picture taken from www.mellowdramatic-lifetothefull.com
This post is intensely personal for me. I feel vulnerable posting it but I hope that it can provide me with some catharsis. I was completely unaware until after writing this but, coincidentally (divine providence?), it is mental illness awareness week (Oct. 4 - 10) so, even though I know that I will hesitate to publish this, I feel compelled to share it. #miaw #stigmafree
I have spent much of my life wondering why my mind doesn’t behave the way I want it to. Many people have simply labelled me as ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ and I have never been able to make friends easily. I bought into that as well, to the point that, at one time, I would have claimed to enjoy being alone and not having many friends. I would have said that, but, that is only because I didn’t want to admit the truth or put in the the work to maintain relationships because, frankly, they were too exhausting. The truth is that I miss the connection of having people in my life and I regret not building relationships with people I can trust.
Over the years many people have tried to ‘get me out of my shell’ but those efforts have all failed. I have been invited to attend many social events but most people have stopped asking because I would always refuse and I can't blame them for that.
WHEN I DECIDED THERE WAS SOMETHING MORE THAN MERE SHYNESS, I DID SOME RESEARCH AND FOUND THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IDEA OF INTROVERSION.
I find social situations hard to handle, and it is magnified by the number of people and the context of the situation. I have often described feeling overstimulated by the situation, that there is literally too much going on for my brain to keep up. My mind feels like a blur and I can’t seem to concentrate on anything, or anyone. The best way to explain it is that my brain is in a fog and It’s hard to have a conversation when I can’t even think of anything to say because my brain is pre-occupied with other thoughts.
This may surprise a few people because they may not see me this way because I have somehow managed to figure out that particular social context, and I feel comfortable enough to be myself. These situations are few and only occur around people I have known for a long time or in a place that is familiar to me.
When I decided there was something more than mere shyness, I did some research and found the psychological idea of introversion. I wanted desperately to better understand my behavior and thought that understanding introversion would be the key to unlocking it. It wasn’t enough, yes I am an introvert (according to the myers-briggs test I'm INTP) but it’s more than that. Introversion simply explains the way that I expend energy (Introverts lose energy in social situations and extroverts gain energy). It explains some of the ways that my brain is wired but it doesn’t explain the anxiety that I feel in social situations. That’s something different altogether.
SO, HERE I AM: AN INTROVERT WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY AND THE RESULTING SELF CONFIDENCE AND CONSCIOUSNESS ISSUES. A GREAT COMBINATION, THE ANXIETY EXPELS MY ENERGY QUICKLY AND GIVES ME AMPLE REASON TO ABSTAIN FROM SOCIETY.
WebMD defines social anxiety as “an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.”
So, here I am: an introvert with social anxiety and the resulting self confidence and consciousness issues. A great combination, the anxiety expels my energy quickly and gives me ample reason to abstain from society.
This all manifests in an inability to be vulnerable – actual or perceived – so it is hard to put myself in a situation that could I perceive could end badly. I find it hard to examine a new situation and act appropriately because I am worried that I might do it wrong and look foolish. It is unreasonable, and I know that, but, it's hard to overcome in the heat of the moment.
Social anxiety is like a voice inside your head that constantly tells you that you are doing something wrong and everyone will know that you are worthless. It tells you that you are going to humiliate yourself in front of people you like and respect and they will no longer like you. In essence, this disorder constantly tells you that other people are going to judge you but what makes it worse is that you end up being the harshest judge.
THIS IS A HARD SUBJECT TO WRITE ABOUT, MENTAL ILLNESS DEFINITELY HAS A STIGMA. PEOPLE DON’T SEEM TO UNDERSTAND THAT A DEPRESSED PERSON CAN’T JUST DECIDE TO BE HAPPY. LIKEWISE I CAN’T CHOOSE TO FLIP A SWITCH AND NOT FEEL ANXIETY ANYMORE.
I have been to a psychologist that specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which teaches that we can, over time, change the fundamental ways that our brain thinks by recognizing our thoughts and changing them. My brain has been conditioned through repeated exposures to freak out when faced with a social situation and I have only reinforced it by accepting and indulging that behavior. I think the therapy has helped.
I’m not too sure whether the devil is a physical being or only a personification of our own evil pathology but I have realised that the negative thoughts I have about myself are simply accusations from Satan. I am reminded that, in scripture, the devil is described as a deceiver and a liar so part of my therapy involves recognizing the negative thoughts from the accuser and replacing them with what God says about me.
This is a hard subject to write about, mental illness definitely has a stigma. People don’t seem to understand that a depressed person can’t just decide to be happy. Likewise I can’t choose to flip a switch and not feel anxiety anymore. I do believe that, over time these symptoms of a fallen world that we experience as mental illness can be made better with God through therapy.
THIS IS WHY MORE PEOPLE NEED TO BE AWARE OF WHAT MENTAL ILLNESS LOOKS LIKE. PEOPLE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT THOSE THAT SUFFER FROM ANXIETY, PHOBIAS, DEPRESSION AND OTHER ILLNESSES AREN’T JUST BEING RIDICULOUS...
In the legion of mental illnesses, social anxiety might seem like a small thing. That is what I thought anyway, I actually felt anxiety about seeing a therapist about it because I felt that it wasn’t a big deal and the therapist would think that I was being foolish for seeking help. Such is the nature of the beast, I guess.
I only experience mild to moderate social anxiety and I have never had a panic attack. I can only imagine what those with severe anxiety must feel like; trapped inside their own heads with constant negative thoughts. In many cases relegated to living alone for all of their lives without any friends or lovers. They would constantly feel ostracized and will never know what it’s like to be a part of a community.
This is why more people need to be aware of what mental illness looks like. People need to understand that those that suffer from anxiety, phobias, depression and other illnesses aren’t just being ridiculous, lazy or trying to get attention. Many people just don’t understand the nature of these illnesses. 20% of Canadians will suffer from mental illness during their life, so, if you know someone suffering please just love them and have patience.
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