Today’s Self-Medication: Avoidance
Never prescribed by a doctor or other professional, avoidance is an easy drug for those of us suffering from social anxiety. We seem to be fine on the outside, passing our day just like anyone else you walk by on the sidewalk. However, those of us with social anxiety go to great lengths to avoid anxiety triggers. I wear the mask of a confident, outgoing, and fun person. Whenever I am brave enough to really detail my anxiety to a friend they almost always say “You? Really? I had no idea.” The act I put on can be exhausting yet at the same time, when I feel like I’m really doing it right I get charged. This is what normal feels like, I tell myself with stars in my eyes. I breath it in and treasure the moment, because it often only lasts a short time. Being around people I know refuels me, though being around strangers punctures holes in my confidence and will.
As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I have a difficult time in public places; specifically, indoor public places. More definitively, I struggle to enter, places where there is one way in and one way out, which summarizes almost every store, restaurant, movie theatre, doctor’s office, library, and entertainment venue in America. I have avoided going into a grocery store by myself for more than 2 years. I once told this to my acupuncturist and he didn’t believe me: “How do you get groceries?” he asked.
“Groceries are delivered by the grocery store or Amazon. Actually I can get almost anything I need with 2 days shipping -sometimes even faster, with Amazon,” I say with pride. Why this is a point of pride, I’m not sure.
As a mother who stays home with her with small children, social anxiety is unbearably lonely sometimes. I try to plan a week or two in advance to get us out of the house. Finding someone to accompany me and the kids is the only way I will go to an indoor destination. This might be why hiking and going to parks are my activities of choice. The wide open space is freeing, even if my watchful eye surveys the area in 3 minute intervals.
What happens when those of us with social anxiety push ourselves out of our comfort zone? For some of us, it’s like playing Russian roulette. We perceive that we are going to be approaching an anxiety trigger. Sometimes the anticipation alone is enough to cause shortness of breath and an increased heart rate. In this case an immediate u-turn may result. However, sometimes we push through this feeling and venture into the situation with hopes that it will be different this time. Sometimes it is shockingly different: nothing happens. Triumph! Though the reality is we accept this psychological trophy and set it on the shelf to collect dust. Next time we may not be so lucky. I have not discovered a rhyme or reason to why one outing is uneventful and the next has me feeling numb and breathless.
Avoidance always leads to no anxiety, which is why it is so tempting. There might be remorse or self-scrutiny, but no panic attacks. The trouble with avoidance, though, is we are wasting our precious lives away in hiding. This great wide world starts with just one footstep out the front door, and does not end beyond that. Taking one step at a time, finding help, support, and ways to recharge will get us through this. As for me, I have already made tremendous strides. I can take the kids to the library, though I still can’t bring myself to sit behind closed doors in the small room for story time. Finding buddies to go places with is still my most comfortable tactic: it helps me to not avoid anxiety triggers altogether, and to find peace with new surroundings.
Feeling afraid of our bodily reactions to outside stimuli may keep us indoors, but the desire to live a different life pushes us outward. Setbacks happen, the avoidance drug is an easy alternative. We need to push forward not only for ourselves but for the people we love.