likely fully clothed. We are an incredibly self-conscious lot who have a crippling fear of being ridiculed so we avoid social situations like the plague. This makes everyday tasks unbelievably hard for us. For instance, ordering your daily cup of coffee at Starbucks might be a breeze for you but we memorise our order and repeat it in our heads a million times before going up to the barista because we are petrified of being humiliated if we mess up our order. This is why I will forever be grateful for food delivery apps.
Anyone going into a relationship with a socially anxious person should be given an instruction manual on how we operate in public. This manual should also come in the form of one of those yellow warning signs that say, ‘Approach with caution’. Why? Let me paint a picture of me on date night. I spend the whole day thinking about what to wear, I change my outfit for the 10th time, regret agreeing to go on the date in the first place, panic and text my best friend that I am going to tell my date that I have chronic diarrhea and I cannot meet him for hygienic reasons, get scolded by said best friend and be reminded that I will die alone if I continue down this path, scrape together an outfit at the last minute because I don’t want to end up a lonely spinster, and finally meet my date at the restaurant, sweating profusely and wishing I never showed up. This is what I’m like six months into dating my boyfriend (god bless his patient soul) every single time we go out. The crippling fear of being in public just doesn’t go away for the socially anxious. In fact, it heightens when we are with someone we fancy. Simply being around our crush make us tie ourselves in knots, dizziness usually follow, and we often nod our way through conversations in order to appear calm and composed. If you are willing to look past all of this, dating a socially anxious person is just like dating anyone else. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is encouraged to date us because we would much rather stay in bed with you, eat junk food and binge watch Netflix than go to a fancy restaurant for dinner. We are quite frankly the more economically feasible option.
It is definitely a challenge to live with a mental disorder. Up until recently, I didn’t want to accept that I have a problem with socialising and often dismissed my awkward behaviour and the telltale signs as merely being shy or nervous. Coming to terms with the fact has helped me both in my personal and professional life so I can’t stress how important it is to encourage an open dialogue about this taboo subject. Now that you have an idea of what it’s like to be in the shoes of a socially anxious person, I hope you will go the extra mile to be kind to that kid in class who barely talks to anyone or that girl you went out with who sweated profusely and constantly fidgeted throughout the date.