Social Anxiety and Social Awkwardness

AnxietyIf you met me in person, you’d never know that I struggled with social anxiety or what I’ve deemed social awkwardness.

I’m a pretty quiet and shy person at first but the more you get to know me, the more you get to love me! (Just kidding about the latter.) In all seriousness, the more I become comfortable in certain social situations or a group of people, I can be loud, outgoing, silly (zany if you’d like!), bubbly, and full of energy.

After close to a year of being at my current place of employment, I have yet to be fully comfortable. My personality comes out in short bursts but then I get quiet, withdraw, and “shut down,” keeping to myself and avoiding interaction with my coworkers if I can help it.

I assume—I don’t know for sure—that they have judged me negatively and for whatever reason don’t like me. In a previous post, I tossed around a couple of social situations where I felt like this before. I invent all sorts of reasons in my head:

  • I’m a freak
  • I’m a weirdo
  • I don’t interact much with them
  • I don’t have an immediate warm, outgoing personality
  • I don’t dress very fashionably
  • I have nervous habits that they probably don’t like
  • I am all-around irritating, grating, and annoying in some manner that I don’t know of

Most people struggle with this kind of thing without any real basis. My fear used to be completely unfounded and after the incident at my previous job, I am plagued by thoughts of social anxiety and awkwardness tenfold. I don’t know what I did at my last job to rub my coworkers the wrong way but I wish I knew so I could try to work on it and cut it out. Vague references of “immature” and “annoying” don’t help me much.

So here I throw out the detailed descriptions of social anxiety and social awkwardness. The first one was developed by the NIMH; the second is my own invention built off of the social anxiety description.

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The "Black Dog," Part II

In February 2004, I tried to kill myself. I don’t remember how now. But he pleaded with me to go see a doctor and get some help. Since I was 21, I no longer qualified under my mother’s health insurance so I tried to avoid docs as much as I could. My pediatric (PCP) doctor continued to treat me despite my age. Dr. X diagnosed me with depression and said, "Since you don’t have medical insurance, I’ll give you some samples of Paxil that a drug rep gave me."

Welcome to the beginning of my first experience with psych drugs.

(Just an aside: Before this, I had never taken medication for depression. My parents wouldn’t let me growing up. In the psych hospital, I said no even though the psychiatrist there gave me a tough time about it.)

I remained on Paxil through July. I wasn’t accustomed to taking medication each day so I’d take it for a day or two on and off. But no more than that. If I didn’t take it for three days, I knew it was time to get back on it. I’d suffer from dizziness and "brain shivers." It was also the first time that I developed eyelid twitching.

I went back to Dr. X and told her that Paxil wasn’t working. She told me that she knew I wasn’t consistent in taking my meds. But she still switched me to another med.

Enter Lexapro in September.

A crucial year in college. I was attempting to graduate that semester, juggle responsibilities as a reporter and copy editor for the college paper, manage a long-distance relationship, and complete a 50+ page honors paper. After accidentally reporting incorrect data on an investigative piece that I thought I’d thoroughly researched, university directors came down HARD on me. The managing editor made it a bigger deal that it really was (according to my teacher and newspaper advisor), freaking me out and sending me into a tailspin. I adhered to my Lexapro regimen much more carefully, but my depression worsened. By the end of October, I’d quit my job at the paper and found myself unable to get out of bed except for late afternoon and night classes. In November, I had to cut back from 16-18 credits down to 12 – just enough to keep me a full-time student. Of course, I didn’t graduate that semester.

I’d went to a psychologist (recommended by my PCP) who gave me "tough love" advice for $75 per half-hour. The "tough love" approach wasn’t for me and actually made me feel worse about myself. I continued to worsen under his care. In February, I switched to a Christian-based counselor and dramatically improved. She listened to me for $75 an hour and at the end of the session, gave me helpful advice. The support of my counselor and boyfriend helped me to get through the trying time. Bob helped pull me through graduation the next semester despite occasional moments of relapsing (into bed).

Bob, not accustomed to the severe depression at first, immediately became frustrated and used the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality. After all, despite his depression, he was still going to work, still living. When he noticed that strategy wasn’t working, he did some research on depression and became a little more sympathetic.

However, our relationship began taking a turn for the worse: we began arguing about pretty important things – where we’d live and whether we’d have biological children. We took "breaks" on and off and after several attempts at discussing breaking up, we tried to do so. Of course, it didn’t last. His depression kept him from feeling confident in our relationship and his ability to handle my depression. He conveniently left out how he was worried that his depression would conflict with mine.

The "Black Dog," Part I

Men and depression. What a loaded topic. This may be a long entry so brace yourselves.

My husband suffers from depression. He reads this blog and may be embarrassed to some extent since his mother reads it too. But his story (intermingled with mine eventually) is worth sharing because it may help others understand some of the stigma men face. I don’t have the full picture, but I’ll tell you his experience from what I’ve gathered.

My husband, he comments as Bob, slowly began to suffer from depression early in his teen years. As a large boy – as in large, I do mean morbidly obese, unfortunately – he was picked on, teased to no end, and practically tortured. Getting beat up by his brother and cousin didn’t do much to help, either.

Bob, a quiet, shy kid, was able to hide his developing depression well. If he was happy, he had the same sullen face that remained when he was upset or sad. By his senior year of high school, he was the tallest guy in the class, which by that point, people stopped provoking him.

But the hurt and social ridicule remained with him. He went off to college, continuing to be insecure about his weight. He assumed that he wouldn’t make any friends since he didn’t have any after high school. At the end of his sophomore year, he finally opened himself up to friendships with roommates, suitemates, and those who lived within his hall. He’d tried two dates that never worked out. He remained quiet, shy, and girlfriendless. His face remained sullen, garnering the name, “Mr. Happy Face.”

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