Social anxiety is not, strictly speaking, particularly funny. Persistent and recurring fear of social situations and their potential consequences (for instance, everybody involved yelling "URGH" and throwing paperclips at your head) can wreak serious havoc on your work, career prospects, social life, and general ability to be a human being. But the symptoms of social anxiety disorder or social phobia are also, frankly, seriously amusing if you have a pretty dark sense of humor. Running across the road to avoid a conversation and narrowly avoiding being run over has its own weird funny charm.
I'm a lot better than I once was. I can tell a shopkeeper who stiffs us on the bill to get stuffed, and I don't need a twenty-minute calming ritual before I order a pizza anymore. But social interaction, particularly with strangers or acquaintances, is still heavily fraught for me. And there is a very good reason I now work from home: I don't have to make small talk with anybody.
And no, don't tell me to "just stop worrying about what people think about you!" My therapist would laugh and then hit you on the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Much as I would love to be able to hold a conversation with a receptionist without perpetually fighting the urge to jump out the nearest lobby window, I cannot. The results, however, are pleasingly surreal. And seriously funny. If you have social anxiety, this is probably what it's like for you — and if you don't, well, welcome to my world.
1. You exercise in secret.
Possibly this is just me, but I hate being looked at. Hate. Exercise kind of clashes with the "invisible" thing, though.
Gym? Oh dear god forget it. Running/shouting/wheezing in public? No thank you, not without an invisibility cloak. I exercise in my house with the blinds closed, or — if the day is too hot to be shut in a dark room like a Victorian mental case — under the level of the window sill. I can do mountain climbers for days.
2. You can sneeze on command so you don't have to greet people.
"Sh*t, person I know is coming towards me on the street. I do not want to talk to them. I don't know what to say. I can't escape. Oh no oh no oh no. Wait, I can just escape by pretending I can't see them! Strategically employed sneeze that means I can plausibly not notice them without being rude: GO."
3. You pick the self-service checkout even if other registers are free.
Service people are lovely! They serve customers all day and are mostly tolerant of people like me walking straight past their open counters and into the area where a robot will do all the checking without having to make conversation. And they hopefully don't take it too personally. (I try to make it easier on them by mumbling to myself and looking decidedly crazy.)
4. You have a "telephone voice" that is terror-ridden and mildly British.
Socially anxious people, to be even halfway functional, need to have some way of interacting with strangers in professional contexts. A lot of us seem to develop "telephone voices," stiff-sounding, vaguely soulless, VERY formal tones we use to deal with taxi orders, plumbers, and other situations that require a real person. It always sounds like we're talking to a servant in Downton Abbey.
5. You leave handymen alone immediately and go hide in your room.
I will literally leave electricians, gas meter readers, and whoever else has appeared to check my house isn't exploding to their own devices as soon as humanly possible. Once I'm reasonably sure they're not going to rob everything I am in my room, earphones on, pulling a Harry Potter ("making no noise and pretending that I don't exist").
6. You have secret signals with your partner to communicate your anxiety.
Yep. My husband knows perfectly well that when I turn to him and start gently gnawing his shoulder, I am exhausted by everything, weirded out, and need social quiet time. (I don't do it too hard, though. Suits are expensive, man.)
7. You have to remember not to sprint away from social encounters.
"Oh, thank heaven, it's over. Quick, get away. No, wait, you're dashing. You're moving faster than a cheetah chasing a documentary crew. This is probably rude. Slow it down juuuust a little. But still fast enough to disappear before anybody else can elbow you into a conversation. Perfect."
8. You regularly practice conversations in great detail before you actually have them.
If I know I need to talk to somebody, I will rehearse it in my head, sometimes in great detail. It's just in case something happens (they don't hear me, they're rude, I'm misunderstood) and I have to improvise. The idea of people complaining at great length to shop assistants and asking to see the manager is like a foreign country to me. Just leaving without everybody pointing and laughing is good enough for me.
9. Seamless is actually the best thing that ever happened to you.
The Internet is the savior of socially anxious people. Now I don't have to call up a Chinese restaurant and risk being misunderstood or making a mistake; I can just order online. I can do groceries, buy clothes, order plane tickets — if it were still the 1980s I think I'd be permanently vibrating with suppressed anxiety about all the terrible mistakes I was about to make. (I still shut the door too fast on the delivery dude, though. Sorry.)
Images: Ana C./Flickr; Giphy