I recently read this article on social anxiety, and it struck me how many of the examples listed reminded me of my son Dan when his OCD was severe.
Those with social anxiety disorder are typically terrified of how others will perceive them, and this often leads to, you guessed it, avoidance of various situations. While public speaking, or being the center of attention in any circumstance, might be obvious triggers, even something as mundane as having a cup of coffee with a friend might be anxiety-provoking enough for a sufferer to just not show up.
In this post I wrote over two years ago, I talked about Dan’s sense of hyper-responsibility, an inflated sense of responsibility. Because he felt his thoughts and actions might cause harm to his friends, he dealt with this by, you guessed it again, avoiding them. He isolated himself, and while his actions could easily have been mistaken for social anxiety disorder, in his case it was his OCD that caused him to behave this way.
Once again, I am reminded how OCD, social anxiety disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder – just to name a few, are just labels to describe specific symptoms, a way to try to to maintain some order and clarity over the messiness of mental illness. While these labels serve a purpose, I believe our main goal should always be striving to understand what is going on with the whole person.
So did Dan also have social anxiety disorder, in addition to his diagnoses of OCD, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), and depression? Possibly. It certainly seems as if he fit the criteria. Thankfully, for Dan, it didn’t matter. Once his OCD was under control, his other diagnoses fell by the wayside.
Of course, getting the right diagnosis, as well as the right treatment, for OCD (and other disorders) doesn’t always go smoothly. While it is essential to have a good therapist, it is equally important for those who are suffering to be honest with their health care providers. As we know, those with OCD typically realize their obsessions and compulsions make no sense. This realization, unfortunately, might interfere with OCD sufferers being completely honest with their doctors; it’s just too embarrassing for them to admit their thoughts and actions (even though it’s likely the doctor has heard it all before). It’s understandable, and even ironic. We expect those with OCD, social anxiety disorder, etc., to be able to talk about these intimate details, when as I said before, having coffee with a friend might be too difficult a task!
But it must be done in order to recover. For both OCD sufferers and those with social anxiety disorder, facing ones fears is the ticket to living the life you want. If you think you suffer from one or both of these disorders, I hope you’ll commit to facing your fears, and you can start by meeting with a competent therapist.