My first guest post in this series comes from Lauren of Shooting Stars Mag. Lauren is going to be sharing her personal experience with social anxiety, as well as some tips for authors who are interested in portraying it accurately in fiction.
Growing up, I always loved to read realistic/contemporary fiction. When I could understand and relate to the character, it meant a lot. Even when I could not fully relate, reading these books gave me information and allowed me to empathize with others. I truly believe that when authors are writing about serious topics, especially when it comes to mental illness, that they have the responsibility of doing everything they can to accurately portray it. No, not all mental illnesses are the same, even if two people are both diagnosed with depression. There are varying levels of depression and it manifests in people in many different ways.
For me, I have social anxiety and it’s something I’ve been dealing with by name since high school. I’ve always just thought I was shy and uncomfortable talking to people I don’t know. Because I read so much, though, I was a lot more self-aware than some teens. I knew that whatever I was feeling wasn’t ‘normal’ shyness. I knew it was more than that, so I looked up information online and went to my mom, who has always been understanding and willing to do whatever she could to make sure me and my other siblings got the help we needed.
I’m sure I’ve read books in the past about anxiety, but I can’t specifically think of a book about social anxiety, so I thought I would share some of my own tips about how authors can more accurately portray this mental illness in novels. Obviously this is based on my own experience, and not everyone who has social anxiety will necessarily agree with all of these tips, but it’s a start, right?
- Having social anxiety is NOT the same as just being shy. If you feel like your shyness impedes your ability to socially function in day-to-day life, you might have social anxiety.
- People with social anxiety find even ‘simple’ things to be nerve-wracking, such as ordering food when going out to eat. Before I got help for my anxiety, I would often tear up and want to full on cry when ordering food.
- Having social anxiety doesn’t mean you can’t be social. I had friends and I liked hanging with them and even going out. Some people have worse social anxiety than I do and maybe doing public things is difficult for them, but that still doesn’t mean they can’t talk to some people or socialize with them.
- Social anxiety deals a lot with your internal thoughts. You often fear that you will embarrass yourself when entering a situation or you overanalyze an event that you are supposed to or have already attended. As I got older, especially in high school, I hated going on field trips. Yes, field trips. It sounds crazy to people but I hated them and I would get nervous about going, so I often missed school on those days. I went to a private school, so there was no such thing as truancy or only being allowed to miss a certain amount of days during the school year. Granted, I did well in school and I always made up what I missed, so it wasn’t an issue on that front.
- There are physical symptoms of social anxiety. Fast heartbeat and feeling uncomfortable are some, but there are also stomach pains, diarrhea, and more. I definitely had a lot of stomach issues. We had a field trip one year and I actually went to school that morning but I started feeling so sick, I had to go home before we ever left. Granted, I did attend some field trips or off-site events, but overall, they made me extremely anxious.
- And finally, people don’t really understand social anxiety. If you’re going to be writing a character that has this mental illness, you have to understand that it is a mental illness. If you have this, you can be completely aware that your thoughts and physical symptoms are not rational, but that doesn’t mean they are going to go away on their own. For me, I take medicine, but it depends on the person and what they are comfortable with. I’m lucky to have people in my life that understand my anxieties and they have definitely gotten a lot better over time. However, like I said, not everyone can imagine what a person with social anxiety is going through. When I was in my junior year of high school, I had given one of my teacher’s a slip that they had to sign because I had missed the day before, and the teacher signed it and not kindly said, “Maybe you should see a doctor” because she obviously felt I had missed a lot of school. I said “I know what’s wrong” and walked away. She didn’t know about my anxiety, but she also didn’t seem to care if there was something wrong with me. She saw that I missed a lot of school and was obviously annoyed by it, so she threw out the ‘see a doctor’ line as if I didn’t really have anything wrong me and I should just stop missing. These things happen, even if people know what’s wrong with you. If they don’t get it, and especially if they equate social anxiety with shyness, they aren’t always willing to understand. This should change, and hopefully with more awareness of mental illness, and its varying types, it will.
If you want to learn more about social anxiety, one website is the Mayo Clinic. This link gives you details about social anxiety disorder (social phobia):
Please keep in mind that everyone experiences their mental illness and/or mental health struggles in different ways. One person’s experiences may be different from someone else coping with the same diagnosis.
The views, opinions and positions expressed in guest posts are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, and positions of Book Stacks Amber. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them.