Forever a Wallflower (aka Social Phobia vs. Shyness)

This week is filled with social obligations. There are kids’ soccer games to attend, Back-to-School night at my kids’ schools, and taking my daughter to a playdate at a friend’s house. Maybe these don’t sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but to me, they are a huge deal. My stomach feels twisted in knots. The very idea that I have to be around groups of people I don’t know makes me feel somewhat nauseous and dizzy. The idea of actually talking to people I don’t know makes my throat close up, until I feel like I can’t breathe. I have developed this awful habit of looking anywhere but directly at people, unconsciously discouraging them from talking to me. It is very hard to get to know anyone this way, believe me! Every now and then, someone will smile and say, “Hi, aren’t you so-and-so’s mom?” I can usually manage a smile and a quiet, “Yes, I’m Tiare. Nice to meet you.” But the conversation rarely ever gets beyond that.

Am I shy? Well, yes, I have nearly always been shy. Since childhood, I was the one sitting on the sidelines with her nose in a book, occasionally observing the world and people around her. When I had friends, I was not at all shy with them. But making friends has never come easily for me. In fact, recently, it has felt nearly impossible, as my shyness seems to have grown into something much larger than simple timidity. Could I be dealing with a social phobia? I wondered. Out of curiosity, I took an online assessment by the Social Anxiety Research Clinic at Columbia University, which assesses and rates anxiety according to the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS-SR). I answered as honestly as I could, then submitted the assessment.

The possible scores were:                  0-30 SAD unlikely

                                                                30-60 SAD probable

                                                                60-90 SAD very probable

                                                                Score 90 or higher SAD extremely probable

My score? 102. Interesting. So now I am not only shy, but frightened to death of people.

The other day, I discovered a fabulous new iPhone app, called SAM.  ,developed by the University of the West of England to help people to manage their anxiety. Here is what it looks like:

iPhone Screenshot 1iPhone Screenshot 2iPhone Screenshot 4

I have been using it lately to help me to manage and track my anxiety. It has been a surprisingly helpful tool – like an imaginary friend or therapist in my pocket, reminding me to breathe through my panic attacks, and slowing down the world for a moment while I regain perspective.

Now I know, SAM is only a tool, and not a true treatment for anxiety. Talking to a real therapist or friend would probably help, too. But there lies the paradox – finding either would mean talking to people. Ugh.

6 responses to “Forever a Wallflower (aka Social Phobia vs. Shyness)

  1. My Godson has a similar problem with different results. He just graduated from Cal Poly, SLO. He has always been an introspective but gregarious surfer type but coming home and decompressing after 4 years at school gives anyone a tendency to contemplate the future: half a man, half a boy helping his dad, a carpenter. His brother and sister noted he was a bit distant and not the same as he was.
    He had a tendency to shift his gaze and be a little tentative in conversation. Well, they decided he was having mental problems, perhaps even schizophrenia. Mom doesn’t understand a mankin about to be forced out of the nest and took him to a psychiatrist who diagnosed schizophrenia prodrome. Mom, who I love dearly (raised her from 15) is very deferential to authority and declared him schizophrenic and should be on meds.
    He’s not nuts and you’re just shy. May I recommend a book that is almost a cliché since it has been in print since 1936. Here’s a Wiki link:

    • Thanks, that is a pretty helpful book. I’ve browsed through it before. I have always been shy, but the sheer panic of social interactions is something that developed within the past 2 years. It’s like a whole new more debilitating level of shyness. I hardly ever talk to people except my own kids, and put off making simple phone calls due to panic of having to talk to people. I wish it were as simple as feeling timid.

      Strange story about your godson. I have dealt with people with severe mental illness, and the symptoms were blatant, obvious, and frightning to the observer. Perhaps your godson needed a second opinion if a doctor gave him such a serious diagnosis without proper observation.

  2. Pingback: Learning to live with social anxiety | Highly Sensitive and Creative

  3. I did the test and got 92, though looking at some of the questions, I’m not so sure I have Social Anxiety because I don’t think my anxiety affects my life that much… Still, I’ll check out SAM.

    • That’s probably a good way to separate shyness from SAD. If it doesn’t disrupt your ability to live a normal life, then perhaps it is just a personality thing, rather than a true disorder. But then, I am no psychologist.

      For me, it can be disruptive to my life when my anxiety is really high. When the phone rings, I get a choking sensation, because I will have to talk to people if I answer it (I often do not answer). If I am supposed to attend meetings or parent conferences, I often do not go, because the panic overwhelms me. To speak to a stranger or even a casual acquaintance takes a lot of effort to push past the fear. I don’t know how normal it is. Maybe everyone experiences this. Maybe no one does.

      By the way, how did SAM work for you? I find it very helpful and have been using it several times a day, both to manage and track anxiety.

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