August 30, 2011

What It's Like to Be S.A.D.

Not sad, but S.A.D., one of the frustrated millions that suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder. This is meant to be a positive, informative post, so wipe the frown off your face. We all have our quirks. 

In the past people were just chalked up to being "shy" or "different." Not anymore. Like many social ailments these days, science and medicine are recognizing and giving extreme shyness a name. 

WebMD reports S.A.D. as being the third most common mental disorder for the average Joe. Or Jane. Symptoms include a fear or nervousness of people (even people they know), places (even everyday places) and new things in the realm of social interaction. From experience, I can tell you that it feels like this:

Upset stomach…those fluttering butterflies!
Stomach (ulcer) pain and cramps
Sweaty palms
Pounding heart
Shortness of breath
A blank mind
Irrational feelings of being watched, judged, criticized, disliked, ignored, or invisible

Someone could be suffering from severe social anxiety, and you may never know it -- unless you follow them home and watch them take their antacids and curl up exhausted into bed. 

It is bewildering to feel these feelings, especially when you know they have no basis or make any sense. Nonetheless, it makes no difference when it's time for a social call, party, or a shift at work. Sometimes just walking into a room, even a room full of people you know, is enough to make the heart pound. And to be singled-out? People with S.A.D. have no desire to be the center of attention. Even if it's well-meant. Karaoke? No way. 

Suffering from anxiety in social situations can also lead to depression, and obviously the two impairments go hand in hand. For me, I can actually remember the onset of S.A.D. in my life. It arrived in junior high, along with puberty, mean girls, and everything else life throws at you at thirteen. I was a relatively happy child, if not quiet, but by the time high school loomed a few months away, I suddenly couldn't walk down a hall or into a classroom without almost fainting from inexplicable fear. My friends didn't understand me, and I didn't understand them. We "changed." Or rather, I couldn't deal with the pressure of simply socializing with anyone else. These effects led to a lifelong habit of avoiding people, social situations, and trying new things. 

S.A.D. sucks. 

There is medication and also counseling to help those with severe S.A.D. function socially and stress-free. But it never truly goes away. There have been ups and downs: I've tried new things and learned to be patient developing relationships, but I've also spent spells crying in a bathroom stall at church, school, a restaurant, or a concert for no reason whatsoever other than there were too many people around. The best way I have learned to deal with this monster is to fake it until I make it and to confide in those I care about not to give up on me. 

I've been very fortunate in the last few years of my life. My best friend of almost two decades did not give up on me when I quit answering the phone. She has always been there and tolerates my anxiety with good humor. (In other words, she loves to embarrass me.) My family is also very understanding and puts up with Mom's weird issues. 

In other areas, I took up a new hobby that initially scared the heck out of me, but I continue to progress in the sport. I pursued a lifelong dream to become a novelist. And, after the eighteenth or nineteenth move in my marriage, I was able to reach out to folks in my neighborhood and community and make a friend or two. (You know who you are, and I love ya).  

And I have conquered Karaoke…in small doses.

So, the next time you see someone dash in and dash out without a word, or sit quietly and stare into space, it may not be that you're not interesting, they just may have S.A.D. Say hello and give them some room. Later on, if you give yourself a chance to get to know them, you'll find a loyal and true friend (who you must never sing "Happy Birthday" to in public).

~Danielle Thorne

You can find out more about S.A.D. here:

Take a SAD test and evaluate your anxiety levels.


Miss Mae said...

Were you anxious when we met? I never dreamed that you were one bit. If so, then you were very courageous (driving through Atlanta takes a strong person, in the first place!), and a wonderful actress. :)

I really felt I'd known you forever, and you were so easy to talk to. I'm so hoping we can see each other again! (Yeah, I know, Miss Mae is scary, but...LOL)

Danielle Thorne said...

Oh, I might have been a little anxious, but I already knew you so well from working together online, I felt as if we were old friends. One on one is a lot easier to deal with, say, than a conference! :)