TL;DR: There are GIANT SPIDERS EVERYWHERE!
Let me explain a little something about me and my social anxiety. Many people think social anxiety is about “being shy.” This is like saying people who can die from eating peanuts are a little bit sensitive to nuts. Perhaps YOU’RE a bit shy. What *I* have is social anxiety. Very different animals. (And yes, before you ask, it IS possible to be shy AND have social anxiety.)
Everyone’s anxiety is different, but for me, it manifests in quite a few ways. I really am uncomfortable in any situation which involves a group of people…increase the number of people and you increase my anxiety. Make those people strangers and my anxiety is worse.
So let’s say I go to a party of 30 people for a few hours, and they’re people I mostly know. I’m anxious. Now make them mostly people I don’t know. That’s 3 hours of torture for me. 100 people? Exponentially worse. A concert in a stadium? Anxiety levels are through the roof. I’ve been to many, many concerts where I had anxiety attacks. I can often hide those attacks from others, but they are horrifying to me, even if you can’t see it. (So why would I go to a concert if it bothers me so much? Because I love music so much I’ll go through that shit.)
I have been known to do the Irish Goodbye many times in my life. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means to duck out of a social gathering without saying goodbye to a single soul. Sometimes, when my anxiety gets unmanageable, and there are no spots of isolation for me to recoup, I will disappear out the back door and head (preferably) home, where I can curl up into a tiny ball, stick my fingers in my ears, and sing “La la la la la la la la” over and over. It’s not about being rude, though I’ve been chastised for this behavior numerous times. It’s about me doing what I need to do, and sometimes that means getting the fuck out of Dodge.
I cannot count the number of times I have turned down invitations to parties or outings because of my social anxiety. In order for me to accept such an invitation, I need details…the more, the better. What time does it start? How long will it last? Who specifically is going? What should I bring? What should I wear? The list goes on and on. And the further the event takes place from my house, the more likely it is I won’t be attending. I almost NEVER will go somewhere on the spur of the moment, unless I am extremely comfortable with who I’m going with, who is going to be there, and where the venue is. Another thing I cannot count? The number of times I have called and canceled at the last minute. Again, I know it’s incredibly bad form, but sometimes I just can’t, you know, go into the world.
My social anxiety is also part of what makes me despise shopping in a brick-and-mortar store so very, very much. People. Lots and lots of people. Strangers, often crowding together, bumping into one another with little regard for the people around them. Grocery shopping is a monumental task for me, and it is one I have no choice but to engage in because no stores around here will deliver groceries.
I will ALWAYS CHOOSE to shop online over shopping in a store. ALWAYS. Clothes? Shoes? Electronics? Food? No matter what it is, if I can have it delivered to my house and avoid going to a store, I am all over that shit. Because shopping in a store for me IS AGONIZING. I am convinced the Internet was invented for people like me.
My mother doesn’t understand this. Hell, NOBODY seems to understand this unless they themselves are faced with social anxiety.
When I have to go to the grocery store, I must have a shopping list. And I must STICK TO THAT LIST. I don’t casually meander through the grocery store to look for other things that I may have forgotten to put on the list. Fuck that. I buy exactly what is on the list, nothing more. Because I treat grocery shopping like a surgical military strike…get in and get the hell out. FAST. Because…again… every moment I am in Winn-Dixie is a moment I am awash in misery. Strangers. Ugh. I often feel like I’m drowning.
Mom LOVES to shop. When she goes grocery shopping – well, when she USED to, she doesn’t any more – she loves to wander each and every single aisle, slowly looking at all of the items on all of the shelves. You might as well slice my entire body with paper cuts and then shower me with lemon juice because that is how I feel about any sort of “window shopping.”
Shopping is NOT a pleasurable experience. It is akin to me being waterboarded. I make lists of things I need. And I go out of my way to seek those things out online so I do not have to shop locally. Shopping in a store is ALWAYS PLAN B for me…hell, it’s probably Plan D. If I was a millionaire, I would gladly pay money to have people grocery shop for me and bring those groceries back to my house.
I will do whatever it takes to avoid going to the store. And when I DO go, do NOT make me go BACK to that store. I don’t want to go back because you forgot to put something on the list. I do not want to go back because you got the wrong size screws and bolts when we could have easily brought the original screws and bolts to begin with.
And when I leave the house, I want to know BEFORE WE PUT THE CAR IN GEAR, exactly where it is we are going. If we are going out to eat, do NOT tell me as we are driving down the road that you want to add to our list of stops. “Hey, while we’re out, we can stop here…and here…and here.” Because you’re adding to my already increasing anxiety levels. Don’t you see?? Every extra stop means extra PEOPLE!
It’s not that we can’t run those errands. It’s that I want to be able to mentally prepare myself well ahead of time. I don’t like surprises when it comes to running errands. I want to know specifically what we are doing and where we are going and the more prep time, the better. I would prefer to know a day in advance. At least. And don’t be surprised if I say something like, “You know, we can buy that online.”
Let me put it in a way that you might be able to better understand. Let’s say, as many people are, you’re terrified of spiders. You do everything you can to avoid spiders, right? You don’t want to come into contact with spiders, you don’t want to see spiders, and you sure as hell don’t want to HANG OUT WITH SPIDERS.
Now pretend that every time you leave your house, you are going to come into contact with spiders. If you go to get gas in the car, there are spiders on the gas pump. You go to the mall, hoards of giant tarantulas are going to be crawling and climbing the mall floors, walls, and ceilings…they are going to be wandering the aisles in each and every store in that mall. When you go grocery shopping, as you must, big spiders are traipsing amongst the shelves, often sitting right on top of that jar of peanut butter you need to grab. When you want to go out to listen to your favorite band in concert, you have to also sit with thousands of spiders for that 3-hour concert. Spiders are just the price you pay for going out and socializing or enjoying the world in any way. You know, if you want to ever leave your house.
How would you handle living in such a place? I’ll tell you how. You’d meticulously plan every moment you needed to spend outside your house. You wouldn’t hang out with the spiders ONE MINUTE LONGER THAN YOU HAD TO. You certainly wouldn’t be window shopping or casually say things like, “Well, if it doesn’t fit, we can always come back.” No, we CANNOT come back. CAN’T YOU SEE ALL OF THE GIANT FUCKING SPIDERS?!?
You would do what you had to do, and no more.
That is what it’s like for me any time I leave the house. The world is FULL OF GIANT SPIDERS. No, not ALL the time. Sometimes my anxiety is far worse than it is at other times. Sometimes it’s barely there at all, especially whenever I’m with close friends. But if I ever go to, say, the city, for a day out, you can be assured that I’m seeing lots of spiders. And the longer I’m away from home (God forbid it’s a week-long vacation in another state), the worse my anxiety gets and the gianter those spiders become. I can’t predict when my social anxiety will come and go, but I DO know a lot of my triggers, some of which I described above.
Social anxiety sucks big donkey balls. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Just like I wouldn’t wish my depression on anyone else. Or bipolar disorder. Or PTSD. Or ADD. I’ve been living with most of these things for over half a century. I do my damnedest not to let any of them define me, but they ARE part of my identity. And like any amateur person, I’m doing the best I can and I’m learning as I go.
So there you go. Social anxiety. It’s not in a nutshell, mind you, because social anxiety can’t FIT inside a freaking nutshell, but there it is.