Before I realized I had social anxiety, I just called it “being embarrassed”. Suddenly, for a reason I couldn’t figure out, things that I had no problem doing before were now shameful or humiliating to me. I was too “embarrassed” to order fast food. I was too “embarrassed” to go into a store and buy clothes. I was too “embarrassed” to make phone calls to people outside of my family. Friends of mine didn’t understand why I was unable to do these things without first asking them to accompany me. My sister would ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?”. My mom would ask, “What are you afraid of?”. My answer was the same for both of them: I don’t know.
Of course, it would take a pretty severe event for me to realize that my “embarrassment” was a much more serious anomaly. When I was in my junior year of high school, my mom and sister and I carpooled together due to the fact that both my parents worked and only had two cars. We dropped my sister off at her school first, then my mom drove us to her work, where I then took the car back to my school. As I drove up a ramp and prepared to merge, a car coming up behind me rammed into my fender, hard enough to throw me forward against my seatbelt. Now, I know what my immediate reaction should have been: Pull the car over. Get out and talk to the person who hit me. Exchange information. Continue on to school.
But the moment her car touched mine, a wave of panic washed over me and the “embarrassment” took control of my thoughts.
What if I didn’t exchange information right?
What if the person wanted to argue?
Was it my fault or hers?
Maybe I should have merged faster, it was probably my fault, and I don’t know what to do, and I can’t let that person know that I don’t know what to do.
On and on the thoughts kept me company as I continued to drive to school. The person who hit me followed me for a little bit before eventually turning towards their own destination. When I parked, I got out and examined the damage - a cracked right taillight, the corner of the fender smashed and crumpled. I allowed myself a minute to have a brief freak-out before I made my way to the main office to obtain a late pass.
That night, after I told my parents what happened, and learned the real reason why I didn’t have the other person’s insurance information (therefore making them pay for damages they shouldn’t have had to), my dad stormed out of the kitchen where we were having the discussion, but my mom stayed in her seat across from me, her gaze both frustrated and concerned. “You can’t keep living like this,” she said. “You can’t let stuff like this happen. When something goes wrong, no one is going to understand why you were too embarrassed to fix it. And in this case, there was no reason for you to feel embarrassed because the accident wasn’t your fault. I’m not mad at you, but this behavior has to stop. We need to find someone who can fix it.”
Shortly after that conversation, my mom found a CBT psychiatrist, who officially diagnosed me with severe social anxiety disorder. That was eight years ago, and now, at 24, while I’m not “cured,” the restless, floundering, helpless feeling I had when I thought my anxiety was “embarrassment” has pretty much dissipated. I now know what I have, and while some days are more of a struggle than others, I’m a little more proactive in trying to make each day as livable as I possible can.
For more information about Allie Marie, follow her on Twitter & Instagram at @alliesob