When I was sixteen and a therapist suggested social anxiety disorder, I was skeptical. It never occurred to me that I was afraid of people, exactly. In part, because it's difficult to face the possibility that my entire life has been shaped by irrational fear. What a shameful coward I must be!
On the other hand though, "anxiety" doesn't really cover it. Much as I hate admitting it, even to this day. It's full blown phobia. I'm not afraid of people, per say. I'm ok with being around people. From the dense crowds of Manhattan to the occasional shadowed figure I might cross paths with walking around Winooski after midnight, I'm fine. As long as no one tries saying hello to me. I'm not afraid of people, but my life is paralyzed by the fear of interacting with people.
That distinction is important, because it really highlights the strangeness of the problem. It's not a fear for personal safety, in any clear way. The sort of fears people understand intuitively. The sort of fears that have fairly straight-forward mechanics and what to do about them. It's much more convoluted and ubiquitous. I can't not deal with people. If I had the resources, I might try to live as a hermit on a mountain top, but I don't, and even if I did, I wouldn't be at all happy about it. It would be a massive relief, but then again, so is the way I live now.
It's just that it's a seriously fucking lonely existence. It also utterly hamstrings my ability to do much of anything in life. I can't even remotely get a handle on my fears, but nor am I ok with just avoiding the whole mess.
I don't know if it's psychological possible for most of us to live happily without human relationships and interactions. It's a near constant drain on my mental health. I've gone round and round like this, falling apart, scraping the pieces back together, only to fall apart again. It's as if my whole life has revolved around repairing a house on the beach, as the sand it's built on is periodically washed out to sea.