One of the words I found hard to get used to when I moved to Israel was “angina.” People used it to describe a trivial illness when I thought it should mean a very serious illness. I felt that by using that word to describe their trivial illness they were making light of the serious illness or giving too much weight to their own illness.

MemoirWriting-ListI could have looked up the word, of course. Not online, because online didn’t exist then, but in a dictionary. Looking it up now, I see there are two meanings. One is the meaning I knew: severe chest pain arising from inadequate blood supply to the heart. The other meaning is: a sore throat. So I was right and so were they.

IllIt is said – and, I think, probably true – that too many children these days are being diagnosed with ADHD and given drugs to counteract it. Catdownunder wrote about this the other day. Apart from stopping healthily active children from learning  to cope with what they are, it seems to me that, in the eyes of the public, it lessens the seriousness of ADHD in children who have it badly and probably takes resources away from those who really need them.

Let’s turn to social anxiety and what Rachael wrote in a comment here a week or so ago:

I was at a party recently and when a girl (of about 20) was asked to get up and speak, she commented ‘this is terrible for my social anxiety’ and was pleased to explain when someone asked her about it… However, her explanation sounded more like she was mildly embarrassed by being asked to stand and talk in front of a crowd than real social anxiety. Of course I don’t know what’s happening inside her head and should not make any assumptions but it got me thinking and I have noticed that among some of the younger generation it does seem to have become a bit ‘fashionable’ to say they have social anxiety. I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

My first thought was that this is wrong. That if every other person claims to have social anxiety, this will detract from the attention that needs to be given to those who really have it. In other words, I was comparing it to the ADHD issue I mentioned above.

My second thought was that these social anxiety claimers are probably right. Most people have some form of anxiety in certain social situations. Not all social anxiety is chronic and disabling. When it is, it’s called social anxiety disorder.

So maybe it’s more like the angina definition. Maybe social anxiety means more than one thing. Maybe when I refer to what I mean by it, I should say social anxiety disorder. But that’s a bit long and its acronym makes me sound pathetic.

If I had the chance, would I try to stop people from using the term social anxiety to describe a mild fear of talking to an audience? I think I would. But I can’t, just as I can’t prevent readers of a book like The Mill River Recluse from getting a rather warped impression of social anxiety.

Presentation

ClosetAll I can do is to explain my version of social anxiety and how it affects people like me who neither have a mild fear of presenting but are fine in most other social situations, nor are recluses.

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The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan.

This book was recommended to me by my friend, Marallyn. She was in my previous writing group. Whenever I submitted yet another poor attempt to write about social anxiety, she said, “You must read The Mill River Recluse. That’s the way to write about social anxiety.” I’ve also seen the book praised elsewhere.

It’s a lovely, well-told story. It certainly kept me turning the pages. The story is believable, has believable characters and deserves to be read.

However, I do have some reservations about it. Mary, the recluse, has social anxiety. The reason for this is mentioned three times in the book (which I thought a bit excessive) and relates to one terrible incident that occurred when she was sixteen. She mentions that she was always shy, but I still think this is too easy. One incident, however bad, doesn’t cause social anxiety on its own. There has to be a lot more than that. I would have liked to have heard much more about Mary’s childhood and what led to her condition.

The consequence of Mary’s anxiety – becoming a recluse seen generally by only one other person and later by two others – is a very extreme outcome of social anxiety. This is mentioned in the book by a professional who meets her and says, “I’ve never seen such an extreme case of social anxiety.” Most people with social anxiety don’t keep themselves completely hidden in that way. They force themselves to get out and function in society however much of a struggle that is. I think someone who reads of an extreme case like this could make light of the effort made by someone who appears to function fairly normally.

That said, this book is still a lovely read.