Mental health is a tricky subject to tackle because it materializes in very divisive ways. For some, it can just be a mild inconvenience that they can handle in regards to their day to day life. Others, it can be more devastating and can lead to the inability to exist in the real world or be able to see the beauty that the world offers.
According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety, and most have their first experiences by the time they are 21 (American Psychological Association, 2019). 25% of all Americans have a mental disorder, and 50% experience a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime (American Psychological Association, 2019). On average, about half of those with a mental disorder also have a secondary disorder as well (American Psychological Association, 2019).
Enough with the statistics for the time being. I would like to share my story with mental health. Just as a disclaimer I am not a professional in mental health. If you are suffering from mental health or someone you know is, please see a professional and do not use what I say as fact. I will try to provide as much information from reliable sources as I can. Ultimately, this is just my own personal story.
I have always had an issue with being afraid of anything that involved being social, which resulted in have a hard time making friends in school, even during elementary school. Just never got the knack for dealing with social situations. Technically my diagnosis is General Anxiety Disorder or GAD, but I lean more on the social anxiety side of this disorder. Just to clarify social anxiety disorder is caused by severe anxiety in normal everyday social interactions (Mayo Clinic, 2017). Social anxiety can lead to disturbances in life, school, and work. There does have to be a significant amount of anxiety in these situations in order for it to be technically considered social anxiety disorder (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
So let’s talk about symptoms of this disorder. Now everyone has situations where they experience some form of anxiety when it comes to social interactions, but in order to have the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder the anxiety has to happen during almost every social situation. Even the thought of being social can trigger someone to have anxiety. It is easy to spot when someone is anxious based on physical symptoms, such as blushing, looking ill, or trembling, but the more consequential symptoms are the emotional symptoms.
For myself, the most impactful consequence of this disorder is the avoidance of social interactions for fear of something bad happening (Mayo Clinic, 2017). Many times, I cancel plans or say I am busy because I do not want to be in a situation where I have to interact with other people for fear that they will judge my actions or looks. Most people would agree this happens to almost everyone at some point or another, but for me this happens every time there is a social engagement. For the most part, I am able to manage. However, thoughts constantly race through my head about whether people like me or am I doing something that have people talk about me in a negative way later. Replaying events over and over is also something that happens every day. I always let thoughts consume me until I have a headache from the stress that it causes me.
One thing that always causes me harm is the inability to stand up for myself because I am afraid of confrontation. I never want to do anything that would draw attention to myself or make me seem unlikable. Unfortunately, this seems to backfire for me because people then do not like me because I smile too much or seem too happy. I smile because it is easier than explaining to people what is going on in my head. For awhile, I had to hear “are you ok?” all time, which sounds like a reasonable thing to ask, but after awhile, it becomes a source of irritation. So, I resorted to the putting on a facade of being happy when I am not.
All of this has affected certain aspects of my life, but I am ok. As I have gotten older, I have learned how to deal with situations and try to tell myself that I am worrying for no reason. I taught myself how to breathe and take a second to tell myself that it will be ok. People are not as scary as I make them out. I do want to end by saying that life is great, and I will never let myself be judged for my anxiety issues.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Data on behaviorial health in the United States. Retrieved from American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/data-behavioral-health
Mayo Clinic. (2017). Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353561