Living with Social Anxiety Disorder
By Heather, age 30, Illinois
My heart pounded and I gasped for breath. My throat felt parched and I gulped down the water in my thermos. Although it might sound like I just finished a marathon, I was actually sitting in a classroom full of people. I didn't know it at the time, but I had social anxiety disorder.
People with social anxiety disorder have difficulty functioning in everyday social situations. Fears related to social anxiety are not confined to one situation, like feeling nervous before giving a speech but being able to get through it. Social anxiety disorder disrupts a person's daily life. For example, I was terrified to ask questions in class because I feared the other students would think I was stupid. If I heard someone laughing behind me, I was certain they were making fun of me. Even eating in public or going shopping became problematic due to my belief that everyone was staring at me and criticizing my appearance.
When I finally became so fearful of other people that I dropped out of a class that required me to do a group project, I talked to my doctor. He started me on an anti-anxiety medication and recommended a therapist. I eventually found a medication that would allow me to sit in the same room with others without wanting to escape, but I was still very nervous around people. I kept switching therapists, hoping to find some technique that would calm me down.
After I met my current psychiatrist, he immediately pointed out that a medication I was taking for a different health issue could cause nervousness, and recommended that I talk to my other doctor about finding a substitute medication. One month after I stopped taking the medication with the nervousness side effect, I could walk into a restaurant without thinking that everyone was staring at me.
Today I can shop, eat in restaurants, and talk to people without worrying or gasping for breath. I still take a low dose of anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes I get nervous about asking clerks for help in a store, but I am able to do it without panicking.
If you feel too anxious in social situations to accomplish your daily activities, talk to your doctor about treatment options that may work for you, like medication and/or therapy. Also, if you take other medications, check their side effects to see if they could be adding to your anxiety.