Recently, I’ve been reading some articles on social anxiety, and it struck me how many of the situations and symptoms reminded me of my son Dan when he was in the throes of severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Those with social anxiety disorder typically are terrified of how others will perceive them, and this often leads to avoidance of various situations. While public speaking or being the center of attention in any circumstance might be obvious triggers, even something as mundane as having a cup of coffee with an acquaintance might be anxiety-provoking enough for a sufferer to just not show up. Panic attacks are common.

In this article, I talk about Dan’s sense of hyper-responsibility, which is an inflated feeling of responsibility. Because he felt his thoughts and actions might cause harm to his friends and loved ones, he dealt with this by avoiding them. He isolated himself, and while his actions could easily have been mistaken for social anxiety disorder, in his case it was his OCD that caused him to behave this way. As with social anxiety disorder, panic attacks were not unusual for him.

As is often the case, I am reminded how OCD, social anxiety disorder, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder, among others, are just labels to describe specific symptoms. Labels are a way to try to maintain some order and clarity over the messiness of mental illness. While these labels serve a purpose, I believe our main goal should always be striving to understand what is going on with the whole person.

So did my son Dan also have social anxiety disorder, in addition to his diagnoses of OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression? Possibly. It certainly seems as if he fit the criteria. Thankfully, for Dan, it didn’t matter. Once his obsessive-compulsive disorder was under control, his other diagnoses fell by the wayside.

Of course, getting the right diagnosis as well as the right treatment isn’t always easy. While it is essential to have a good therapist, it is equally important for those who are suffering to be honest with their health care providers. If you have OCD or love someone with the disorder, you probably know that most OCD sufferers typically realize their obsessions and compulsions make no sense, and might even appear ridiculous. This realization, unfortunately, sometimes interferes with those with OCD being completely honest with their doctors and therapists. It’s just too embarrassing to talk about obsessions and compulsions (even though it’s likely the doctor has heard it all before) which obviously defy reason.

It’s understandable, and even ironic, that those with OCD might feel this way. We expect people with OCD and social anxiety disorder to be able to talk about these intimate details, when having coffee with someone they know might be too difficult a task. But it must be done in order to recover. For both OCD sufferers and those with social anxiety disorder, facing their fears is the ticket to living the life they want and deserve.

If you think you suffer from one or both of these disorders, I hope you’ll commit to facing your fears. You can start by meeting with a competent therapist who can help you get well.

Anxious woman photo available from Shutterstock