I have suffered with severe specific fears involving social situations since I was a kid. I have overcome some of them but others are harder to face.
My first social phobia is something I first remember experiencing when I was twelve. It probably started developing before that age but I have a very specific memory that makes me know I had it at twelve. This is the fear of looking at myself in public; for instance, looking into mirrors. I remember we were asked to draw self-portraits in art class and we were all given mirrors. I refused to use mine and did my portrait off of memory, though I was never a good artist so I doubt the mirror would have aided me to a better drawing. I remember a boy noticing I wasn’t using the mirror and he shoved it in my face. Never did I mask more effectively in that moment: I just tried to back away from it, silently, clenching myself as the pounding of my heart became more intense and my temperature rose. I just tried my best to not cry because if I had cried, that would have given him ammo, and I couldn’t do that.
This memory is a sad one, of a girl who wasn’t even a teenager scared to look at herself. I have always hated the way I look and I saw looking in mirrors in public as some sign that I was vain, which is stupid and irrational, but it was how I felt. I struggle to even look at mirrors in private, but manage to just about. I still can’t look at a mirror in public, because I was bullied for years as a child and they told me I was ugly and that doesn’t leave you. This phobia is also low down on my priority list, as there are others which are more important to deal with, I think.
The second phobia is being scared to eat in public. I have had this since I was at school too. I am mostly over it now, but I do sometimes still have it in certain social situations. I remember I would throw my lunch away at school, because I knew I wouldn’t eat it. Even if I was alone, I was scared someone would walk past and see me eating. I realised this was a waste of food so I eventually asked my mum to stop giving me a packed lunch, and she obliged. We came to an agreement that I would make myself lunch when I came home from school, so quite late in the afternoon. This worked for me, even though I still got comments about not eating. One boy, quote, said “she never eats”. Nice way to remind me of my intense social phobia that I was embarrassed about. I figured these were better comments than the scary stuff I was imagining they would say or think when I did eat.
I’m really better at eating in public now; not being in a school environment has helped that. However, I have anxieties about other parts relating to eating now, that I’m still trying to come to terms with. I find it all really tricky to talk about, to be honest. My life certainly hasn’t been easy.
I also struggle with having my picture taken, due to the way I perceive myself physically. If I do have it taken, I will end up crying if it’s posted online because I feel like everyone can see how ugly I am and I hate the way I look. This is a self-esteem thing. I do let people take pictures sometimes to try and fit in and then instantly regret it when the picture is posted. I now usually won’t have my picture taken. It is really difficult for me. This has been the case since I was at school as well. I remember doing everything I could to avoid being a part of group photos. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything about my school photo being taken. It really cemented my anxiety when one of my teachers went through everyone’s school pictures in the middle of class, making jokey comments about them. I really wish she hadn’t done that.
I am hopefully getting a PA soon, who may be able to help with my next issue. This issue is around independence, mainly. I have a real fear of going into shops alone and buying something. This is an issue I did develop later in my school years. Earlier on, for instance when I was eight, I could go into a shop no problem. I think the anxiety just worsened as I got older and now I’m not independent at all.
A fear I have developed since leaving school is that of using public transport alone. This started I think when I was at college. There were numerous train strikes and the constant changing of rules, and being let down by people who I thought would help me with travelling, considering I was a vulnerable autistic girl; it really terrified me. I never wanted to be left like that again… not knowing how I was going to get from A to B or back from B to A. I stopped going to college eventually and managed to get only one a level. I am also scared of talking to people, so buses are even harder as I am scared I will freeze or not say the right thing. I am getting a disabled bus pass soon, which should assist in that as I don’t need to state where I am going with that.
My last social phobia is something I have talked about several times before. It’s the fear of communicating with people in certain situations… I never know what those situations are until I encounter them. It is selective mutism. I can’t control it and it is awful. I am scared of saying the wrong thing or not speaking at all. This makes my other fears worse because I never know if I’ll be able to speak up for myself.
So, yeah, I have a lot of social phobias which I am constantly trying to deal with. It is really tricky for me. They’re related to the fact I am autistic and the fact I have been through a lot in the past. I am getting a PA soon and will be trying an app that can help as well. I just really want to deal with them, but it might take a long time, and I might never deal with some of the issues.
I thought I’d share this post because, although I can outwardly look like someone who doesn’t struggle, I struggle a lot. On a piece of paper, I look fine. It’s once you dig deeper that you realise I have all these issues. I have a really hard time because of it and mental health really isn’t great. I have constant intrusive thoughts. I want to be different… but I have to start from the beginning, like I’m a child learning how to walk. I’ll mess up but maybe one day I’ll do it. Hoping is all I can do, right?
Thanks for reading,
The Autistic Panda