In the later years of my job I was considerably better mental health and anxiety wise as I worked in an office with people I got on with. I remember once being asked to go to a summer barbeque by someone I knew quite well and of course declined. There is very little doubt that most of the advice on anxiety forums and indeed online would have criticised me for avoidant behaviour and taking the easy way out. However as the majority of people would have been strangers this would have been a nightmare to me which is hard to explain in words. Imagine standing around looking awkward and not knowing what to say or how to make conversation and desperate to run. if this doesn’t bother you it’s probably no more important to you than going shopping. However for me the humiliation is similar to being on stage and everyone laughing at you like a bad nightmare.God forbid someone trying to set me up with a single woman as people often do when they know you are alone and think they are helping and then her just standing there wondering why I was so strange and trying to escape. What i noticed in these situations is that the people I knew actually got angry with me for not chatting the girl up properly or saying the right things like it was my fault for having an anxiety attack as if I chose to blush and stammer. This of course made me much more avoidant! It still makes me think that almost all advice for social anxiety is the same for people that are just a bit shy and with no other physical reactions and they have no idea of the difference.
An actual anxiety attack would leave me crimson red, sweating like a pig and stammering to get even words out. I could never think of anything to say that sounded normal and my voice became almost inaudible. I was always terrified of this coming back at any moment which is why I stayed so avoidant for so long. I didn’t joke or make funny comments under pressure, get on with people or make friends if I pushed myself. Things usually got worse.My brain ceased up. Just speaking was incredibly hard so all small talk was virtually impossible. Even now I still can get very awkward just talking to shop staff at the supermarket on bad days although my isolation has probably made me get worse in recent years. This awkward behaviour of course makes other people dislike and avoid you as you become hard work or annoying to them and for some women even the classic weird and creepy guy to be avoided at all costs. This is not just paranoid or negative thinking; it happened many times at work. There is so much that has to be conquered before normal conversation is even possible with this severe kind of anxiety with very little help or useful advice online. This is why most exposure therapy didn’t work ever for me as it always resulted in yet more chronic failure, humiliation and embarrassment and so I lost even more confidence. It also made me think that the vast majority of people are incredibly judgmental and this is normal human behaviour.