Archy offers an insider’s perspective on how an anxiety disorder can overtake a man’s life.
What is life like with social anxiety disorder? Imagine being 6’6, 300lbs, appear to be quite intimidating and most likely able to handle most one on one fights with ease… but still being afraid of certain people, certain experiences, even being very nervous around women who are ½ your size! This is just a taste of my experience in life and hope it helps illustrate mental illness for others:
I grew up being bullied on a daily basis at school because I was bigger than everyone else. I enjoyed running around and being a typical outdoors kid, loved soccer/football (FIFA not NRL/NFL/etc) yet I gained weight and kids loved to tease me about it.
Being quite an emotionally sensitive kid, I could hear the disgust, the dislike, the “eww you’re gross” in just the tone of voice, so when that tone came along with the very negative words, it had quite a lot of impact on my young mind.
Being overweight made me slower on the field, and because of that, I copped quite a lot of verbal abuse from my teammates. It got to the point where soccer was no longer fun, and this was probably the start of my anxiety around other people. I didn’t want to change to another team, as I feared it would happen there too.
My fear of others was especially true of the popular “jock” or sporty type who seemed to be so cool, and for them to hate me was quite crushing to my self-esteem. At age 10 I was already quite shy, and I didn’t feel safe at all away from family. I got homesick quite a bit on sleepovers and even had to go home from a school camp.
One day at primary school, I did something wrong, and one of my teachers physically assaulted me, whilst screaming at the top of his lungs. This left the entire classroom of kids crying, and from that moment on I had a lot of fear hearing any adult male yell. Because of that experience, as well as two other teachers assaulting me, my trust with adults in authority was broken heavily.
In high school the bullying continued daily, I’d get teased for answering questions and being too smart, and teased over my weight. I was also starting to get the “nipple cripples”, being tripped (which led to a broken wrist) and the intensity of the verbal abuse increased. In turn, my weight had climbed up as I was comfort eating more, avoiding sports because of fear of the other people in the teams and all of this was leading me to become more anxious.
In high school my graduating class had quite a lot of mean girls, more so than normal in other classes. I received quite a lot of teasing from them. Some even asked me out as a joke, or used me AS a joke: the girls would tease the other girls that I was their boyfriend, as the idea of that was so offensive to them.
By my senior year of high school I was probably obese, I had a suicidal depression, was self-mutilating to feel a pain that wasn’t emotional as an escape, and skipping school to avoid the bullying and abuse. I escaped into computer games, staying up quite late just to feel any sense of happiness. This sent me from straight As to Cs, Ds and total Fs, and eventually I completely shut down and gave up on schoolwork nearly altogether.
I listened to music to try tune out the world and all of the pain. I never had a girlfriend in school, and I was rejected whenever I asked out a girl. This was all summed up when I was one of the very few people at the prom without a date…even though there were more females than males and a few females actually went together.
After high school, I moved away for college and was living on my own away from friends and family, leaving me quite isolated. My health suffered so badly that I had to move back to the family home as I was unable to focus nor had the energy for college. My father died soon after moving back home, leaving me feeling extremely lonely. That was when my depression hit the big time. I pretty much locked myself away in my room at home for a few years, only seeing a few people occasionally and my remaining family at night.
One night I tried going out to the clubs. Some guy asked me for a drink, and when I refused he decided to punch me a few times in the stomach. He only stopped when I tensed my stomach. He left me alone and started throwing chairs and stormed out. I was totally paralyzed in fear, yet my body has enough strength that I could have put him in hospital.
All of these events basically caused my unconscious mind to treat humans as a threat. My fight-or-flight responses being triggered quite easily causes me to avoid a lot of social situations. I would feel hesitation and find any excuse to not go to the shops if I had to, and avoided going to parties and seeing people I didn’t know very well.
At this point, my work life is nearly non-existent, I had a few months’ work but depression really took its toll on me and I had a large breakdown. The fear of talking to new people, let alone women, has made it very hard to make new friends and I haven’t asked anyone out in many years. The few female friends I’ve had, I’ve been the typical “nice guy” to, too afraid to show my intentions, so they’ve led to very little romantic interest.
Social anxiety is basically living with an intense fear of social situations, chronic fear of being judged, and feeling embarrassed or humiliated by your actions. It can cripple your life, can withdraw you from society itself and it’s been strangling me for too long. The loneliness I’ve felt is extreme and has actually worsened my depression. I am someone that actually loves being around people I feel safe with.
Sadly, the automatic fear I have has truly limited my ability to socialize or even be employed: the fear that something bad will happen, the fear that someone will abuse me, fear I won’t measure up to expectations, even the fear of the fear itself!
I’ve made a lot of progress though over the years, I’ve finally killed the depression and the social anxiety is lowering a lot. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy plus Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has helped tremendously in removing the negative thoughts. Slowly getting out into the world, taking courses to learn new skills and meeting people with a trusted friend or family member is exposing and reprogramming my mind to see that not all humans are going to hurt me. It’s a slow progress but it’s making me stronger every day.
Photo by meemal/Flickr