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Recovering journalist and owner of recent realization that my inherent awkwardness and unease around everyone is... social anxiety disorder. I tweet my anxious thoughts at @TweetsFromAG.
Friday, 17 August 2012 18:16

Anxiety and Identity

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.
Monday, 13 August 2012 17:41

Does being shy = being sick?

"A beautiful woman lowers her eyes demurely beneath a hat. In an earlier era, her gaze might have signaled a mysterious allure. But this is a 2003 advertisement for Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.) approved by the F.D.A. to treat social anxiety disorder. “Is she just shy? Or is it Social Anxiety Disorder?” reads the caption, suggesting that the young woman is not alluring at all. She is sick.

But is she?

It is possible that the lovely young woman has a life-wrecking form of social anxiety. There are people too afraid of disapproval to venture out for a job interview, a date or even a meal in public. Despite the risk of serious side effects — nausea, loss of sex drive, seizures — drugs like Zoloft can be a godsend for this group.

But the ad’s insinuation aside, it’s also possible the young woman is “just shy,” or introverted — traits our society disfavors. One way we manifest this bias is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see themselves as ill.

This does us all a grave disservice, because shyness and introversion — or more precisely, the careful, sensitive temperament from which both often spring — are not just normal. They are valuable. And they may be essential to the survival of our species."


I just now came across this article, which echoes many of the thoughts I've been having lately about social anxiety. Sometimes, I really think this is a problem in my life and want to get help. Other times, I think I should just own it as a part of who I am. 

Is it possible to do both? I don't know.

It's an interesting question, with implications for many of us: Am I really "sick" or does society just favor extroverts?

Read the article in it's entirety:

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We are a community of people struggling with mental health issues, you are not alone!