The worst thing about having social anxiety is that you live with a constant burden of guilt that you have let people you really care about down. Not only do you know that no one understands that your behavior is due to your extreme anxiety toward social situations, you can’t expect them to not take it personally. From their perspective, it really does look like you just don’t want to hang out with them.
There are people that I haven’t spoken to in years due to them finally writing me off as not a good friend, who I think about all the time. I miss them, but I know that I have no right to contact them. I feel like I always have to start any dialogue with an apology for being a bad friend, because we drifted apart due to my being unable to force myself to be more social. I convince myself, after a certain amount of time, that they are better off without me–I have nothing to offer in the way of friendship when it’s a struggle to make myself go out and do the things normal people like to do.
The truth is that, while I am intensely anxious when accepting invitations or making plans, if you can get me to go somewhere, I will usually have a good time. I do have to force myself to “fake it until I make it”, though, which means that I feign confidence until I don’t feel so nauseous with anxiety. It also means that I have a tendency to decline invites and back out of plans, because the anxiety is so crippling in the interim between the proposal and the actual plan.
I have one friend that I have known since I was around ten years old. She has always been the very opposite of me, in that she is hugely social and has never even met a stranger. She has always foregone the whole making plans business and jumped right to showing up at my house and either hanging out with me there, or taking me out. This completely overrides my anxiety, because it doesn’t give me a chance to really dwell on it. To this day, she continues to be the friend who can make me have fun without making me feel disabled with apprehension. I once tweeted:
“I have a best friend who shows up uninvited and unwittingly battles my demons on days when I couldn’t get out of bed to do it for myself.”
I don’t think I’ve ever expressed to her how much it means to me that she continues to put up with my social ineptitude after all of these years.
On top of this anxiety about going out, I also struggle with the even simpler task of replying to texts. It isn’t that I don’t want to talk, it’s that I’m afraid that replying to someone will lead to an invite… and you know how I feel about those now. For a writer, I am actually really horrible at communicating with human beings.
I just want to make this an open letter to all of the people who have drifted out of my life as a result of my making them think that I didn’t want them as a friend. I want to apologize for not being able to overcome this, and for feeling too guilty to reach out to you personally. I can’t ask anyone to understand. I can’t ask anyone to suddenly stop thinking of me as a bad friend who lets people down and blows people off. I won’t ask for that. I just needed to get it out there that I feel guilty every day for losing the friendships that were important to me because I never communicated to those people that the struggle was internal and had nothing to do with them.
Furthermore, talking to people is terrifying. Even updating your status on Facebook can be life changing. You’re putting yourself out there to be judged and criticized based on one sentence without context. I’m a very private person not because I have anything to hide, but because I’m a coward. I don’t think people would like me for who I am. I hide behind sarcasm and wit because I feel vulnerable when I let myself be who I am. I don’t let people know me. I don’t know how to change that. I made the unfortunate mistake of making myself vulnerable to someone that wasn’t good, and that has only worsened my trust. I feel like there is always going to be the Great Wall of Scared between me and everyone in the world, because no matter how hard I try to push myself through it, I always end up retreating again.
This is a deeply personal message, and I hope anyone who reads this is kind enough to understand that this was hard for me to write. I just needed to say I’m sorry for who I am, and I don’t know why I have to be that person.