Anxiety at an Early Age
Long-term debilitating anxiety is often developed in a person's adolescence or in response to a traumatic event, but half of Social Anxiety sufferers have had symptoms as long as they can remember. My earliest memory is being mortified, crying and trying to hide on my first day of Pre-school.
I experienced ongoing embarrassment and nausea as I aged. I was constantly worried what everyone would think of me if I made a mistake, so I started avoiding social situations. I didn't take part in class because I was afraid of answering or asking questions. When forced to read or stand to deliver a speech, I would visibly tremble and lose my concentration, making me feel more foolish.
Many people, including doctors don't understand the severity of chronic social phobia for individuals such as myself. 85% of social anxiety patients have problems meeting the demands of school or work, with half of them unable to finish high school.  I would have been one of them had it not been for my mother's persistence and some very lucky deals made as I shuffled from school to school, trying to find something I was comfortable with.
The last two years of school, I simply didn't get out of bed. This left my parents with no choice other than taking me for evaluation by a Psychologist, who determined I was severely depressed and angry. He referred me to a Psychiatrist to begin drug-based treatment. He unfortunately, did not have the knowledge or willingness to deal with me because I also had depression, and he misdiagnosed me with Bi-polar. The psychiatrist sent me to an overcrowded hospital with no room for me. They loaded me into an ambulance and locked me up in a mental health center that felt like a prison, where I was given medication for a condition I did not have, actually causing panic attacks.
The health care system in regards to mental health does not always work well. When I was released a few days later at my parents' request, I had no desire to seek help anymore. My next few years passed living as a hermit in my bedroom. I didn't speak to anyone who had ever cared for me and I could not manage to use the phone out of paralyzing fear.
I needed some sort of social outlet, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) filled the gap at times. I felt more comfortable communicating through the computer and I was no longer completely alone, but it wasn't enough.
I tried to reconnect with old acquaintances, but they had all moved on and I didn't have any experiences that made me an interesting companion. I decided to focus my energy on working out and getting healthier, and I did succeed at that. I went from nearly 300 pounds to 175 pounds, but any confidence gained from that did not offset my longing for a normal life.
I was excited when a game I had waited on for years released, but my anxiety was getting worse as I needed to deal with strangers. To carry out any group activities, I was now drinking alcohol to calm myself down, as half of social anxiety patients tend to try as self-treatment. I knew I needed to seek help again.
My mother had found an understanding health-care provider for her agoraphobia, and it wasn't until then that we considered simply seeing the family physician may help. I barely slept in the nights leading up to the appointment. We arrived and the waiting room was positively overwhelming for me. That first visit, I couldn't describe the room to you because my heart was pounding and my mind was racing so badly.
The doctor asked me questions about how my fears manifest and how badly different types of activities cause my anxiety. For me, I can manage in one-on-one conversations, but in group activities I try to hide in a corner and avoid participation. None of this was surprising to the well-informed physician, and she recommended I try low dosages of the same medication my Mom was using.
I take a combination of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) - an anti-depressant with a benzodiazepine as needed to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. I immediately felt relief, and I didn't care what anyone thought of me once I was medicated. There are downsides, of course. Benzodiazepines are habit-forming so I go for regular follow-ups to make sure I have enough to avoid withdrawal symptoms but also to prevent substance abuse or side-effects; it's a very powerful drug. This combination can also cause tiredness, and they do only treat the symptoms, the chemical imbalance making me so sensitive to anxious experiences persists. I have good days and bad days, and I'll need medication for the rest of my life unless a major medical discovery changes that.
I'm extremely active compared to those low points in my life. I can leave the house spontaneously now. I was involved in negotiations and inspection of a new property my family bought and I'm on an enjoyable path to finally becoming financially independent. I've attended a dance and met more people in the last month than I've been in contact with during the prior year.
If you also have Social Anxiety Disorder, please grab an understanding loved one who will support you, and tell your doctor what you're feeling so you can find options that are right for you. If you disagree with your doctor's opinion, find a second opinion before you follow their advice. There are still professionals that either brush the condition off as shyness or are misinformed and misdiagnose patients. Your path to recovery may also include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy where you'll learn social skills and get gradually reintroduced to fear-inducing situations once you have the tools to deal with them. I have not yet found this necessary for myself. I send my best wishes to those longing to get their life back.