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Social Anxiety - when your impairments exclude you from meeting people
I am 28 years old and I am a quadriplegic Powerchair user. I suffered a head/spinal injury following a car crash as a child. Now I blog at The Life Quadriplegic about my activities such as travelling abroad, wheelchair access, and other general disability issues.
As a wheelchair user I feel isolated sometimes. I find that there are very few places where I can go to meet new people. Pubs and nightclubs seem to be the best options that I can think of. But the problem is I have a hearing loss, and these places are usually noisy, which makes it’s hard to talk to people.
I like to go clubbing occasionally, and I’ve met lots of nice and interesting people in nightclubs over the years. However, I often can’t understand a word they are saying to me because the music is so loud. They will start saying something to me, but I have no idea what. I just have to nod, smile, and hope they weren’t asking me a question – which surprisingly sometimes actually works!
Pubs and restaurants are also problematic. There’s usually a lot of background noise with music playing and lots of people talking. If I go for a meal with a group of friends it’s almost impossible for me to follow the conversations that are going on. I have a hearing aid which helps a little bit, but it also amplifies all the background noise of everyone else in the restaurant. Not just my friends.
So it’s hard for me to socialise as people my age tend to like meeting up in noisy places like pubs, clubs and restaurants – not so much in peaceful libraries. My hearing loss combined with being in a Powerchair makes me feel anxious in social situations. I get nervous every time I find myself around a group of people, especially those I don’t know. I tend to be the quietest person in the group as I don’t know what anyone’s talking about, and I don’t want to make myself look like an idiot by saying something random. So often I don’t say anything at all, unless I’m spoken to.
I have tried to join a chess club and a boardgame club in my local city as these would be ideal quiet places to go to an meet new people. But, as is typical, both of them meet upstairs in old Victorian buildings that are not at all wheelchair accessible. So as a wheelchair user I’m excluded.
On the occasion that I do meet new people, they react to me in different ways. Some people lessen my anxiety, and some increase it.
I get on best with people who talk to me like a normal person. I like people who are chatty, open-minded, and bubbly, as there are usually few awkward silences. These type of people make me feel more at ease as they don’t seem to notice my wheelchair. I appreciate it when they talk to me the same as anyone else they know.
In contrast, some people seem really nervous about talking to me, and don’t know what to say. Or they talk to me like a child, which is obviously irritating. Sometimes they don’t talk to me at all, and talk to my carer instead. It’s hard to have a proper conversation with these types of people. They make me feel more anxious. Plus, if I can’t hear what they’re saying they assume I’m not capable of talking which is not true.
I wish that everybody was open-minded and spoke to me like a normal person regardless of the fact that I’m in a wheelchair. I wish that social clubs all met in accessible buildings. This would help lessen my social anxiety a lot. However, the fact still remains that many people choose to socialise in places that are too noisy. This makes it difficult if not impossible for people with hearing loss to socialise with friends and meet new people.
Do you have a hearing loss and find it difficult to socialise with friends, or meet new people? Do you have social anxiety as a result of your disability? I would love to hear about your experiences.