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Dreaming of Normality

Having severe social anxiety (god, how I hate that term!) has caused me all sorts of problems. But the one that really upsets me most is that I have no friends, and no social life.

I  would dearly love to be someone who actually had friends that I could actually spend time with.  In real life, I don’t. There are people that I know online who I really value, but there is a difference between a friendship that only exists through the mediation of a computer screen, and a friendship that exists in real life. Some of my best online friends, I don’t even know their real names. I wouldn’t be able to identify them if I walked past them on the street.

And, most importantly, the sad fact is, if the people who I consider my friends online were to meet me in real life, not only would they not become my friends in the flesh, they’d most likely wind up not even being my friends online.

That’s not because there’s anything wrong with them. I don’t mean to suggest that they’d turn out to be awful people. They’re people who I genuinely care about deeply, and who I fully believe are terrific people.

The problem is all mine. Not that I’m a terrible person.  But because I’m so damned scared when I meet people that I manage to appear to be either distant, cold, and unfriendly; or manically insane. If I’m really me, I can’t even talk. I just fade in the background. Why would anyone want to hang out with someone who’d just spends their time hiding from the person they’re supposed to be hanging out with? But if I don’t hide, the only way I can cope is by basically pretending not to be me. And because that’s so damned hard, I wind up acting like a crazy person. I just don’t even know how to be normal.

I recently had two different online friends try to make arrangements to do something together in person. I turned both of them down. Not because I don’t want to meet them. I really do. But I know myself well enough to know that if I were to take them up on the offer, I’d end up regretting it.

I’m going through this painful process of therapy to try to get over this. But honestly, I have a very hard time believing that there’s any real chance it will work.

I don’t know who I’d be without this. This problem is such a part of me, it’s so deeply ingrained, that I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without it. I’m trying, I really am. It’s hard, and it’s painful – but I’m trying. But when I stop and honestly look at myself, and ask: do I really believe that I’m going to be able to change, to become a person who’s capable of having friends, of having a happy social life? No. I don’t really. I don’t really believe that it can happen.

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  1. August 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    You have online friends who want to meet you and you’re married, so even if you can’t see it yourself, and even if you can’t show them in person, you must have qualities that make others want to hang out with you. I think that if you can keep doing therapy until enough of the fear goes away, you’ll be able to be friendlier.

    I’m sorry if that sounds patronising. I know it’s a lot easier to come up with arguments like that for other people and how easy it is to shoot them down. My big problem with CBT was that I could figure out what kind of “more realistic” interpretations the therapist was looking for (like I just did for you), but I could still come up with many reasons why they didn’t apply to me. Since I couldn’t talk in our appointments, she just suggested things I found completely unconvincing.

    If you’re a highly analytical person, as I’m guessing is the case, it’s going to be harder to find arguments for optimistic interpretations (I like that better than realistic, since there are studies showing depressed people are more realistic) that are really convincing. If you can keep arguing long enough, though, maybe you’ll find some part of your beliefs that you can change.

    Sorry if that was all off-topic and unhelpful. I’m trying not to give in to my own anxiety by deleting it now.

  2. August 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I have a relative who is in a very tough place now with some health challenges. She wants to talk to people by phone, but sometimes when she calls, no words will come out of her mouth. So the people she wants to call, we know that when the phone rings and it’s her number, if we answer the phone and are just greeted by silence, we just started chatting about whatever until she can find her voice and join in the conversation.

    If it’s too tough for you to think of meeting with your online friends in real life right now, I wonder if you might try just talking with them on the phone? And letting them know first, online, that if you get together on the phone, and aren’t able to talk, if there’s just silence, they should just fill in the gaps with chatter about whatever.

    And hey, technology could be your friend. What about visiting with your online friends via Skype? You could do things like show each other your homes, or gardens – I like to garden, so I’d show someone the parts of my yard that haven’t been crushed by heat and eaten by deer this year – or just chat a bit. Again, letting them know that if you go silent, they are to fill in the air with their chatter till you can find your voice again. Build up to in person: phone, Skype, someday in person visit.

    Well, maybe that wouldn’t work for you and I am sorry if my advice-giving just increases your stress.

    • August 24, 2010 at 9:12 am

      For me, phone calls are in some ways even worse than face-to-face. There are some additional stressors in in-person compared to over the phone, but they’re outweighed by body language. Over the phone, you don’t have that feedback, which makes it even harder. I’m constantly convincing myself that people around me think I’m some sort of worthless freak; with in-person contact, body language provides a counter-balance to that. But over the phone, I don’t even have that little bit of counter that they’re not trying to get away from me.

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