In my NAMI class a week ago, each student was asked to identify the most pressing and serious problem our relative suffering from mental illness is experiencing. We were instructed to choose only one specific problem and encouraged to choose the most dangerous one. The instructors chose to “group-problem-solve” my son’s severe social anxiety disorder. Living with someone with social anxiety disorder is difficult for families.
Living with someone with social anxiety disorder
First, I will explain my son, Darrell’s social anxiety problem. Although Darrell is taking his medications, he continues to be plagued with severe social anxiety disorder. The only place Darrell goes consistently and successfully is to therapy and the doctor. On a good day, he goes for a short walk at a nearby park. He has tried to go to church, hiking, attend plays or movies, and to go shopping at the store, but has had many negative experiences while venturing out in public.
Experience at Church
While at church, Darrell began to cry or more correctly, he began to wail loudly. He ran outside. He continued to loudly release the unidentified and suppressed emotion(s). People became scared and called the police. When the four police officers arrived, they attended to Darrell until he was able to regain composure enough to drive home. When he arrived home, he was shaking and crying. He was devastated and extremely embarrassed. It was one of many days living with someone with social anxiety disorder wondering as a caregiver how to best help.
Another time, my daughter Ashirya, Darrell and I went for a hike. We were hiking along, and all of sudden Darrell began to scream and cry. Ashirya had the presence of mind to grab him and hug him tightly which most likely kept onlookers from calling the police. Ashirya simply hugged him until he finished releasing the emotion(s) he needed to process. People continued to stare but thankfully no one called the police. It taught me the power of hugging while giving needed support in a very public place.
Plays, Movies, Store
When attending movies, plays, or going to the store, he will suddenly get shaky, his face turns red, his chest tightens and his heart begins to race; then he often has difficulty breathing. He also sometimes becomes sick to his stomach and throws up. He usually leaves as quick as possible finding the nearest safe place in case he has to throw up.
- Face turns red
- Chest tightens
- Heart races
- Difficulty breathing
- Throws up
After numerous unsuccessful outings, he has quit trying to go to church, hiking, to plays, movies, or to the store. If you have a relative who is experiencing similar symptoms as Darrell, I understand your challenges living with someone with social anxiety disorder and the unacceptable public behavior it causes.
As I have explained in the above examples, living with someone with social anxiety disorder is very unpredictable. One of the most difficult parts of Darrell’s social anxiety disorder is that he cannot function normally at family gatherings either. He finds an empty room (even if it is the laundry room) and hangs out there with Pepper, his pet rabbit because he can’t handle being around people. Some of Darrell’s siblings do not understand his severe social anxiety disorder so it causes some family tension. I can tell my three children who have their own kids don’t want their kids to be around Darrell’s unacceptable social and public behavior. This makes me sad because Darrell likes kids and I think they would be therapeutic for him to be around. On the other hand, I understand his siblings want their kids to be around positive adult role models.
Now I have thoroughly explained Darrell’s social anxiety disorder, I will share the method the NAMI group used to problem-solve Darrell’s problem in my blog post titled, “NAMI Problem Solving Strategies”.
Top Featured Photo by Fernando Cabral