Those who have not experienced the common, yet unique stress of social anxiety, they would be forgiven for thinking that it marks itself as stress and fear in social situations. Perhaps an intense awkwardness. This is true and accurate, yet there is more.
For almost as far back as I can recall, every night has been spent in a sleepless sense of absolute certainty that even my closest friends hold me in contempt. That I am at best tolerated. That times spent with them and I have enjoyed, to them I was almost a figure of charity.
As I close my eyes my mind rolls back to times of action or inaction.
My memory focuses on millions of tiny failures in my life irrespective of age or accuracy of what actually happened. Memory is subjective and changes, and when your mind works against you, memories that should be happy become tainted. Things that were forgot by someone else within moments of them occurring are like an old wound that is felt years later.
With time and experience you realise how off the mark these thoughts can be. Yet the omnipresent nature of these thoughts. Their constant noiseless chatter and their related growing certainty. Disagreement with your mind seems impossible, so I am forced to roll with it all.
When I actually spend time with friends, I am in a constant state of analysis. Everything from a person's tone of voice, to the way they walk is something I pick up on and turn to something to support the belief that I am held in contempt. Other times I may not think about it, and enjoyment seems mutual. But after, of course, comes the regret. Little things I said become a broken record in my mind with a growing distortion of self-hatred and the certainty that self-hatred is the most appropriate response.
This, of course, isn't the case with all people, and indeed all situations. What I am describing is somewhat rare, with close friends I feel fine, and enjoy their company with ease.
Despite the title of this piece, there is no overall feeling of social anxiety, it shows itself as a vague stress in social situations, I might find myself walking down the street and my mind might perceive everyone as a threat. It is a sense of judgment.
At times, conversation gives me a peculiar sense that I am constantly being judged. That all interaction boils down to a checklist of rules and standards that you either pass, or fail. Neither success or failure here is at all defined. But I sense that failure is unspeakable, and success is only a respite from further stress.
On top of everything, there is a certain selfishness to social anxiety, you are forced inside your own mind and the world around you becomes invisible or even irrelevant. Misery is time-consuming. I can't help but think, even reading this gives you the impression that it was authored by a person self-obsessed. This, while perhaps an intrinsic part only aids in adding to any low feeling, as such anxiety seems an impossibly intricate, self-sustaining cycle of pure feeling. A thing powerful enough to affect how the world appears.
I have been told, through Dharma that the world, as we see it is illusory something shaped by only your mind and thoughts. Some days the world is a cruel place. Yet at the same time, there is hope the worst of it is over. These days I feel imbued with purpose and the sense of meaningless and hopelessness I long felt is now a fading memory. Meeting new people, which was once a troubling occasion now seems to be almost joyous.
I once found proximity to others, and their energies almost like an unbearable tension, now it seems the opposite, something life affirming. I almost live for it. I am done with solitude.