The world can be a scary place when you have a Social Anxiety Disorder..
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD or SA) if you aren’t already clued up, is an almost paralysing fear of social interaction. It’s a phobia, that brings on extreme emotional and physical difficulties when the sufferer is placed in a social situation. It’s a serious medical condition that can damage and often completely kill the ability to enjoy normal interactions and moments where other people are involved.
Outsiders with little understanding may utter things such as “get over it” or “we all feel nervous or shy sometimes”, but SA is far more than the butterflies or the passing worry that you get when going to a job interview or starting a new school, it’s far more involved and debilitating than that. A Social Anxiety sufferer can easily feel tortured for days by the fear of simply having to leave the house, or walking into a supermarket. I know that for me it takes me several hours to gear up the courage to leave the house to go to the shops alone, and that’s a vast improvement to where I was a fair few years ago.
– excerpt from my facebook note last year about my social anxiety disorder.
When I left school, I hid myself away in my bedroom with just my computer and online friends for company. My disorder became so normal to me that it took a tremendous amount of time to realise all the odd safety behaviours social anxiety would make me do, like:
– Waiting around on my own for any length of time would cause me to fumble around
on my phone to try and look busy. ‘If I stand here and press a few buttons, people will think I’m all cool and popular’
– Avoiding eye contact at all times. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me!
– Saying very little, because people won’t think I’m weird if I stand there while they’re talking to me and stare at a corner.
– Always looking everywhere else, all of the time. Like a meerkat.
– Avoiding going anywhere, because staying at home and eating pie is better.
– Hiding under the window when someone knocks on the door.
– Running for a bus, and when it drives off without me, just keep running. ‘Nooo, I wasn’t running for that bus, I was just casually out for a jog… in my work trousers… and high heels’ (Actually that last bit was a lie, I never wear high heels)
All of that stuff sounds kind of silly right now, but when you’re in that moment and feeling that fear it’s the only thing that matters to you. So don’t judge me ‘kay?!
Photography became the only thing that I had in my life that was constant and that drove me enough to want to better my situation. It played an instrumental part in my social anxiety journey, there a few reasons for this:
A big DSLR camera makes a rather good mask; I could just shove it in front of face and pretend to be invisible. It forced me to go and meet new people, albeit AWESOME people, and take charge of photoshoots and having something that I’m good at made me feel confident, hardly super duper confident but it was something.
Then, the last few months happened. I kickstarted my business and pushed myself harder than ever before because not only did I want to ‘cope’ with my disorder, but I wanted to get rid of it and enjoy a life that I was comfortable living. I believe completely that I have done this already in just a few short months, to the point that I don’t worry or feel anxious even an hour before a job or a meeting. A lot of my success is down to the practise makes perfect method…
Just like photography, you have to practise, practise and practise some more when it comes to social anxiety. Learning or managing one small thing at a time, until each small thing becomes second nature. When you learn photography you may start with learning just one part of exposure first like how to use apertures until you’re all like ‘dude, I totally think this would look super amazing with an aperture of f/1.8’ . It’s the same with anxiety, you work on one thing that makes you slightly nervous and then work your way up until you are challenging all the crazy stuff that makes you sweat like you’re chasing a Bugatti Veyron.
It wasn’t just the practise method that made it happen for me however, I had to change the way I treated people altogether. The key to overcoming my fears was so simple that I could not believe I had never thought of it before. Instead of worrying about what I looked like to other people or how I came across, I had to focus the attention on other people. Not in a bad way of course, in the greatest way possible. Making people feel beautiful, important and heard. After all, that’s what this business is all about once you take the actual photographs out of the equation. Social Anxiety is often very self involved and so many times you will spend a social interaction concentrating only on your fear that you actually forget to listen to the other person and you forget to even ask them any questions about themselves. Ever been in that situation where you’ve met someone new and because you were so busy thinking bad thoughts about yourself that you didn’t even listen to their name? Yep, been there, done that..
Ask people more questions, concentrate on them instead, LISTEN, because when you do your fears will melt away.
Do you suffer from Social Anxiety, or know somebody that does? I would love to hear your stories.
– Kelly J x