“Social anxiety” has become a catch-all description for a range of personal issues, and the term is now so over-used that half the population think it’s just some bullshit excuse to be trotted out when someone makes a bit of a dick of himself.
Someone once described me as having no middle gears, and it’s a fair description; I’m either totally fine and cool with the world, or I’m wound up so tight you could put a piece of coal between my buttocks and have a diamond by the end of the evening.
There is a total lack of understanding for us, the broken ones, that makes navigating the world even harder work than it should be. If you want to be a part of the solution, here are eight tips for helping out people with anxiety:
1. Give us a twenty-minute heads-up to finish what we’re doing. We may only be staring blankly out of the window, pondering how we messed up a conversation a week ago, but if you spring an immediate finish on us, we’ll be wrong-footed and jittery for at least the next hour. Maybe more.
2. Don’t try to “fix” us. Believe me, we’re working on it. If we need your help, we’ll ask. Give us unsolicited “advice” and we will only see it one way—that you’re trying to change us, which means you don’t like us as we are, which means you don’t like us at all. I know it sounds convoluted, but seriously, it’s a train of thought we follow with monotonous regularity.
3. Don’t call us out or embarrass us in public. You might think that saying “Hey hon, don’t do ____” or “Hey pet, you’ve got odd socks on, did you know?” at the shops is helpful and supportive, but we freak out about things like that for days. Maybe even weeks, especially if you do it at a social occasion, like a family barbecue. We’ll be filled with shame, hurt, and humiliation at the public “dressing-down” you gave us, even if (and this is important to remember) no one else even heard it or gave a shit.
4. Don’t throw us in at the deep end. In a new situation, we do not want to do anything else other than acclimatize. If it’s our first time meeting the family, let us hide behind you and not say a word. Warn your folks that we are unlikely to say much, nor to stay for very long. Also, much like with animals, we have to come to others.
5. Give us an escape route. We’ll always be trying our best to be “normal,” but sometimes you have to help us out. If we have to make a run for it because Aunt Sylvia was drunk and pushy, have a plan in place to cover that eventuality–we don’t want to spend the next month apologizing and hiding from the world because now Aunt Sylvia hates us. Good plans include: “Remember you have to make that phone call at that specific time for work!” and “Poor thing wasn’t feeling well even before we came out.”
6. Warn your family. This is one that my partner and I learned at our cost. He didn’t say anything to his family about my social anxiety, and my awkwardness and nerves led to a six-year downward spiral—culminating in a standoff between me and his sister, who thought I was a bitch. It was finally resolved when he sat them all down and said in words of one syllable that I was broken. They had no idea, and suddenly it all made sense to them. (Although I’m fairly certain his sister still thinks I’m a bitch.)
7. Know that we will go over every conversation we have and pull it to bits. We will be as vultures to the carcass of a conversation, and we will dismember it, looking at it from every angle and hopelessly over-analysing everything. Be aware of this and try not to get frustrated.
8. Know that tea is the most easily-accepted compliment. Make us tea (or our beverage of choice) without being asked, and the gesture will be taken as a wordless declaration of compassion and caring.
This original piece by was written exclusively for In the Powder Room, a division of Hold My Purse Productions, LLC. Featured image © belchonock via depositphotos.com.