Our friends and family always get annoyed with us because we often tend to cancel plans and turn down invitations to go to family gatherings or social events or we just don’t show up. Now for the average person that might seem like you’re being a bit of an asshole or that you just don’t care but they don’t actually understand why the person is doing that.
I can assure you that it’s not because they don’t want to go and it’s not because they don’t want to spend time with you. It’s also not because they’re just being an asshole or that they are being lazy.
When I was younger I could control my social anxiety because I was very much an outside person. I grew up in Durban, South Africa and it was very warm most of the year round so I was always outside and of course, you know, being in the sun all the time and getting vitamin D does wonders for social anxiety. I had friends. I made friends at school. I always had friends growing up. I still had social anxiety and believe me every time I stood in a line at a grocery store I had panic attacks and I used to blush so much that I would get so embarrassed and almost walk out.
But I didn’t know about this thing called depression so I was very happy. I mean I did experience trauma but I got through it. I used to surf. I used to skateboard. I used to climb trees. I was always at the beach. I was always at the gym. I was hardly ever inside the house unless it was a rainy day or if it was very cold or something like that. When I got to my late teens after leaving school I was going out with my friends all the time. I was going out with my brother and his friends. We would all go out together. I was always out at my friend’s house. I would sleep over there and they would come to mine. We would always have braais (BBQ) outside and spend the day by the pool. We were always busy. But at this stage in my life and I would say for the last 10 years or so it’s been really difficult for me to get back into that kind of space where I want to go out and I want to be with people and it’s because I have depression and that makes my social anxiety a lot worse than what it is.
Most people don’t realise that people that have social anxiety disorder really struggle with going out and socializing because they have such a low self-esteem and they are so scared that they are going to be judged. A lot of people with social anxiety struggle to go out into the world and work and it’s very hard for them. They’re so scared to get judged by other people because they don’t have the best job or they don’t have a car or they don’t have nice clothes. Even if they are working just think people are going to judge them for having a the job that they have. They tend to avoid going to family gatherings because it’s difficult for them to concentrate when someone speaking to them and it’s difficult to keep a conversation going. You struggle to focus on other people so you are always focusing on yourself. So yes they will avoid going to parties and they will avoid going on dates. They will avoid going to family gatherings they will avoid going to office parties. It’s because they feel like they are not good enough. And they feel like other people won’t be accepting of them. They constantly feel judged.
I know that even when I’m around family I always have anxiety around because I sometimes feel like I’ve done nothing with my life and that they judge me for that. I’m 40 years old and my depression is very very bad. I feel like people think that I have not done enough to try and make my my life better. And even if they don’t think that about me I’m still going to think that because that’s what my anxiety is telling me.
I just wish people would be a bit more understanding as to why people with social anxiety struggle to go to family gatherings or to go out to bars and clubs altogether. You need to be compassionate. You can’t just push them into the deep end and expect them to swim. Believe me when I tell you that the tough love approach does not work. It does not work with depression. It does not work with social anxiety disorder. It does not work with generalized anxiety disorder. It does not work with any other mental health disorder.