Hello again! Or hello for starters! I’m Isabella, for those unacquainted. If this is your first time, you might wanna check out the previous entry where I introduced myself. Otherwise, let’s jump straight into it (Or should I say… jump gay into it?). This Transpondence, I’d like to talk about something I have a whole lotta experience with: Social anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Social Anxiety Disorder affects fifteen million adults, or six point eight percent(!) of the population. And that's just adults! Also, according to the same source, the rate of anxiety (as well as depression) in LGBT+ folks is one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times higher than straight or gender-conforming people.
Just speaking from my personal experience, I see so much social anxiety in my fellow community members. It’s not much of a wonder when you think about it. I mean, living life in a society where your identity is constantly endangered, dehumanized, gaslit and otherwise marginalized is bound to make a person on edge about how others see them.
For me, social anxiety manifests in a lot of different ways, and a lot of it has to do with my transness. One thing in particular I’ve struggled with is speaking up in public. I haven’t gone through any sort of medical transition, so my voice is deep and definitely not what cis folks are used to hearing from a woman. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there’s often a compulsory urge to censor your voice when you’re trans, lest you paint a bigger target on your back for the bullies.
It comes up in a lot of ways besides speaking, too. I’ve made a lot of progress through the implementation of therapy, but in the past, I would spend a lot of time before going out fretting over what I would wear, how that piece of clothing would make people look at me, and how I might be judged. Even now, I find that I’m less anxious the more covered up I am. I like the hair on my body, but I feel safer when strangers can’t see it. I try to cover my arms up, because of the hair on them. I’ve learnt that people can be very judgemental about those things. And I never wear anything that exposes my legs. I was bullied in high school because of my legs, and I don’t want to revisit that feeling ever again.
What I’m describing is on the more benign side of things, though. At its worst, social anxiety is an exhausting disability that restrains your every move. The seemingly simple act of making a quick phone call or coming to the door to sign a form for the mailman can be excruciatingly dreadful when you’re in the throes of social anxiety,. The mental distortions it induces can make you afraid of everyone. Everybody feels like a threat. Neutral or even friendly faces can be interpreted through the fog of anxiety as malicious ones. Every stranger’s intentions become suspicious. Like the world’s out to get you, judging and mocking your every move. And as over-the-top as that might sound to some, it isn’t a rootless fear when you live in a world populated by homophobia, transphobia, and the like. It can be a very scary time.
But, it doesn’t have to stay that way. That fear can subside. If you’re reading this and you spend a lot of time feeling scared or anxious, it won’t always be like this. I mean it. In time, and with help, you can overcome your social anxiety. Anyone can. I know that the burden of just existing socially can feel insurmountable sometimes. . . even all of the time, especially when you’re LGBT+, but you're strong, and you're capable of so much more than you realize!
I won’t pretend for a millisecond that it’s easy. Social anxiety is hard, y’all. If I haven’t made it clear already, it’s intense. But it’s also a mental health disorder, and you know the great thing about those? They’re treatable. They are not the end all, be all.
I said earlier that the fears that us socially anxious LGBT+ folks have aren’t rootless, and I meant that. But they aren’t always right, either. Our fears can be misplaced. Our bad experiences can cloud our judgement of potential good ones. Because of our experiences with prejudice and hate, we can discount the possibility that others will treat us with kindness and respect. Or, alternatively, we can discount the possibility of strangers just plain not caring about us one way or another. A lot of the time, when we think strangers are scrutinizing our every move, they’re just trying to check off their list of errands for the day. They barely even register us in the winding path of their day to day lives.
To unlearn the distorted thinking that serves as social anxiety’s greatest weapon, I highly recommend seeking therapy. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy. That’s a form of talk therapy that revolves around checking your negatively-distorted thoughts and bringing them into more of a balance, through confronting them and disproving their unbalanced claims. If you want to get started, even if you don’t have a therapist, I suggest keeping a thought record. Basically, you write down what your anxious thoughts are and then you analyze which facts support them and which ones disprove them. The goal is not to invalidate the anxious thoughts entirely, because more often than not there is some truth to them, but rather to see the bad and the good, and start seeing the whole picture from a healthier perspective. I’ve found it really helpful, and I hope others will too! Here’s a link to a template, if you wanna get started: https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/ThoughtRecordSheet7.pdf
Coping with social anxiety can be a struggle, but it’s absolutely possible. I believe that therapy is the greatest way to get the ball rolling, but I also recognize that not everyone can access therapy. In a future post I wanna compile some advice for dealing with social anxiety that can be implemented even if you don’t have a therapist!