What are some of the more extreme things you have done because of your mental illness? In reference to my alcoholism, this answer could get scary fast. My depression has caused suicidal ideation/attempts. My hypomania contributed to the creation of some pretty spur of the moment tattoos one day a few years ago. My social anxiety has caused me to do little to no socializing, taking sick days, avoiding conversation with store employees, etc. While these have all been isolating or harmful in other ways, they were subtle and quiet; created through passivity rather than action.
More recently, my social anxiety took me to a new extreme. One morning, as I was pulling away from the house to get to work I heard a POP! And my tire light came on immediately. I pulled back around to park for the day, deciding to leave the car home and get it fixed the next day. My husband drove me to work and on the way we talked about how I would get home. I wanted him to pick me back up, but he works in Baltimore County and I work in the city. He had to work late for an important meeting and wouldn’t be able to get me. He suggested I take a Lyft or Uber, or taxi, or ask a coworker for a ride. I said I couldn’t do any of that, and can’t he please pick me up. He said no.
I had a day full of meetings and between two of them came up with the idea that maybe I could walk home. I went on Google Maps and saw that while it was 4.5 miles, and it would only take an hour and a half. I figured I could do that, even though my fitness level is nowhere near where it should ideally be.
At the end of the day, after some internal debate, walking was what I decided to do. I was very grateful that a month before I had opted for work to provide a backpack instead of a shoulder bag laptop case. I was also glad that I had kept a pair of ill-fitting tennis shoes in my office, because even if they were ill-fitting they were better than the shoes I had worn to work that day.
While walking I decided several things. First, Baltimore is not the best shape topographically speaking for the walk I had. It was at least 85-90% up hill (I walk from the Inner Harbor area up parallel to I83, which is away from the water). Second, I thought about how my husband won’t believe I walked home, then moved to fuck him for not picking me up, then, why didn’t he even care enough to call and check on me? (when he got home he said, “I would have picked you up if I knew that you would walk otherwise). Third, wow, my social anxiety is so bad that I couldn’t ask a coworker to drive me nor could I order a taxi or rideshare service. What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I such a broken person? Fourth, I guess I can register for the 5k I was thinking about. Even if I don’t run it I know I’ll be able to walk.
While walking 4.5 miles mostly uphill with a heavy backpack isn’t the most fun, knowing that the only reason I am doing it is because I am allowing my anxiety to rule me is really shitty. Getting home and feeling like I didn’t have anyone to call and talk about this with because I have social anxiety which leads to no friends who I see regularly, made it a lot worse.
A lot of people seem to see the importance of treating depression and hypomania, generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and substance use disorders, but I have found that many are quick to look over social anxiety. I have experienced this in my personal life as well as at times in my mental health treatment. I am happy that my current therapist and I are working on social anxiety and that he has a deep understanding of and empathy for the effects social anxiety has on people.
After getting home and letting everything sink in I felt so alone. I started to cry and I emailed my therapist to tell him what happened and that I was going to make light of it because that’s who I am, so I wanted him to know in the moment what I really felt about my walk. Then I took a shower and put on my pajamas, and started making light of my experience.
Social anxiety is a confusing, awful thing because in order to avoid being near others you* isolate yourself. Then you’ll feel unlikable, unworthy of attention from others; and also sad, and desperate for a positive social experience that does not end with panic.
The common saying, “walk a mile in their shoes” is really very close to perfect. To understand social anxiety, please, walk four and a half miles (mainly uphill) in my poor fitting shoes.
*As with all life conditions and experiences, everyone is different, I am only speaking from my own lived experience.