Social Anxiety At Work

Social Anxiety has had a big impact on my ability to perform in the workplace.

I do my job.  I do not chit-chat.  I know that can come off as robotic or cold, but I am not rude or bitchy.  I have worked in this place for 5 years, and I don’t know the names or jobs of a third of them.  They tell me their name or their position and it goes in one ear and out the other.  I hardly smile and I never initiate small talk, but I have Social Anxiety and any interaction makes me nervous, sometimes to the point of nausea.

There have been a few incidents over the past few weeks that have brought me to tears at work.  I bumped into someone in the hallway. Like full-on elbow into boob.  Was crying by the time I took 2 steps away.  Also had a patient ask me about a sign with an arrow on the door.  She said it was pointing the wrong way.  I explained to her that the door is usually open and when it’s open it points in the right direction.  Simple enough, but was shaking inside instantly and started feeling nauseous and light-headed (I have a neurological issue that is worsened by stress).  Went to the bathroom and had a good cry.  This was just in the past few weeks.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve cried in the bathroom at work.

This has always made my job difficult.  I will do my best to avoid having to talk with someone.  This can mean guessing at the answer instead of asking a co-worker what to do.  Faxing a doctor in response to a request instead of calling them.  Avoiding eye contact with a patient who approaches the desk and hoping they go to one of my co-workers instead.

It’s at its worst when I have to train a new employee.  Having someone watch what I’m doing all day and asking questions is about as nerve-racking as throwing a bucket of spiders at me.  All day.  It has become so dreadful to me that I’ve thought about leaving my job, just because I would rather follow someone else around than be the centre of attention.

Over the past year, I’ve worked with a handful of different co-workers and I’ve developed a bad habit of just letting them do something incorrectly and picking up the pieces of their error.  It is making me overworked and burned out, but to me that seemed better than an awkward interaction.  If anyone else was to correct an error they were making, it would sound helpful and team-oriented.  When it comes out of my mouth, I sound pissed off or irritated.  Sure, if it’s a major mistake that will come back to bite us I’ll put a stop to it, but it’s just a few minor things.  Dealing with a few minor things all the time leads to a major workload issue, though.  Combine that with my already-present anxiety and I’m a wreck.  It’s gotten to the point where I’ve asked my husband not to ask me how my day at work was because I know I’ll either cry or get flustered and irritated trying to talk about it.

It is creating a tense environment.  I got up the nerve to ask my co-worker about things he was leaving unfinished (it shouldn’t take me 2 weeks to get up the nerve to ask 1 question).  He said he didn’t know what to do with them.  My first thought was “Why didn’t you ask me what to do with them?”, but then I realized I knew the answer.  It’s because I’m unapproachable.  So, these things were just sitting there not being done because I was too anxious to ask him to do it and he was too afraid to ask me.

I was let go from my previous job because patients were complaining I was: rude, unfriendly, cold, bitchy, unpleasant (take your pick).  I just had a complaint a few weeks ago from a secretary at my current job talking about my poor attitude and tone of voice.  My boss had a talk with me about being more friendly and pleasant.

What do I do?  Is there an ideal job for someone with Social Anxiety?  Even if you can find a job not working with the public, you still have co-workers and bosses to interact with.  I would love to work with animals, but I can’t afford the dip in pay.  I would love to go to school and learn a new career, but I can’t afford the tuition.  This is all I’m trained for, and I don’t feel it’s the right environment for me.  I don’t see my anxiety being cured anytime soon, so I feel stuck.

At least I live in a world that has cake.