My personal experience living with Social Anxiety Disorder (S.A.D.)
I had to relieve my bladder once, during recess, when I was a young boy in the first grade. Of course, you needed permission for such things back then and that was a major problem for me. I didn’t know the teacher assigned to watch over us that day, and I found approaching her to be impossible — My bladder about to burst after several failed attempts. She appeared friendly enough… even nice. It didn’t matter. I resigned to sitting quietly on the curb in front of the school and slipping into a catatonic state. I proceeded to soak my pants.
My strange behavior did not go unnoticed, and soon I was being pointed too and laughed at by my fellow students. I just stared into space with blurred vision and muffled hearing until that same teacher came to the rescue, easing me up and guiding me slowly into the building. My mother was called to come bring me home. I remained mute and near-paralyzed until I felt the safety of her arms around me… gently pulling me back to the real world.
My inability to communicate with people has caused problems like that, and worse, throughout my life. I’m not much better at it today. I’m thirty-nine years old now, and I lead a relatively limited existence, plagued with Agoraphobia and disabling S.A.D. (Social Anxiety Disorder).
I come from a dysfunctional family… a broken home, if ever there was one. My father and older sister couldn’t stand me, and filled my early years with verbal, physical, emotional, and even sexual abuse. Then there was mom, who loved me dearly and always showed me more the than enough affection and kindness. However, she had her own issues and, since the day I was born, I was her only friend and closest confidant. During my childhood years, this was far more responsibility than I was equipped to deal with.
My mom shared her fear of the world with me as she struggled through life with her own social anxiety and, perhaps, Agoraphobia too. At the same time, she thought nothing of watching disturbing horror movies with me and reading excerpts from Stephen King novels in place of Dr. Seuss books and other more appropriate bedtime stories.
I have, I believe, a genetic predisposition for fear, anxiety, and mental illness in general. This, combined with the example set by my mother’s limited abilities and a unique series of traumatic events (including brother-sister incest, the death of half my family, and being orphaned and homeless) that bombarded me into adulthood… I never stood a chance.
My peers were learning to have normal conversations, interactions, and social experiences. I was developing a very different set of skills like dissociation, self-abuse, and the ability to endure years of social isolation. These were the times my mom removed me from school and relocated me to the other side of the country to live in a trailer park with her and my grandmother. It was these years, when I was separated from kids my own age as I struggled through puberty that the damage became too severe for me to ever fully recover from. My mind became a labyrinth and my body became a collection of self-inflicted scars.
My mom died when I was seventeen, after a five-year war with Breast Cancer. My best friend left me all alone, filled with wild fear, and ill-equipped to deal with the world around me. I’m a middle-aged man now with a son of my own, and I make a strong effort, every day, to ensure he has a better shot at happiness than I was given. In this… I cannot fail.
Believe it or not, I’m happy too, regardless of how restricted my life is at times. I’ve developed Chronic P.T.S.D over the years, as well as my S.A.D. and Agoraphobia. I’ve also been diagnosed with Insomnia, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I spent most of my adult life trying to ignore, and then cure myself of these disabilities. After decades of banging my head against this proverbial wall, I finally accept who I am.
I still push myself and try to expand my comfort zone, because I don’t believe in complacency and I want to set the best example I can for my son. My point is… if this is as good as it gets, I’m finally okay with that. There’s no such thing as normal anyway. I think I’ve done well with the cards I’ve been dealt.
I can’t work outside my home, because my anxiety can reach crippling proportions in the blink of an eye. I still don’t communicate well with people, beyond the written word, but I managed to write and publish a book about my experience surviving abuse and living with multiple psychological disorders.
I’m honestly proud of myself now, and I think the people that matter in my life are proud of me too. I’ve gone from struggling with suicidal thoughts, for decades, to appreciating my ability to turn the negative aspects of my life into a positive force that may actually help people. I like myself now, scar tissue and all.
I’ve also managed to obtain the one thing that matters to me more than anything… the one thing that’s been so elusive throughout my life. I’ve created a loving family, filled with true happiness and compassionate understanding. That’s all I’ll ever really need. So even though I have a S.A.D. life, I assure you… it’s a happy one too.
Photo credit: Neil Moralee/flickr