You’d think social anxiety would make it harder to shop in huge, busy supermarkets etc but I find shopping in a small, compact store way more anxiety inducing.
My social anxiety manifested itself in my teen years; it didn’t just appear and there wasn’t a single trigger. It came over me slowly and it’s only now I recognise what it really was. It boiled over when I was 18 and I just refused to leave the house unless necessary. I was scared of everything outside of my house, especially the people. I remember confiding in my boyfriend at the time that I was scared to go out and he laughed it off. He wasn’t being mean or unsympathetic, he just didn’t understand social anxiety was a real thing.
I think that’s the problem with social anxiety, people don’t believe it actually effects people, we just get labelled as anti-social and as loners. But social anxiety is a real thing and it’s a really hard illness to fight.
I find big supermarkets manageable if they aren’t overcrowded and I’m in a good state of mind. However, small stores overwhelm me with fear, it’s something about being the centre of attention in such a small space. I feel closed in and like the people who work there are staring holes into my head. I feel pressured to buy something because if I don’t then the person working there will know and dislike me. It’s a horrible feeling and for that reason, I avoid small stores. I physically can’t go into a small shopping space, my feet feel glued to the floor if I try and I feel sick to the stomach.
People also think those affected with social anxiety have these huge, obvious panic attacks and for a while, I believed that panic attacks were very obvious, I didn’t realise I was experiencing them. I would have panic attacks whenever I was forced to go shopping or out into public, they were triggered by different things but especially by strangers touching me. I person could accidentally brush past me and I would mentally lose it, I would start sweating, I’d begin digging my nails into my skin, my head would spin, I’d start hyperventilating and eventually feel dizzy and sick, at which point I would need to escape.
I’ve always cared a lot what others think of me and social anxiety plays on that, I constantly worry when I’m out that people are judging me, that they are laughing at me and talking about me. In reality I know that’s unlikely and it’s easy to be rational when I’m back at home but in that moment, rational thought doesn’t penetrate the overwhelming panic and anxiety.
I’ve been told I appear quite rude to people when out because I can’t hold a conversation when people talk to me. I hate being thought of that way and I try my hardest to be polite and open but when speaking to someone I don’t know, my mind is working at a mile a minute, pondering all the ways I could embarrass myself and so my mouth just doesn’t work and I end up just smiling or nodding.
I depend a lot on my friends and family to interact with people around me. I find it hard to order in a restaurant or a café so I let friends do it for me, which is frustrating because I’d love to be able to pick my own thing and order it. I rely on family to accompany me to the shops and take over for me at the counter. If there is something I need in a small store then I have to send a family member in for me while I wait outside. This all seems odd to a stranger but for me and my support network, it’s normal.
Social anxiety is not just being anti-social or hating big crowds, it’s so much more. At it’s basis, it’s a fear of people which is sad to think about. I want to be able to interact with different people and make new friends and when I’m safe, at home it seems possible. But in the moment, surrounded by strangers it’s an impossibility for me, my brain doesn’t allow me to feel at ease and calm around people.