Friday, April 8, 2011

sELf dIaGnOsIs: SoCiaL PhOBiA anXiEty dISoRdeR

I am a case-manager and an outreach worker. I work with hundreds of homeless people on a daily basis. My job is to analyze, assess and assist the people I come into contact with at the shelter and on the streets.

I knew it was imperative to learn about or study the folk I was working with. I did this so I could understand, help and assist my homeless clients (friends) in a more efficient way. I have come to a better understanding of the huge variety of addictions, mental illnesses, personality disorders and anxiety disorders that surround us. The human race is full of truly fascinating and unique people! These so-called "disorders" contribute to an amazing array of personalities, emotions and addictions. The result is; we're living in an extremely colourful human race.

Well, I decided it was also imperative to analyze myself......

During my study of anxiety disorders, I discovered (which Beth diagnosed years before) I have a disorder called Social Phobia Anxiety Disorder. It is an exact match!

The irony is that my work consists primarily of being a case-manager and outreach worker. The irony is I live in an intentional community. The irony is I am surrounded by hundreds and hundreds people daily, who come to me for assistance. The irony is I cannot walk a city block without shaking another person's hand, having a conversation or exchanging a hug. There are many ironies: the amount of time I'm on the phone, in meetings, encountering new people, running small groups, doing conflict resolution, instructing and disciplining our employees and so forth!

Everything I read about this disorder makes sense! Whereas everyone, including myself, would interpret my quietness as just "being shy", yet it was and is the effect of having social anxiety. A phobia which has, does and will cripple me in many ways in social settings. My prayer is that my knowledge of this irrational disorder, will in fact, empower me through Christ to overcome and conquer this! For, it is through weakness, that Christ's power is displayed through us!

What is Social anxiety disorder?
I would sum it up this way!
It is an irrational fear in social settings. My frequent blushing, sweating, upset stomach and heart palpitations are a common trait. There is a hint of paranoia in it; I often fear people are constantly judging, analyzing and watching me, making me nervous in trying to achieve my tasks. Even though, all rational thoughts will tell me otherwise, it is the irrational thoughts that prevent me from acting, moving or speaking up! Too often, the irrational dominates the rational, leaving me ruing missed opportunities and my cowardly lack of courage! Guilt floods my mind, which quickly converts any confidence into depression.

When I was younger, my social anxiety was a lot worse than it is now. There were many fears that tormented me, and "tormented" is not an exaggeration. These were fears that sent me into a deep suicidal depression; a black hole where I could see no light at the end of the tunnel! Depression can be a vicious side effect of having Social Anxiety disorder.

Here are some examples of my struggles. Home groups were agonizing; I did not want to be seen and speak, I didn't want to embarrass myself with a squeaky voice, say something foolish or blush, resulting in everyone noticing, mocking or commenting on how my face suddenly looked like a beetroot.
Prayer times really sent me into a downward spiral, because I feared praying out loud: My heart beat a thousand miles a minute as I started profusely sweating and occasionally blushing. I thought I'd pray the wrong words and everyone in the circle was judging me. I was in a no-win situation. I never ever prayed for the above reasons, but then always judged myself for not praying. I actually lost a lot of sleep over it, because I was thinking everyone was judging me for not praying. Internally I did pray; I prayed for deliverance from this curse of wanting to pray, but never uttered words from my quivering lips! How's that for irrational thinking?

The examples are numerous; I refused to speak on the phone. I hated going into stores. I couldn't look people in the eyes and despised meeting new people. I never answered questions at school (even when I knew the answer) and didn't have the guts to invite my friends to come over and chill with me. The realities of social groups, such as youth group, church and school enhanced the fears. I felt completely and utterly trapped...

In writing this, it makes me realize how crazy I can be! How irrational! I still have a way to go, as many of these irrational fears frequently rear their ugly heads. I still find myself humiliated by my irrationality and lack of courage.

But more importantly, today I work a job I love: A job that is not meant for a man who has struggled with and will continue to struggle with a fairly debilitating social anxiety disorder. The work I do with homeless people all about communication, inspiring others and flexibility. Working with the homeless is all about inevitable changes, conflict resolution and networking. I am working with poor people who need me to be a voice for them, show compassion to them and love them. In writing down these thoughts, I have come to marvel at how far God has brought me, the doors He has opened for me and the wonderful reality that He is taking me down many unknown and mysterious paths!

I write all this not to glorify my progress, but to acknowledge Him who takes our debilitating weaknesses and transforms them for His Kingdom. "My strength comes into its own in your weakness" (2 Cor 12:9)

*Here's a Link to an analysis on Homelessness and Social Anxiety Disorder

3 comments:

Dee said...

Thank you for sharing this Jeremy. When I look at you, I see a man full of compassion and answers, good answers. It is a privledge to work with you. Thanks for all that you do.

Sara said...

Thank you for your honesty! You inspire me to be more open about my disability! it is so impressive that you work as a caseworker even though you have SAD. I haven't said it before, but I am also privileged to work with you!

Jeremy Nicholls said...

Thanks Sara