Dear, guys – welcome back to Letters From Liz!
My name is Liz, and I have Social Anxiety Disorder; I mention this at least twice a month on my blog, don’t look so surprised. What does that look like you might ask? Well, it started out as a fear of traveling on public transportation, then as a fear of leaving my house, and although I’ve been getting better at managing it, there are some things I don’t think I’ll ever get good at. Yes, that means my mother is still the person in my life making important appointments for me. Yes, I cannot order my own food over the phone. And yes, I still get anxious interacting with people.
So how does one person with SAD live their lives in a social matter? Well, it’s different for every case.
Some people are more outspoken than others, while some are just extremely afraid of human interaction and feel most comfortable being by themselves. I like to believe I am in the middle: I enjoy my alone time way too much to the point I forget to socialize every once in a while, and when I do, I pretty much become okay with interaction.
My biggest struggle in life, though, is friendships. I don’t have many of them.
You see, my social anxiety has a hard time believing that long-distance friendships can work and that it’s not awkward to keep in touch with people you don’t see on a regular basis. I don’t tend to lose friends because I want to, it happens because not everyone is going to understand how SAD works for you, and that’s fine; you can’t make people understand why it’s hard to keep in touch. Also, my social anxiety tends to make me look like a shitty person because I’m not a consistent person with people. What I mean by that is I could have a whole conversation with you at the moment just because I’m comfortable, but if you catch me at a time where my anxiety is absolutely through the fucking roof, I’ll talk to you like you’re a stranger again. This type of scenario happened a lot during my college and grad school days, simply because semesters come and go and you may not ever see them again… until you guys take another class together again. My point being is that friendships are still the trickiest thing for me to understand.
So, how do you keep friends while having SAD? It also depends on the person who has it.
For me, I don’t have many friends because I just have major trust issues with people and I’m super overprotective with myself around new people who want to become friends with me. I don’t mind being cordial with acquaintances that have the same agenda as me, but when I feel like someone actually wants to be my friend, I shut down and I run away. Maybe that’s due to my trauma, maybe it’s SAD; who knows?
But the friends I keep (aka my partner and college friend that now lives across the damn east coast) must understand how SAD works for me. With that comes communication and agreements, really, that sometimes I’m going to be a shitty friend because of SAD but for the most part, I will be absolutely loyal to you as a friend. I always use my friend, Tori, as an example of someone who gets it; we may not see each other for a while and we may only do some text message check-ins every once in a while, but she knows that keeping in touch is extremely uncomfortable for me at times, and she understands that I order to help me be comfortable, the atmosphere stays the same. In other words, we both grew up since our days in college Acting, but the vibe our friendship has never left. And as with my partner, well, there’s a whole set of other things that play a role when you are involved with someone romantically.
The most important thing I am learning as a person with SAD is that people don’t know that they are truly signing up to become friends with two people instead of one. Anxiety, especially on a clinical level, is really living your life as a Jekyll and Hyde. One of them is truly you, the quirks and smiles and the relatable, likable side that likes to socialize and be around people, but then there’s the other side, her name is Anxietina, that truly wants to keep you all for herself and have control of the body that you both live in. You don’t have to be a person with depression or anxiety to completely understand the duality, but recognize that someone with SAD struggles with this other entity every single day. I know I do.
I may not be the greatest example of a person with a social life that has SAD, but I know there are so many people out there who are the leader of their friend groups and still deal with some levels of social anxiety. As someone with SAD, we always want to be able to be social with other people; what’s the fun of just being by yourself all of the time? We just have a harder time with some areas of life than others, and that’s okay.
So, what is the ultimate guide to friendship, told by a person with SAD?
There is none.
It’s about being able to challenge your anxiety, as well as respect it in order for others to respect it. Not every friend will, and not every time will you be able to challenge your anxiety, but hey – that’s the beauty of learning and growth.
Also, it’s about remembering to be yourself.