Social anxiety disorder can be learned

A social phobia feels like living in a house with locked windows and doors - says one sufferer

"I've lived with my fear for a very long time. I'm now 44 years old. As far as I can remember, it started around the age of twelve. The first symptoms mainly appeared in school when I got up in front of the class and had to give a lecture, but also in many situations in which I had to talk to people.

I can't remember everything exactly, but I still remember that at some point I hardly spoke any more. These situations, from which I could not easily escape, were very difficult for me. It was also difficult with friendships in my time as a teenager, because I didn't like it when you did something together as a clique. Board games where I had to do something active - that didn't work at all. I never wanted to take part.

Then came the diagnosis: social anxiety disorder

For a long time I asked myself the question: which of these is really sick now? Where do I have to say it's an anxiety disorder with a diagnosis? And what behaviors do I have because I'm a rather reserved type? For a long time I wasn't sure myself what to classify and how.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with social phobia. This anxiety disorder can encompass anything - all situations where you have to deal with other people in some way or have to do something. I especially had problems in large group and evaluation situations. At such moments I get symptoms of anxiety. I get sweaty hands, a lump in my throat and I'm shivering inside. I have the feeling: I want to get out of here. I just want to get out of the situation. That can be in all sorts of situations.

I've seen this in the past few weeks when I had to make a phone call. I knew I had to call there now. Then I noticed that I was getting kind of nervous, my head is empty, my hands are sweating, I have a lump in my throat. At the beginning of my therapy, I was also afraid of going into a store and asking for something. I wanted to avoid that.

Everyday life became increasingly gray

I don't have to do certain things. I don't have to go to the cinema, to birthday parties, where there are a lot of people, where I have a lot of small talk situations. I arranged my life with it and avoided everything that could somehow lead to problems - as far as that was possible.

But of course with avoidance my life got narrower and narrower. Everyday life became grayer. You can live like that, but at some point I thought I really don't want to live like that. I am very limited. And I just lose a lot of beautiful things that still exist.

Every situation is a challenge

At the beginning of my therapy I was presented with questionnaires about specific situations. These were questions like: How high is the fear when you sit down at a table with a stranger in a café and start a conversation? There was a whole list of situations where I had to judge what value between zero and 100 is the fear. When I got the list at the beginning, I rated everything between 80 and 100.

During my two years of therapy I learned to deal with my fear. I realized that fear is something normal. I live with her, but she doesn't have to restrict my everyday life. Above all, experiencing and practicing the situations was helpful for me. I go into this situation, then I notice the symptoms of anxiety increase. But at the same time I feel that I can do it anyway. The more I practiced speaking to people on the street, the better it worked.

So I can cope with many situations more easily today. Still, there are other situations that I haven't dealt with yet. With them, the fear is still quite high. It's the same with fear, if I think too long beforehand, the physical symptoms of fear become stronger and stronger and can block me. Then nothing works anymore. That's why it's important for me to face the situation quickly.

With fear comes loneliness

The diagnosis of anxiety disorder has already helped me. That gave the thing a name for me. It took me some time before I could accept the diagnosis. Accepting the fear is very important. I don't have to fool myself. Even if I would have liked to have said that it is not that bad. But actually, if I was honest with myself, then I had to say: Fear is a fact in my life.

I was never totally alone, not that. But I have felt my life with the social phobia as if I were sitting in a house. I locked the doors and shutters and pulled down the shutters. I can't get out of the house and the other one doesn't come in to me. I felt lonely and the situation was extremely difficult for those around me. Today I am happy that I now have more freedom and can better live relationships.

Today I live alone. I do think that social anxiety disorder did its part in helping me live alone. It's okay with me and I don't keep thinking about wanting a family. But things might have been different without the anxiety disorder.

A daily struggle

Today I know that I am the one who can shape my life and that fear does not have to rule everything. Learning that was important to me. I can handle the situations. I am capable, I have the skills. I've learned to encourage myself and speak positively to myself. So in all this time I am on the road with the fear of first approaching new things in a positive and ignorant way and not immediately thinking about what could happen. It can also go well.

Fear is only a small area of ​​my life and I don't want to just focus on it. There is a lot more besides. At the beginning of my therapy I imagined that I would live in a shared apartment with my depression and my anxiety. The question was whether they could move out of the shared apartment. I wasn't sure if they could. So far they haven't moved out.

"I wish that I can just be me"

But my goal is that I determine more and more what is going on. I don't know if I will one day experience the state in which the fear disappears completely. But I don't want to give fear such a big place in my life. I want to live my life with everything that life has in store. And when I encounter fear every now and then, I try to make the best of it.

I wish that I can just be me. And everything that makes life more colorful, I like to take with me and want to continue to work on coping well with my everyday life with fear. "

Published in the Faces of Fear section