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Life In Silence: Living With S.A.D.
I’m afraid of being judged. What do they say about me behind my back? I have a voice, but I can’t speak. I want to do great things, but I’m held back. I am an outcast; I am the “quiet one.” I try to take risks, but I can’t handle the pressure. I don’t answer the door. I don’t answer the phone. I try not to go out in public. I avoid people. I just want to be normal. When will I be free?
Social anxiety disorder (S.A.D.), also called social phobia, makes everyday interactions cause irrational anxiety, fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment. I begin to have panic attacks. I have excessive self-consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations. I have intense fear for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming social situation. I have an extreme fear of being watched or judged by others, especially people I don’t know. I have a fear that I’ll act in ways that that will embarrass or humiliate myself. I have a fear that others will notice that I’m nervous. Social anxiety disorder is a chronic mental health condition, but treatment such as psychological counseling, medication and learning coping skills can help one gain confidence and improve one’s ability to interact with others. The outcome is usually good with treatment, and the antidepressant medications tend to be effective.
I feel trapped inside my own body and mind. I have an intense fear of interacting with strangers. I have a fear of situations in which I may be judged. I often worry about embarrassing or humiliating myself. I have a fear that others will notice that I look anxious. My anxiety disrupts my daily routines, school, and being with friends. I avoid doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment. I avoid situations where I might be the center of attention. I have difficulty making eye contact and difficulty talking. To me this makes life difficult, it holds me back from many things. S.A.D. essentially keeps me from enjoying and living a normal life.
My severe case of social anxiety disorder takes a big toll on my everyday life. I have always wanted to act normal, and I know my thoughts and feelings are irrational, but I can’t control them. I have always been a shy and quite child, I would always isolate myself from others, but my parents have always been told it was normal. Never did we expect I would have a mental disorder that causes my selective silence and isolation. Growing up I had a major case of selective mutism, where I would never speak because my voice was the only thing I had to communicate and interact. I would shut down and not speak because that way I wouldn’t have attention brought to me. I so badly wanted to speak, but the words would just get stuck. For 14 years, my mental illness has caused me shame, school and job stress, possible physical damage, and lifestyle restrictions. For 14 years, I've desperately tried to disguise my anxiety and its symptoms. For 14 years, I've felt like a lone lunatic unable to perform things normal people do naturally, unable to imitate and interact with other people. I can’t comfortably sit in school or go out in public without having severe anxiety. I never want to wake up in the morning because I know I will need to face the pain of going to school. I never know who is judging me, and that’s my biggest fear. I automatically think people hate me which isn’t the case. If I hear people laughing or whispering, I automatically think it’s about me. Life with S.A.D. is extremely exasperating, and I wish I could break free. I missed my friend’s birthday party and my other friend’s pool party because of the anxiety of going. I didn’t even go to senior prom because of a fear of being judged and embarrassing myself. Nor did I go to junior prom or any other school dance. I want to talk to people but the words just won’t come out. I really don’t know how to explain what I feel on a daily basis; there are not enough words to explain the intense fear. It’s a feeling of terror, like a life or death situation.
First, I wake up in the morning with the fear of going to class. I know that I am going to be with hundreds of people during the day which gives me intense anxiety, and it’s only 6am. I get ready in the morning wondering if my hair looks okay and if my makeup is perfect. I can never choose what outfit to wear because I feel that everything I may put on will result in me being judged. I try to prolong being in my comfort zones for as long as I can.
When I drive, I fear that people driving behind me are mad at the way I am driving and think I am driving too slowly. I feel that other drivers on the road are judging my driving skills which often gives me panic/anxiety attacks. I often have to pull over because I cannot concentrate on the road. I don’t turn my radio on because of a fear that people will judge my music. When I get into a parking lot, I fear that people are making fun of my parking and are mad about where I parked. When getting out of my car, I fear that I did something wrong.
Walking around campus and in the hallways, I feel like everyone’s eyes are on me, and my heart begins to race. I feel like I am embarrassing myself and maybe I look funny. I wonder if I am walking funny.
In class, I always try to sit in the back, except of course when there are assigned seats. Me and assigned seating are not good friends. I always try to sit in the back because I have a fear of having my back towards people. I don’t like the idea of all eyes on me. Even though I know that most people are probably not looking at me, I can still feel their eyes burning holes in my back. Sitting in the back has always been my favorite spot, that way I can see the whole class. In class, I never raise my hand or participate. I never get up in class either. If I have to go to the bathroom, I just hold it in because I feel that everyone’s eyes will go on me. I never liked being the center of attention. I never liked talking in front of a group. I have an extreme fear that I am going to mess something up, and I am going to embarrass myself. I even fear breathing in class, something as simple as breathing I am afraid of doing because I feel like I am doing it wrong and I look funny. High school was the worst. In high school, I wouldn’t even look up. Every high school has the outsiders, but I felt like I was outside the outsiders.
During lunch, I often sit alone. This is because I don’t have many friends. Most normal people would go sit with new people in attempt to make new friends but not me; I sit alone in complete isolation. I usually never eat lunch because I fear that people are watching and judging, thinking that I am fat. At lunch, I have always wanted for someone to notice me, to say “hi,” or to sit down with me. Every day, I pray for this to happen yet it never does. I just sit alone and watch people; I am a people watcher.
When classes are finally over, I feel like some weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel as if I can let out a sigh of relief until I realize that the day is not over. In the dorms, I stay silent; I don’t think my roommates enjoy my company, and I don’t think they want me in their room. I have always felt like my peers hate me and think negatively of me. I never fit in. It always seems like everyone has somewhere to go and has someone to be with, but I am alone. Even when I get home, the wave of anxiety comes over me again.
At home, I have a fear that when I walk in the door that my sister and my parents are going to judge me. I feel as if they hate me and want me dead. I feel that they think of me as a screw up and a burden on their lives. I never feel good enough not even in my own home. At home, I still feel like I am being judged and like I am embarrassing myself. There is a lot I keep in and don’t say even around my family. Most people feel comfortable with their family and in their home, but I can’t even get that. I usually sit in my room alone and listen to music. I sit alone in my room, trying to work up the courage to text one of my “friends” to see if they want to hangout. Sometimes it takes me hours before I can even do this. Once I see “message sent” lit up on my phone, a huge rush of fear and anxiety hits me. I regret sending the message because of a fear that my “friends” are annoyed by my message. I sit there for what feels like forever waiting for them to respond. When they don’t respond, I feel embarrassed and nervous. I hope I didn’t annoy them; I hope they don’t mind. If I do end up going out with friends, the fear is horrible. Aren’t people supposed to feel comfortable with their friends? Don’t people want to think their friends aren’t judging them? Well, when I am out with my friends, I fear that they are just using me and that they don’t really like me. I fear that to them I am the friend that nobody likes but no one has the nerve to tell me off.
My friends have always been younger than me, a lot younger than me. This is because they are the only kids that I got around with. I never really had friends my own age. I never got along with kids my own age because I seemed to be outside all of their little cliques. I didn’t seem like a normal kid for my age. With the younger kids they looked up to me and thought it was cool to hang out with someone older. They always included me and for once made me feel like I actually had friends, like I wasn’t an outsider. I would mostly hang out with my sister and her friends; mind you my sister is five years younger than me. This really aggravated my sister and my parents. They would always tell me that it was not appropriate that I hung out with younger kids. But they wouldn’t understand my reasoning. They wouldn’t understand that these kids were the only friends I had, that they made me feel special and for once normal. To me a friend is anyone you get along with, someone you had common interests with and someone who enjoys your company, all this and regardless of their age. But my parents will still never understand. It broke my heart not being able to hang out with my only friends and have my parents not accepting of me.
Going out in public is extremely hard to do. I fear I look funny and that strangers are judging me. It’s nerve racking because I feel that I am making a horrible first impression. At the end of the day when I am lying in bed, I breathe a huge sigh of relief that I made it through the day. That is until I realize that the whole cycle is going to repeat again tomorrow. I fall asleep with a sense of uneasiness of what tomorrow might bring.
At first I didn’t understand my disorder. In my mind I was just an abnormal outcast. I didn’t understand that I had a neuropsychiatric disorder holding me back. I just finally accepted I was different. Not many understand what a life in silence is like, not being able to voice yourself. What people consider normal is an everyday struggle for me. Thankfully I discovered that I'm not an abnormal outcast and hopelessly crazy. Instead, I have an identifiable neuropsychiatric illness that thousands of others share. Thankfully, it's amenable to treatment. Therapy and medication help me cope with my symptoms. Even though I’m not cured of this illness, I feel a little more comfortable in my skin. I'm Gianna. I still have an anxiety disorder. But I also have hope.
Music is my life and my safe haven, without it I don’t know how I would cope. It lets me escape my fears and anxiety and speaks a thousand words that I never have the courage to say. It relaxes me and allows me to enter a whole other world. The singers express the feelings that I can’t voice on my own. "Music is a safe kind of high (Jimi Hendrix).” I listen to pretty much all types of music but my favorite genres would defiantly be rock and pop/punk. My favorite band is All Time Low and I don’t have a favorite song. "There's nothing like music to relieve the soul and uplift it (Mickey Hart).”
Even being the third most common mental disorder in America, not many people know of S.A.D.’s existence. Therefore, almost no one knows what it is like to live a life of silence and fear. Irrational thoughts cover you like a blanket holding you in a choke hold. These thoughts come over you like a storm making life dark and gloomy. When you think you are finally going to break through and voice yourself, the anxiety creeps up and comes in for the kill.
People just think I’m the “quiet one” or the “shy one” or the “antisocial freak.” I have a voice, and I have an opinion, but they just won’t come out. The things I wish I could have said are now lost, never to return. Missed out chances are now past memories holding a grudge and never letting go. There’s all this lost potential in a group of people. I only wish people knew what I go through and why I am not “normal.” I want to be confident. I want to be outgoing. I want to have a lot of friends. I want to get past this awful fear. I wish one day the truth would come out, and everyone would understand. But for now S.A.D. has control of my life and isn’t letting go. This is me, this is my life…. my life of silence. When will I be free?