I've had my own struggles with social anxiety for most of my life. I always knew that there were some people out there who genuinely liked me and were attracted to me, but I never knew why. Also I thought that I had something to prove to almost everybody that I spoke with, that I was constantly being judged and any slips meant rejection. I had a hard time liking myself because I was extremely critical with myself and everybody around me. And, worst, I was constantly trapped in my own head with feelings based loosely on reality.
These struggles went mostly unnoticed because it was just chalked up to nervous energy. About a year ago, I was made it a point to talk to everybody around me and my social skills were getting much better. I built up a really conscious set of social skills where I did more than just express my feelings. I figured out the most effective and appropriate way to do it in almost every situation so I would always appear confident and comfortable. Girls I used to be terrified of (any girl that doesn't take tons of initiative with me, basically) were showing they always thought I was pretty cool. I was making friends with people that certainly would've intimidated me in the past. I thought I had my nervous energy beat for good.
But, it proved to have developed into something more when I went through a major panic episode a few months ago (at my job as a salesman, believe that ha). I had been working for a month or so with no out-of-the-ordinary troubles but when some extra stressors got introduced, it all just ramped up. It was really just a week of living in terror when in the presence of anybody. Just the thought of having to talk to someone else made my heart race. If I hadn't built up such a conscious set of social skills, I would've been hopeless. I could hide the trembling and still say something witty, but I decided there had to be something more than just nervousness. I couldn't live with a racing heart forever, so I saw my pediatrician who had known me since childhood. He said that he had suspected I had social anxiety or a panic disorder was for quite some time.
I went through some cognitive therapy and I'm taking medication (100 mg of setraline for the curious) and the situation for me has gotten a lot better. I still get nerves sometimes and I haven't quite reached my goal of being socially capable enough to handle any situation (aim high, right?). But, my confidence has gone up, my reactivity has gone down, and my screwed up cognition has taken strides of improvement.
Where I am now is better than any place I've been. I've always had people like me, but my anxiety shifted from "will they like me" to "will they like the REAL me" because there were times I felt like a living lie. Now, I feel natural in most situations and that I can be the real me. I still mess up and act a bit less friendly than I can sometimes, but I feel good about who I am and I have great confidence in my potential.
It's an uphill battle, but it can be beat and I'm extremely optimistic. I wouldn't even say I'd rather not have gone through this... what didn't kill me definitely made me stronger.