I’ve mentioned in a couple of my blog posts that I have social anxiety. I get really uncomfortable in social situations and I’ve had a couple panic attacks before, mostly at parties but sometimes at work or even in a classroom. It’s something I’ve learned to live with, but it’s a struggle.
Some people think that just because they’re shy or an introvert it means they have social anxiety. No, trust me, you don’t. Don’t romanticize this; you don’t want it, stop acting like you do.
Today, I was preparing myself for my three-hour long lecture on a book I happened to despise. I decided I should probably get myself a coffee from the Tim Hortons near my class to help me stay awake. Since the lecture is three hours, I decided to get an extra large.
At first, I was going to ask for a medium white hot chocolate (my all-time favourite drink at Timmies) but I was informed, kinda rudely, by the staff that they didn’t sell white hot chocolate. I asked at this point when they had stopped carrying it. “We never started,” was the reply I had gotten.
I know for a fact I have gotten white hot chocolates from that location before, and it was listed on the menu. But I said nothing in protest. I asked for an XL French vanilla instead.
I paid for my drink and waited to pick it up. I was confused when I got a large after paying for an extra large.
I walked away.
You don’t understand; this kind of thing happens to me almost every day. Simple action people take for granted, like being able to ask politely for the correct drink order, are things I’m incapable of doing without breaking down.
Working in retail, I have people come up to me all the time to complain that I charged them the wrong price for something. 99% of the time i didn’t, they just read their receipt wrong, but it makes my skin crawl and my face grow hot when I think I’ve made a mistake. When it actually happens and I charge someone the wrong price, I almost always have to excuse myself to the back room to calm myself down a bit.
I am the person who has to leave the room at parties when I don’t see any of my immediate friends there. I can’t handle just walking up to a stranger in certain situations.
What makes this so difficult is the fact people don’t think it’s a problem.
When I was thirteen, I spent an hour crying in the car because my mum had yelled at me when I told her I was unable to pick up any ice cream off the shop at the side of the road. She didn’t understand why it made me so incredibly uncomfortable to talk to and pay the cashier. It’s only in the past few years I’ve been able to actually do that.
When I was in grade twelve, I would leave the classroom without permission when one of the students would tease me about my artwork or my “weird” habits (i.e. writing my homework on my hand instead of in my agenda so I could remember it better). Remember how I said I was bullied in high school? Imagine now how well I handled that.
And while you probably believe it’s not a big deal to get the wrong sized coffee on your way to class, the fact I couldn’t speak up about it is a big deal to me. It’s like a slap in the face, a set back after all I have done to get this far.
People don’t understand social anxiety because they think it’s no big deal. They don’t bother to learn about it because they think it can be cured with some good ol’ fashioned “bucking up”.
It can’t. And it’s hell.