When social anxiety is extreme, it can become avoidant personality disorder (APD). APD is like social anxiety on steroids. Someone with such intense social anxiety lives a severely limited life because he or she is compelled by anxiety to avoid any and all social situations and even simple interactions with others. APD imprisons people in their own mind, holding them captive with fear and anxiety. It traps people in isolated places, such as inside their own home or in a job that involves no contact with other people.
This life-limiting disorder, though, cannot and does not change a person at his or her core. Social anxiety disorder and APD can make life difficult, but they doesn’t diminish someone’s humanity and intrinsic value. People with social anxiety and APD have passions, desires, a need for intellectual stimulation, a requirement for companionship, and more.
In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, Brian Cunningham lives with extreme anxiety–including social anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, and anxiety attacks because of both. His life is limited, and he hates it. He also hates himself for it. When he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees someone who is ridiculous, strange, unworthy of friends, and all sorts of other horrible things. (The book opens with Brian cursing himself, “I’m an idiot.”)
This, sadly, is how many people with social anxiety and APD view themselves. But it really isn’t the case. Brian has many things going for him. If you live with these intense anxiety disorders, you, too, have many things going for you. I challenge you to explore them. Create a collage, photo story, poem, or written list of all of your passions, values, beliefs, and strengths. The first step to opening your door to the world (just a crack) is to change your thinking about yourself. (Or if you don’t live with social anxiety or APD but know someone who does, help him/her begin to emphasize different things about him/herself.)
This is Brain’s portrait collage. It’s just a small fraction of all that his is. Brian’s is all of these things and so much more: mentor to a child, friend, lover of the outdoors, talented gardener, master custodian and craftsman, kind-hearted and caring, and a dog lover.
Peek into Brain’s anxious life:
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