There's some things I don't talk a lot about, especially online and whatnot. Maintain a professional appearance and all that. One thing that I've always kept really private and quiet is my struggle with emotional illness. I hate talking about it because it has such a crazy stigma and it's just really hard to explain how everything works in my head and how my emotions and such react to those sorts of things.
So, today, I'm going to take some time to explain how the whole process works. It's really hard to do this, especially after being so hidden about it for so long, but it's important for the world to know exactly how playing an MMORPG like World of Warcraft helps me cope with my social anxiety a little better than I would without it.
Has anyone ever told you that they were sick? And not "oh yeah, I have the flu." Bona fide 100% sick without being sure if there was a some sort of cure. I had to go through it twice in a 2 year period; I lost my grandma and my mom within 2 years of one another because of cancer. Being told that someone has an illness is not fun, especially when it's terminal.
Now obviously, cancer is a lot worse than what I'm going to talk about. Social anxiety won't physically kill you, but it can take your life away from you in other ways. Social anxiety, especially when paired with a panic disorder like mine is, is really painful to deal with at times. There are days that it's difficult for me to leave my house because the mere thought of being out and around people causes me to freak out.
There are a lot of things that can cause my social anxiety to "flare up." One weekend it was so bad that the thought of leaving my house drove me to tears. I freaked out after a shopping trip one time because I had to interact with the cashier (usually I just use a self-checkout to avoid interaction). It sounds like really stupid stuff that I should just "get over" but I can't. It's a serious mental illness that really changes how I live.
Until you are sick with something this life-altering, you don't realize how much you take things for granted. I used to be able to go to the store and go out with friends on a regular basis and it never really affected me. Then, the panic attacks and the avoidance of large groups started to snowball into the condition I have today.
It started in college, and has gradually gotten worse. It's so bad, that I've been in the process of pursuing temporary disability because I need to get some pretty serious therapy. And you know what? There are tons of people who would sit there and say that I'm just lazy and that I'm working the system, that it's all in my head. It's not. This is a real, painful issue that is causing me to lose my life in ways that a 27 year old should never have to deal with.
Because of this illness, I can't get or hold a job that's outside the home right now. I've been trying for two years, but between panicking in the interviews and having to quit (if I get a job) because being around people too much can start to give me physical ailments alongside the emotional ones. It's not a good place to be, and I'm doing everything I can to get out of it.
And it's not as simple as "well, go out and do stuff." I can't. It won't help me to force me to make a phone call (because of my social anxiety, I'm a terrible telephobe). It won't help me to force myself to do stuff, because it throws me into getting sick and having a panic attack. Those things get really bad at times, and it stinks. I'm not "just shy" either; I'm quite fine if I'm in a "safe place" with people I know (I'll talk more about that in a minute).
So why in the world am I talking to you about something that is this serious on a WoW blog? Because if it wasn't for WoW, I wouldn't have much of a social life at all. Don't make the assumption that many people make, which is that it's horrible for my social anxiety because it "must have affected me in some way." There's people who will argue and say that I'm going to game the system so I can sit at home and play video games.
If you think that, you're a jerk. Plain and simple. Get over yourself and read what I'm saying instead of making assumptions.
I get out of the house on occasion, I'm not just some recluse because of my illness. I am actively involved in my church as a youth worker. Now, some people will argue that, because I can do that, I must be able to get "real work". No. I started to go to and volunteer at my church before my anxiety got really bad. People with social anxiety have "safe places" where their chance of freaking out because of social interactions is lessened just by being in a familiar place. My home and my church are the two places I feel safe. Now, that being said, church does stress me out on occasion because there are so many people and I just need be away from people or I get freaked out.
WoW is another safe place. It's a place where I feel like I can be myself, where I'm not "threatened" or stressed out by social interactions. Things like being in a guild where I feel welcomed and needed, having friends who enjoy doing things with me and accomplishing tasks without fear of failure or judgment because of my issues help me to really enjoy myself and feel better about myself.
I will tell you though, WoW isn't always a safe place. Elitists make me want to hide in a corner; I don't like running dungeons without a friend or two (full guild runs are my preferred way to run them). I love to PvE, but learning fights can be a really stressful process that involves a lot of apologies. PvP makes me yell at my computer and flail. RP can cause me to have a breakdown if people take things to an out-of-character level (where you should never go, but that doesn't always happen).
Why? Because people in WoW can be jerks. People in general can be jerks. It's just the nature of people, and they aren't always sensitive to others. I can be a jerk in WoW; there's something about being on the other side of a screen that has the tendency to bring out the monster in people.
So, if you don't get anything else out of this rant, please understand this. There are people out there who have some really big issues going on. You wouldn't want someone else to treat you like crap, so why in the world would you do it to them?
I don't look sick. 90% of the time I don't act sick. But I'm sick. I need to get better, and between the therapy I"m working toward getting and "safe" social interactions like WoW, I will get better. I'm not saying I'll be the best at social interactions or that it will go away; my goal right now is to get it under control enough that I can function just a little more normally.
It's funny how a video game can help people, huh?
Some articles on Social Anxiety (SA):
How to Help a friend with Social Anxiety (About.com)
How to help a friend with SA (eHow.com)
The Spoon Theory - Referring to physical ailments, but can totally apply here too.