When the 15 million American adults who live with social anxiety disorder face social situations, they’re overcoming more than shyness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety is an extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others — a fear that can interfere significantly with a person’s life.
Just because someone has social anxiety doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. We asked people in our community who live with social anxiety to tell us one thing they want others to know.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “I can’t help it, nor do I want this. It’s not just a little nervousness here and there. It’s constant stress, worry and living in a world you don’t even recognize.”
2. “I lack confidence in my ability to speak correctly. There are times when I want to say something, but I hold back because I’m afraid of sounding silly or not being understood. I tend to be afraid of making phone calls, approaching people, speaking in a group, being put on the spot, checking out at the store, ordering at a restaurant, job interviews and so on. This doesn’t make me childish or crazy. I have anxiety, and sometimes it gets the best of me. Please understand, and never laugh or make fun of me. It only makes things worse.”
3. “When I finally get the courage to speak, I’m terrified of your reaction. Please be kind.”
4. “My social anxiety is not a constant. One situation may cause me anxiety on a certain day, but won’t on the next. It’s a fluid thing.”
5. “I wish they could see the inner turmoil I’m actually going through at that time. Just because you don’t see physical symptoms doesn’t mean everything is OK. For families and friends of people with mental illness, please take the time to do as much research as possible, it can help you better understand what your loved one is going through.
6. “I really love people. I always see the best in them. I wish when I was around people I didn’t feel like I was dying on the inside. There’s nothing more lonely in the world than anxiety and irrational fear preventing you from spending time with other people.”
7. “I’m aware how ridiculous I’m being, but I still can’t help it.”
8. “Social anxiety covers a lot of different fears and behaviors. It’s not always about being afraid of crowds or people. Sometimes it’s feeling alone in a room full of people. For me, it’s wanting to stay home because I fear going out and having people see me breakdown or be sad. I’m afraid to show them that imperfection and to me, staying home feels safe, and at the same time incredibly lonely.
9. “Don’t take my anxiety personally. Just accept it and help me out.”
10. “I’m not anti-social. I wish I had a social life, but my anxiety won’t let me.”
11. “If it looks like I’m zoning out, that’s me breathing and practicing self-talk so I don’t go into a full on panic attack.”
12. “I want to talk to people, but the more pressure I’m under to interact, the worse the anxiety becomes.”
13. “I’m not trying to come across as rude, snobby or standoffish just because I don’t want to talk or to give hugs to a ton of people in succession. I get overwhelmed and overstimulated extremely easily. Please respect that.”
14. “I wish you would break the ice and talk to me first. I’m really a nice person, I just have this intense fear I can’t control.”
15. “I wish people understood ‘I can’t come’ means it really feels impossible, not just ‘I don’t feel like it.’”
17. “When I’m quiet, I probably have something I really want to say. It’s not that I’m stuck up, I’m just too nervous to say what’s on my mind. If you would talk to me first, it would be a lot easier.”
18. “When I leave an event early, I’m not being rude or disrespectful. I just need alone time so I don’t have a meltdown.”
19. “I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s not easy living in my brain.”
20. “Sometimes it literally feels like everyone else is using up all the air and I’m suffocating. Just ‘take a deep breath and relax’ isn’t always gonna cut it.”
21. “Saying social anxiety is just ‘shyness’ is like comparing a stab wound to a paper cut.”
Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences. Answers have been edited and shortened.
This post originally appeared on The Mighty.