Social anxiety, for me, happens when I go out into the world and I feel like everyone is watching me. I can feel eyes on me watching my every move, even reading my thoughts… It’s that feeling that there are a bunch of cameras hidden, and they’re all pointed at me; I can’t see them, but I know that there are people watching me. They’re judging, critiquing, mocking, maybe even laughing at me. Every move I make is seen, and thought or feeling I have, even though I’m not saying them out loud, are broadcast throughout the land.
My social anxiety often feels like The Truman Show.
When a wave of social anxiety approaches me, I start to assume that everyone I meet is on medication. Every person surrounding me is on one medication or another, so they’re no different than me.
Like my father always said, “Better living through chemistry.”
I like to look at people and think, “I bet you’re bipolar, aren’t you?” Or “You’re so taking Ritalin,” and then I identify my Xanax homies and Lorazepam bros.
It’s a device, like picturing the audience in their underwear. It’s a means to make an uncomfortable situation bearable. By assuming everyone I meet is also on medication, I feel I am on equal terms with them. I don’t feel inadequate, I feel like I get where they’re coming from.
Telling people I’m on meds is disarming. It makes people feel either uncomfortable, confused, or relieved. The uncomfortable don’t know what to do, and usually end up saying ignorant hurtful shit that ends with me telling them “well then you’re not really someone I want to associate with, so fuck off.” Confused people offer an opportunity to educate individuals about the importance of mental health and wellness. The relieved feel blessed, “I’m on meds too! I’m not alone! We can be messed up together!
Medication is a great way to make friends, connections, learn something new, and most importantly: just all around feel so much fucking better about being alive.
It’s hard to feel good about being alive sometimes. Meds make it easier to feel good about being alive.
My depression, when untreated, feels like a wound/injury that I feel all day everyday. I wake up in the morning and think, “ugh I’m alive, but I’m in pain! It hurts! This sucks! “ but then I get aid, be it in the form of a band-aid, therapy, or medication and everything starts feeling better again. Feeling alive starts to feel good again.
Before medication, my anxieties were crippling and my depression made living miserable. I once told a counselor, “I’m alive, but it hurts, being alive actually hurts. Having to function hurts. Going through the necessities of life is hurting me. Paying bills, taxes, laundry, recycling, driving, ordering, appointments, etc.”
Basic life functions may be easy for others, but when you wake up already in pain, going through those functions is like pouring salt on an open wound.
It’s like I have a broken leg but I’m walking on it anyways and going to work thinking, “I’m here, I’m getting what I need to do done. But it hurts like fucking hell while I do it. It’s making me more miserable, it’s making me worse….” If you walk on a broken leg without treating it, it won’t get better and it won’t be tolerable. Even if what you have to do is something that is necessary for life, you won’t be able to do it until you take care of that broken leg.
So I’m on medication to manage my mental health, I have been for the past three years. I used to feel shame about that fact, the stigmas of mental health were gossip fodder for my anxieties that made me want to quit meds and stay in my cave of shame. But then something amazing happened; I began waking up and feeling excited about being alive. I could face my days not dreading the pain I’d endure, but instead determination and motivation began flooding my system.
I started to become less socially anxious when I began trying to assume who was on what medication, then silently sympathizing with that person’s pain. When I make these silent assumptions, it is not done in search of truth. I am not looking to diagnose anyone or correctly guess what medication that person may be taking. Instead, it is a way for me to filter my social anxieties so that I may not feel inadequate or unequal with whomever I’m speaking to. Being in social situations is hard, especially when I feel like there’s something wrong with me all the time. By assuming that there’s something wrong with everyone else, I don’t feel I am the only one struggling.
You’re not alone. Even if it’s not being said aloud, everyone’s medicating their pain one way or another. You don’t need to be ashamed, but you don’t have to talk about it either. You do you.
Follow me on twitter @JoyPearson
This piece was edited by the magical Sarah Fader @thesarahfader on twitter