Anxiety disorders are prevalent in our society but, up until recently, they were overlooked or brushed aside. People were considered "too sensitive" or "too paranoid," so anxiety wasn't a legitimate mental health issue. In fact, general anxiety and social anxiety are so widespread, that chances are you know several people who live with them on a daily basis. I have no doubt that there are things those people, and every mom with social anxiety, wants you to know. When you listen to your loved ones suffering from anxiety with empathy and compassion, and not of disdain or dismissal, you'll help them navigate the stressful waters of social interaction.
When I was a kid, I didn't realize I had social anxiety. Honestly I thought, at the most, I was a little weird. I had no idea that other people perceived the world differently, so I assumed the things I thought were the same things everyone thought, just a little more "intense." When I convinced myself I had done something mortifying or embarrassing or committed some dramatic social faux pas, I assumed that everyone else thought so, too. I cared, because I absolutely knew they cared, too.
It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I began to understand that I was wired a bit differently, that other people didn't trigger as easily as I did when faced with social situations. Since then, I've started taking steps to address my anxiety. I recognize when I'm being triggered and when the voices in my head are fed by anxiety and not my rational self. It's hard work and it doesn't come naturally, so to help you better understand those who suffer from social anxiety, including mothers, here are 10 things they want, and need, you to know.
I Really Didn't Want To Come To Whatever You've Invited Me To...
I really didn't. I tried to bail three times, at least, but I really wanted to come, so I didn't. What, that doesn't make sense? Welcome to my world.
It's a constant struggle between my anxiety and my need for at least some social interaction. I don't need to be a social butterfly (that sounds like torture to me, actually), but an adult conversation every once in a while is beneficial.
...But I'm Glad You Invited Me
It's hard to explain, but even though I dreaded coming here with every fiber of my being, I most likely would've been crushed if you didn't invited me. Just because I find it difficult to interact in a social setting, doesn't mean I don't want to be included.
A friend of mine recently got married and asked for my address to send an invitation. I wasn't looking forward to it — strangers and small talk and dress clothes are way out of my comfort zone — but when my invitation never arrived and I realized I'd been excluded, I was so hurt.
I Have No Idea What To Say To You
You know that feeling when someone says "Hello" and you respond with something completely random, like, "Thanks!" and you feel like a complete tool? I feel like that every time we talk. I always harbor a fear that I'm saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or that I'm not making sense or that my jokes are lame or that I'm boring or rambling and on and on and on. It's exhausting just thinking about talking.
I'll Probably Cry When I Get In My Car
When I leave a party or playdate or holiday gathering or whatever it is, I will most likely shed some tears. I'm wound super tightly right now, but once I retreat into a safe space that stress will blow off like a pressure cooker and I'll cry. Or, I'll cry because I know I made an ass of myself. One or the other. It always happens.
I Just Know You're Quietly Judging Me
You may be the nicest, most kind person in the world, but my social anxiety has me convinced that you are judging the hell out of me. My hair, my clothes, my accent, my word choices, my stories, my jokes; nothing is safe from my perception of your judgement. I will assume you are thinking the worst.
I Will Analyze Ever Second Of This Gathering Over And Over
As soon as I leave, this entire interaction will go on repeat in my brain and I'll pick it apart, highlighting every instance where I could've done something differently. Everything goes under a microscope, from tiny things like whether or not I was rude when I asked you where the bathroom is located, to entire strands of conversation and whether or not you were interested in what I was saying at all.
Nothing is safe and I will berate the hell out of myself for every bit of it.
I Can't "Just Relax"
I can't, OK? I just can't. Relaxing at a social gathering would be like telling a gazelle to relax when a lion is around. Not happening.
I'm in fight or flight, so I can't help it and this is just how it is. My heart is racing, my palms are sweaty, and my pupils are probably the size of dinner plates.
I'm Imagining Every Possible Worst Case Scenario
Do I have a booger? Are they talking about me? Is my car going to start? Have I had too much to drink? If it could go wrong, I've already thought of and am worrying about it.
Things That Are Easy For You Are Not Easy For Me
Sure, walking into a room first may not be any big deal to you, but it freaks me out. Saying hello to people I don't know? Terrifying. Calling in to order take out? I'd rather be hungry. So many seemingly innocuous parts of daily life cause me stress that I know it may be hard for you to understand. Trust me though, simple things are not always simple.
I Am Not A "Weirdo"
All that said, I'm not a "weirdo." I'm not a "freak." I'm just a little more sensitive to things than most people. Some things trigger a stress response in my brain that don't trigger that same response in your brain. Be patient, be kind, and try to understand. I'm doing the best I can and the fact that I showed up to your event, whatever it is, means I really do value your friendship. Please, if you can, show me that you do, too.