Maintaining eye contact feels like I jogged a kilometer.
That’s how awkward I can get, but I force myself, enduring it as I sacrifice comfort for my courtesy.
In return, I also resort to various alibis, avoiding responsibilities and events just to achieve comfort.
That’s how it is.
Social anxiety vs. Agoraphobia
Social anxiety, or social phobia, is defined as the state of being [extremely] uncomfortable in social situations, regardless whether it is a public space or a one-on-one talk. Agoraphobia, on the other hand, is the state of being [extremely] uncomfortable in public spaces, as the word agora meant “marketplace” in Greek, which is a public place. Thus, agoraphobia literally is fear of public, wide spaces.
We can compare agoraphobia to claustrophobia, the fear of closed spaces, but I do not know if they are exact opposites of each other.
While I have been deeming myself to be suffering from agoraphobia years ago, it was a recent discovery that I was able to distinguish what I was afraid of was not the public space, but the associated stimulus, “I feel like I’m constantly watched”. Thus, it was not the public space, but other people that may be judging me.
Social anxiety vs. Avoidant Personality Disorder
I believe there has been a lot of debate regarding the difference between Social anxiety and Avoidant Personality Disorder. In fact, I saw it too difficult to distinguish… until just recently.
Social anxiety is the fear of being judged, ridiculed and ostracized, to the point that an individual avoids social interactions along with the fear of embarrassment. On the other hand, avoidant personality disorder (AvPD) is the fear of criticism and rejection, which sprouts from the fear of negative evaluation, to the extent of avoidance from social interaction, and in general, creating friends and relationships.
I believe that still doesn’t set a difference between the two, since it displays that the two have very similar features. But as I tried to understand personality disorders before, that’s where I found the difference.
I thought being too distrustful of everything in the surroundings would correspond to paranoid personality disorder. However, I was wrong; it pertained to an individual’s pervasive distrust with their friends, family and romantic partners, thinking they are being manipulated or taken advantage of.
Thus, I saw a generalized pattern of the disorders in the personality disorders section, and they pertained to the individual’s personality and relationships rather than merely a cognitive process.
Now let me post this midway, that as far as I am someone still exploring the world of psychology, I might be wrong with my choice of words, and I give you the opportunity to comment any correction, if you may, please.
Avoidant personality meant that a person persistently doubts their own value in the eyes of the people surrounding them. They consider themselves inferior, unworthy, unappealing and will be hypersensitive to ridicule, humiliation and getting disliked.
And as personality is defined as a “characteristic pattern of thoughts, behavior and emotion that a person has”, it thus pertains to an uniquely individual struggle to want to belong and be acceptable, but pervasively avoids anything that will lead to unwanted stimulus, by all means.
Social anxiety is just at the cognitive level; an individual can identify situations that are supposed to be normal for others to be uncomfortable for them. They may avoid these situations, but it can be noted that social anxiety is endurable. However, it comes with the somatic (physical) manifestations of anxiety: profuse sweating, trembling, increased heart rate and being tense most of the time.
The main stimulus is embarrassment. One is afraid of being embarrassed in social situations. Things that can cause embarrassment could be stuttering, slurring, awkwardness, being exposed without preparation to a public crowd, etc.
Without any affirmation from someone competent in this field, I actually concluded that I may be suffering from social anxiety. This is mainly because of so many of my behaviors that could be associated with social anxiety.
When it comes to having to prepare for a public appearance, it gets tough. I have to look presentable. This is a high contrast with my depression, where I end up negligent of my hygiene when it hits.
I also have to rehearse things I have to say countless of times inside my mind. I can’t afford to be embarrassed, because I cannot always laugh it off and pretend it isn’t a serious mistake. I am very conscious that through years of self-isolation, I ended up with my speech partly degraded of some sort. Written communication is my forte, but I still worry a lot of times whether I said something in a sufficient manner.
I avoid eye contact except when I have to pretend I am interested with the person. However, it is very uncomfortable. It even gets to the point that I avoid looking at someone and pretend not seeing them, because even having to exchange greetings is a torment for me.
Yes, I’d rather be in a place that no one knows of me. That was how I was able to distinguish agoraphobia from social anxiety. The fact that I could be in a crowded place for as long as nobody in the crowd knows of me, I would be fine.
Sometimes I get too conscious of my own attire, mannerisms, behaviors or cleanliness, perhaps because there are associated ugly memories with it. Perhaps those instances that people of my age actually made me realize I looked unkempt, or whatever. Personally, I don’t even look at the mirror ever since I was young. I didn’t groom myself, more like, I didn’t have to.
Sometimes it can get to feeling inadequate. “Did I perform enough?” is a question I frequently ask myself. Things that I need to submit are always subject to my doubts and skepticism lest I be rejected.
And what has persistently affected me lately is the social media: personal messaging, Twitter and conversations. I go as far as not reading stuff unless I have readied myself, because there’s the “Seen” function. I have to respond seriously or whatever sufficient.
Not an excuse.
And as my social anxiety grows over my normal activities, a part of it is being told “you don’t have social anxiety because you are conscious of it”. Or, “you’re just self-diagnosing”.
Friends, why would well-educated people self-diagnose with social anxiety if they are not struggling with it?
Like I said in my previous post, Label, which is subject to a second part after I was enlightened with a lot of things in the past month… there are people who want to see their enemy. They want to know what kind of entity is their enemy and what do they do to be able to beat it.
True. For as long as people uneducated of these psychological disorders exist, there will be people full of presumptions, full of false beliefs, and those who want to have this or that disorder because it sounds cool.
No. Mental illnesses are NOT COOL. They are a bunch of labels of struggles certain people have or had to face, and it will be a self-defeating battle towards remaining sane.
Being mentally ill is not a privilege. In fact, Being neuronormative is the one that feels like a privilege nowadays. However, this is not to say that neuronormatives do not have struggles with their lives. Because after all, all humans are endowed with problems in their entire lives.
Mental Health applies to all. Neuronormative and non-neuronormative alike.
There are times that it worked like a hypnotic mantra: I can endure social anxiety by being aware that I have social anxiety and I will have to face the physical and cognitive manifestations for as long as I am alive.
I wrote randomly about Social Anxiety as part of my efforts to spread awareness on mental health month, particularly of my personal struggle in this matter.
I do acknowledge that mental health not only focuses on the abnormal psychology, but also the positive self-help and positive practices. But I know, for someone who once restricted himself from expressiveness, I want to say that being expressive is healthy and liberating.
I want to affirm myself that feeling this way is alright. I also want to assure others that being anxious is alright, and is beyond their control as of the moment.