First published in 2020
Social Anxiety Disorder or social phobia is a mental health condition. It is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. It’s something that I’ve experienced for as long as I remember, and one that inevitably directs the way I live my life. Given completely free reign, I would probably live as a hermit – avoiding all contact with people and the outside world. However, I know that in reality my life would be poorer as a consequence; I do gain joy from interaction with others – spending time with friends and meeting new people. It just takes a little (sometimes a lot) of effort for me to put into practice.
My anxiety is always at its highest when in professional surroundings – I feel the added pressure of having to behave in a certain way, largely because I already feel so different from everyone else. Everyone’s experience of social anxiety will be different, however to give you an idea of what it’s like, here are some of the situations I find myself fretting about on a daily basis…
8.50am Arrival at Work
En route into the office, running late as usual. As I turn the corner I start praying I don’t bump into anyone from my office in the lobby. Walking through the door I spot someone I know; they haven’t seen me so I take the stairs to avoid making small talk.
10.30am First meeting of the day
I make sure I arrive at the meeting room exactly on time to minimise waiting time with other in-person attendees. Go through a few pre-rehearsed welcome questions at the start, before getting into the details of the meeting.
11.15am Glass of water
I’ve been thirsty for a while, but there have been people going in and out of the kitchen area all morning. I wait until the coast is clear to get myself a drink.
When leaving the office to get a salad, I see someone from my firm coming in the opposite direction; I look at the floor to avoid making eye contact. Once I’ve bought my lunch, I return to my desk where I eat quietly looking at my laptop screen.
Gone to the ladies. While I’m in my cubicle someone else comes into the bathroom. I stay where I am until they’ve left the room.
There’s an organised work event that everyone at the company is invited to. I’ve been worrying about what time to arrive all afternoon – not too early that there’ll be no one I feel comfortable around but not too late to be rude. Upon entering the bar I don’t see anyone I know well; I go and hide in the toilet for 15 minutes before trying to show my face again.