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Friday, 17 August 2012 18:16

Anxiety and Identity

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Having become recently aware of my own social anxiety disorder, I've been reading with interest the "Anxiety" opinion series in the New York Times. (For those who haven't seen it, you can check it out here.) The most recent entry, by professor and author Daniel Smith, includes this passage:

"Like many people who have been given a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder (and many who have not), I am always braced for the next recurrence. Anxiety, like the tide, is forever receding and returning, receding and returning. I have been experiencing this pattern for nearly 20 years now, so that my anxiety has come to seem, at times, inevitable and unassailable — a fait accompli. My anxiety, I’d concluded, is what I am. There is no escape."

Being new to this, I've been thinking a lot about how social anxiety affects one's sense of identity. (Short digression: When I say I'm "new" to social anxiety, I mean that I'm new to the knowledge that there's a name for this condition, and that communities, such as this one, exist for those dealing with anxiety. I'm not  new to the feelings. Those have been with me as long as I can remember.) While I always knew I was, to put it kindly, quirkier-than-most, this is the first time that I've had a label to put on it, and an explanation for why I feel and behave the way that I do. I'm finding that this newfound awareness has both benefits and drawbacks.

The benefits are straightforward. I have been surprised, and overwhelmed, by the diverse and open nature of this community. So many of your stories resonate with me and make me recognize things in myself that I'd ignored or papered over in an effort to be more like others. I have dived into learning as much as I can about social anxiety, and the more I learn, the better understanding I have of my own thought processes and behaviors. That is so valuable.

The flip side is that anxiety is becoming more of a prism through which I view the rest of my life. By spending time learning and talking about it, I dwell on it more. In my quest to better define it, I'm worried that I'm letting it define me. 

Smith's article posits that it's possible for anyone to lessen or elude their anxiety by  remembering to not "be an idiot."  I don't think it's ever that simple. I can't deny anxiety is often a major hurdle in my relationships with others, or ignore it's role as a silent player in almost everything that I do. And I know that I am, relatively, at the milder end of the spectrum.

But his words do serve as a good reminder to try and put anxiety in it's proper place.

For me, for now, that's resisting the urge to think of myself primarily as a socially anxious person who happens to also write, and run, and make fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches.

I'm a writer. A runner. And a connoisseur of melted cheese ...who happens to also have social anxiety.


AG, short for AnxietyGirl, is a 30-ish resident of the East Coast who's not sure she knows what she's talking about yet.  She welcomes your feedback and criticism. Those on Twitter can also follow her confused thoughts daily at @TweetsFromAG.
Last modified on Sunday, 19 August 2012 07:09


  • Comment Link OwlJulie Wednesday, 20 March 2013 11:00 posted by OwlJulie

    I also struggle with defining myself as social anxious and then feeling 'less than' others because of my self definition.

  • Comment Link Tom Donovon Sunday, 16 September 2012 23:01 posted by Tom Donovon

    I understand what you mean by finding a site like this and being surprised at how open and helpful it can be. I went through a similar experience a few years ago. That particular site is no longer in existence but it helped for a time. I'm hoping to find that again here.
    By the way, melted cheese is awesome!

  • Comment Link Erin Doolittle Tuesday, 21 August 2012 15:38 posted by Erin Doolittle

    Nice blog! I'm glad you finally have a name for what's been making life difficult for so long! Please remember - you are not "being an idiot" ever! Anxiety is a powerful force and a tricky foe to deal with but remembering it's only purpose is to keep you safe and recognizing what it's trying to protect you from can bring you enormous relief. Good luck! :-)

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