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Social Anxiety and Phobia: Throw out the Trash

Social Anxiety, Social Phobia, Social Anxiety experiences

Coming across some serious Cairo Phobia

People suffering from social anxiety and phobia usually get these racing thoughts of fear and apprehension triggered by their imagination or past experiences and sometimes by the social aspects of life in Cairo. Social anxiety is considered one of the largest psychological problems in the world today but in Egypt barely anyone I spoke to consider their anxiety a problem that deserves attention even if their lives are traumatized by it.

If you’re suffering from social anxiety and phobia most likely you would either avoid situations that trigger your anxieties all together or you would throw yourself into them while in fear and waiting for what you think are dangerous consequences. Perhaps you might be one of those in denial and enduring situations you fear in silence? One question you should ask yourself is if it is all in your mind?

Anxiety is based on imagination that we create about our social surroundings out of images we see in our daily lives or on the streets, or in the media. Some of the stories I heard are horrific and leave behind some deep scars. Laila’s story is one of them. She’s an outgoing girl in her late twenties. As she walked into her building one day at 2 o’clock in the morning, she saw a man waiting for the elevator and thought for a second about getting in with him but then decided why not “As the elevator went up he asked me to take off my clothes. I couldn’t think straight I was so scared because he threatened me with a razor blade. He said he would hurt me. I begged him to stop the elevator and to let me get out. The elevator stopped at my floor and I threatened to scream. Miraculously he got scared told me he was sick in the mind and let me go. I couldn’t believe myself.” Since then Laila left her apartment and refuses to get into any elevator with a stranger again. Whenever she walks into any dark building at night she imagines danger.

While Laila’s fears are based on her past experience, Nadia an AUC graduate I met in Cilantro experiences social anxiety for other reasons. She stands out in any social gathering because of her unique and daring sense of fashion which is certainly not the norm we see in Cairo. She has blue hair and wears fake black nails, always applies heavy and dark makeup with smoky eyes. She wears revealing clothes, socially unaccepted in our country. On the streets she is often called names like “witch” or “crazy” and harassed all the time. “You’re going to think I am psycho but I am afraid of being introduced to new people because I am sick of getting comments about how I look and I feel no one will like me the way I am.” I would have never thought that someone who has the guts to wear what she wears would lack the courage to face new people but Nadia prefers to live in her own bubble. She almost has no friends because she can’t relate to anyone and no one seems to be able to relate her. I personally think she might be too cool for anyone in Egypt.

Nadia’s fears are about meeting new people and being accepted by society, on the other hand Magda a 30 year old working woman who is actively engaged in Cairo’s party scene, has no problems meeting new people. She actually enjoys it but often finds herself going home late in the evening “When I am alone, my heart beats so fast and I rush into my building or even run to my apartment. I always think someone is out there to hurt me.” Her fears are based on hearing endless stories like Laila’s or others she read or watched on TV.

People who suffer from social anxiety can’t help but think the situation is unavoidable and out of their control even when their fears are triggered and nothing happens. They’re still cautious and weary of the next time the devil comes around. Iman a Cairo University student told me how she felt very lucky every time she escapes danger. “When I imagine something bad will happen and it doesn’t I thank god but I still think the danger is there. I was just lucky this time but you never know what happens next time. If I can I would avoid any dangerous situation. It is just easier this way”.

Men I spoke to generally seemed less open than women about their anxieties. They would not admit suffering any type of phobia as this may lower their prestige or degrade their pride because in Egypt “real men” do not have psychological problems.

Omar a 32 smart looking man, working in a top multinational company was reserved at first in talking about his fears but once the ice was broken it felt as if he was waiting for someone to hear him. “Of course I don’t have social anxiety or phobia. I am not sick. The worst thing I go through is when I get so nervous and I start to stutter and sweat when having to do a presentation at work. I usually try to avoid this, it makes me so uncomfortable but I don’t need a shrink. I don’t suggest ideas at work my boss won’t like them, so why bother?” He believes he could get fired for suggesting ideas that others might not like. He has missed on promotions and most of his reviews mention he lacks initiative although he spends most of his time at work, with tireless dedication yet he is convinced he doesn’t have a serious problem.

What many families in Egypt consider protection for their children and guidance in every aspect of their lives can often be the very reason for their social anxieties. Omar gave us a possible explanation “Ever since my father died when I was 15, my uncles took care of me. They‘re so controlling and authoritarian and my mom could never stand up to them. They decided which university I should go to, what I should study, even who I should marry. I could never discuss anything with them and whenever I suggested anything I knew the storm of arguments would begin. I know they love me and want to make sure I make the right decisions but it is suffocating. Why would it be different at work? I would rather shut up and keep my opinions to myself than have problems or get fired.”

Karim is the only man I met who had no issues to openly talk about his fears. He has a great history of drug addition, got past this stage in his life but it doesn’t look like being sober is that easy. He is charming and has an amazing sense of humor although he’s missed on quite a few opportunities in life. The nicest thing about him is that he only has a few regrets. “You think am charming? WOW” He smiled and continued “Well you can say I’ve been away from life for a couple of years and coming back now is not so easy. I always think when meeting people that they know about my past so I avoid dealing with new people. I’d rather sit and read my book than go out there to expose my self to nasty people who only think of me as a junky.”
The dynamics of living in Egypt don’t seem to make it any easier for many suffering social anxiety. The appearance oriented society we live in only nurtures social anxiety as there is often this pressuring need to fit in and be accepted. Ironically, as diverse as the country gets, as restrictive to differences it gets. Until this fakeness and prejudice is out of the way, progress is going to be slow when it is most needed in dealing with psychological problems like social anxiety.
Yasmine a 24 year old AUC graduate is confident and original in her approach to life. She is convinced that society has a big role in the development of social phobias “The differences and contrasts in Egypt make so many people fake because they try so hard to fit in. Along the way they loose who they really are for this simple reason “wanting to fit in”. People should stick to who they are and not change for society or the newest Louis Vuitton bag and Prada boots.”
The lives of people suffering from social anxiety have shrunk to the extent that they‘re missing out on the good moments in their lives. Isn’t it about time to throw out the trash of social phobia? Maybe it’s also time to visit the shrink before we disappear.

Published: 2008-03-04
Author: Noha Hefny

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