I’m not sure how many of you out there have more than one mental illness to deal with. I have several including bipolar depression, anxiety disorder, and borderline personality traits. It seems as the symptoms from one disorder subside the ones from another become more noticeable at times. Currently, my bipolar symptoms are stable and my emotions are fairly regulated, however, my social anxiety levels are glaring!
I have always been a shy person, but never considered myself to have “social anxiety.” I always labeled myself as an “introvert.” Maybe that was just me trying to be positive, because lately what I have been experiencing would definitely be considered social anxiety.
For example, last night I was sitting next to a woman in a meeting and she was reading something to the group. So all eyes were on her, but because I was sitting right next to her I was extremely uncomfortable with the fact that everyone was looking my way. My heart was racing, my breathing was rapid and I remember thinking to myself, “This is so painful.”
I also realized lately that when I get together with friends, I only really feel comfortable when there are 3-4 total in the group. Any more is too many and any less is not enough. Visiting one-on-one with someone is so anxiety-producing for me because I have to participate in the conversation too much. When there is three or four of us, I can sit back and be more of an observer. Weird, huh? I just had this realization as I was reflecting on all of this this morning.
Also, when there is only me and one other person I feel trapped like if I wanted to leave I wouldn’t be able to very easily. My daughter’s friends’ moms will drop them off at my house for play dates and stay to chat for what seems like forever (30 minutes or more) and I am always feeling this way (trapped). After my weekly meeting, I’ll stay after to talk to some of the women and one in particular keeps me there talking until everyone else has left. I am a great listener and obviously people love talking to me! :) I just wish I enjoyed it more.
This makes me wonder why I don’t enjoy it more. Do I not care about what these people have to say? Do I not want to listen? I don’t think that is it. I think it is the exact opposite. I think that they wouldn’t care to hear what I have to say. I think that my stories, my life, and my thoughts aren’t anything anyone would be interested in, which is probably why I get so nervous when I do end up talking because I am worried about what the other person is thinking about what I am saying. So, a lot of the time I don’t even think to say anything. I just listen and comment on what they say. I have a hard time sharing stuff about myself.
So, how do I fix this? Is it a self-esteem issue? If I think more highly of myself, then will I have more self-confidence and be more comfortable (i.e., less anxious) when speaking to others? Would I be more open to sharing myself with others?
On the other hand, maybe it isn’t a self-esteem issue. I am fairly confident in my beliefs and values. Maybe it is because I barely have any drama in my life (thankfully!) My life is pretty low-key, actually boring at times. I have a wonderful, healthy marriage, well-adjusted kids, no job, no extended family stress. Other than my mental illnesses, I don’t have anything to complain about, which seems to be a lot of what people do when they talk these days.
Maybe there in lies the reason I am not sharing myself with others – I can’t talk about my mental illness issues with them. They wouldn’t get it, they wouldn’t understand, and it would alienate me from them. Damn stigma!!! Although, I do have my husband and one friend with whom I can be completely open about my mental health issues, so that is better than nothing.
So, I am not sure what to do about this social anxiety thing. It definitely limits my activities. It was making it hard for me to leave the house to run errands, but my DBT skills have helped with that which I wrote about here. I will continue to work those skills to deal with my social interactions with others to see if it helps with those, too.
In the meantime, I have also ordered a couple of books on social anxiety. If anyone has any book suggestions let me know. Also, tell me how you have dealt with social anxiety in your life. Thanks for reading. I’ll keep you updated.
Photo credit: Mari Z. / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)