Social anxiety: A state of mind, in which one fears being publicly seen, that often conflates with a fervent wish to be completely invisible.
I’ve often fantasized about becoming a headless body, a sort of being who just floats around with no need to figure our what to wear, what to say, what tone of voice to say it in or any of the other cumbersome necessities that come with being a sentient human.
Alas, I am not Criss Angel Mindfreak, and have not (yet) figured out how to pull off this particular magic trick. The closest I get is wearing a hoodie, sunglasses, a baseball hat and a hostile expression that keeps would-be gawkers at bay.
If it sounds like I think that everyone is looking at me, or that I’m so important and interesting that I can’t go anywhere unnoticed, that’s not the case—but somehow the presence of other people is often so burdensome that I need to hide in bed in the dark for hours at a time.
I know I’m not alone, but the irony of being a member of this tribe is that we find it almost impossible to reach out to each other for support. Even if we do, that reaching out is often done from the safety of our computers, which, incidentally, I’m extremely grateful for, as it has opened up my limited social experiences in profound ways.
You wouldn’t guess any of this from meeting me. I go to extreme lengths to appear calm and cool when in fact I’m dying inside, but my social anxiety is a fact—like my Amazonian height and my propensity for eating way too much pizza—that I have come to accept. In acceptance, I’ve also managed to find gratitude, and the realization that being a socially anxious person isn’t all bad.
What could possibly be the advantage of what most people consider to be a clinically diagnosable disorder? Allow me to explain.
We save our energy for things that are important to us.
Chances are, if a person with social anxiety has gone to the insane lengths it takes to go to a party, meet up at a friend’s house or visit someone for the weekend, they really, really wanted to do it. (Or they were so obligated there was no escape.)
Socially Anxious People (or SAPs, as they shall heretofore be referred to in this article) are almost immediately running on empty as soon as they interact with other people, so rest assured, if they are choosing to interact with you, it’s a high priority.
We tend to be highly compassionate.
Because SAPs spend so much time agonizing about what they should do and how they should do it, they are generally highly empathetic to other peoples’ ridiculous quirks.
You need to spin around in a circle three times and say “Boo” before you get into your car? A SAP will stand by quietly while you do it. You need 18 pillows placed just so before you go to sleep? A SAP will call room service to make sure you’re all set.
Because we are so high maintenance, we have an innate tolerance for, and understanding of, the freakish needs of other people.
We love hard.
SAPs are afraid of most people, or if not afraid, at least highly suspicious of their motives at any given time. When we find someone we trust (a.k.a. love), we hang on tight. We know that deep, abiding connections are a rare bird, and we’ll be damned if we’re going to do anything to jeopardize them.
We don’t take good times for granted.
There are so many things throughout the day that are unpleasant for a SAP that those things which are not unpleasant stand out in bold relief. We cherish stuff that others may take for granted, like thoughtful conversations, a meal at which we are calm enough to taste our food, good books and skies full of stars.
We enjoy our own company.
Perhaps most notably, thanks to the fact that SAPs are so nervous around most folks, we learn to love hanging out by ourselves. It’s no burden to spend a Friday night at home with our dog and a glass of wine—it’s heaven!
We like the sound of our own thoughts, the cadence of our own breath and the comfort of our own skin. This means we have a strong independent streak and a willingness to be different—or to use a more seductive word, authentic (or to use a more accurate word, eccentric).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s no picnic being a SAP. The constant waves of uncomfortable emotions and the need to manage them can be crippling.
But, as with anything in this big wide world, there are upsides.
If we look at our glass in just the right light, it’s always half full—particularly if it’s standing on the table alone, in the dark, with no possibility of any other glasses remotely nearby.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Toby Israel