How It Feels To Live With Social Anxiety

Whenever I’m walking by myself around my neighborhood, I think that all of the people in the houses around me are looking out through their windows, wondering why I walk so weird, where I’m going, why I dress the way I do, that my feet are too big for my body, that my clothes don’t fit properly. I stare straight ahead and make sure not to look at anything. If someone catches me looking at their house, they’ll wonder why I’m looking over there, and who knows what could happen then. I don’t want to find out. I’ve always been like this though, especially in crowds. I can’t help but think that everyone notices me. They all judge me. Every move I make, how I talk, what I say, who I’m with, what I’m doing there, it’s a nightmare. Some people have told me that it’s social anxiety, but this is beyond that. This is trespassing into social psychosis. There’s no medical diagnosis for what I have.

If I’m in a line that’s taking too long for me to be comfortable in, I just leave. I don’t even hesitate. It’s like there’s a tube inside my body that fills up with pressure and once it’s full, I get the hell out of there. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been in the middle of a line at the bank, at the grocery store, at a fast food joint, and just thought, “screw this.” I’ve put baskets full of groceries on the ground, clearly blocking other people with shopping carts and kids, and walked directly out of the store. “What are you doing, moron? Pick that up so I can get my cart through,” I hear as I walk out. What do I care though? I’m the one that’s about to go into cardiac arrest. I need to escape and get to a safe haven.

What’s odd is the fact that I don’t care what other people think of me. I’ve never been bothered when someone has told me that so and so doesn’t like me, or that they think I’m a prick, or that an ex-girlfriend thinks I’m the worst boyfriend she’s ever had. I just smile and nod and pour another drink. One time, I dropped a large bag I was carrying in the middle of the food court at the mall. The clothes inside the bag slid out onto the dirty floor. I didn’t panic, but I wondered if anyone saw that. Would they say anything if they did?

“Good job, idiot.”
“You paid for that ugly shirt?”
“Why doesn’t he pick it up already?”
“Why’s he in the food court?”
“What’s he staring at?”

Their thoughts eat me alive. I can’t escape them, yet I don’t care. It’s not what they think that bothers me, it’s that I give them the opportunity to judge me. I’d rather go unnoticed, casually making my way to the bitter end. Solitude is something that should be cherished. Too many people find themselves alone on a Friday night, no plans and absolutely nothing to do, and they have a mental breakdown. They can’t handle it. It’s like they feel trapped, caged in like an animal, so they get the urge to go out and socialize with all the other parasites that crave attention. They feed off each other, slowly breaking themselves down until they’re worn out or they finally get sick of everyone. That sickness lives inside me everyday. I carry it with pride. When I’m greeted at the entrance of a store, I don’t even respond. Why should I have to talk to this person I’ve never met in my life? They are getting paid to stand there and greet everyone that walks in. The way I see it, I’m doing them a favor by not acknowledging them. I’m giving them less work to do.

Not everyone would be able to live with this sickness. It can become quite extreme. Simple tasks like going to the bathroom in public become a whole ordeal for me. I’ve declined invites from friends because they were going to a bar that only had one stall in it. I can’t piss in a urinal. The idea of standing side by side with other men while going to the bathroom is ludicrous to me. Aren’t we supposed to be civilized? Men enjoy privacy too. At least I do.

I remember one awful night when I was at a Metallica concert. The stadium was crowded and I had been drinking heavily. The bathrooms were packed and all of them had lineups coming out of them. I made my way to the closest one and stood in line with all the other animals. A mixed smell of beer, vomit, and piss floated out of the washroom like a diseased hurricane. As I waited, I started shifting my weight from one foot to the other, rocking back and forth like a mental patient. My head began swaying with my body. I imagine I looked like someone who’d gotten dance moves from a crippled zombie.

After the longest ten minutes of my life, some drunkards came out of the bathroom chanting lyrics from an AC/DC song. I guess they were too hammered to remember which band they were there to see. Once I finally got in it was as if I’d been there before or seen it somewhere-probably a magazine full of pictures of bathrooms in prisons. The fluorescent lights were buzzing and most of them were fading and needed to be changed. The tiles were cracked and decaying, and rapid drug exchanges were happening in every corner. I noticed all the doors to the stalls were closed. People began yelling at me to move out of the way. With a bit of hesitation, I walked down a row of urinals to the very end. After I unzipped my pants, a twisted individual decided to take the urinal right beside me. I couldn’t believe it. Who would do such a vile thing? Then, by some miracle, a stall door swung open and slammed against the wall. A group of vagrants began running towards it like a winning lottery ticket was at the bottom of the toilet. I jumped in like a soldier taking cover in a trench, pulled the door shut and locked it as quickly as I could. Screams of anguish from the crowd grew louder as they banged on the door. “It’s occupied,” I told them, but that only seemed to make them angrier. It was like hiding from a swarm of bloodthirsty rottweilers. After unzipping, I plugged my ears with my fingers then managed to relieve myself. Normally I would’ve stood there for fifteen minutes. Thankfully, I’ve learnt how to effectively piss with a crowd of people outside of the stall. I have to plug my ears, close my eyes, and imagine I’m at home in my own bathroom by myself. It’s a lot easier when I’m drunk. After that, it’s only a matter of time before I go through that horrific experience again until I’m back in the comfort of my own home.

When I tell people these stories, they immediately think I’m insane, and you know what, maybe they’re right. To be honest, I wouldn’t want to be any other way. Walking into a crowd without a single thought that other people are judging me sounds boring. It’s fun to battle my own thoughts. Trying to find some privacy just to go to the bathroom turns into an adventure. I’ve accepted it. When you’ve lived like this your whole life, it’s difficult to see it any other way. Now I suppose the only thing left to do is conclude this with a toast to myself. A glass of scotch and George Thorogood – I Drink Alone playing sounds good to me. Cheers. TC mark

featured image – Nicki Varkevisser

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