I skipped a few questions.
First of all, how acute do you consider your shyness or social anxiety to be?
These days, non-existent to moderate. In the past, though, it was much worse.
Do you find it easier to talk to people online than in real life? If so, what do you think makes it easier?
Usually easier but not always.
I guess there's having more thinking time, easier to leave if I want to, plus the people I've talked to online have been fairly similar to me in terms of personality, so there's less nervousness about being judged for being a bit different.
Why is it, do you think, that people are often more comfortable when someone says, "I'm not feeling well" than when they say, "I'm feeling shy and socially anxious"? If you get a hit of anxiety in a social situation, have you ever used the "I'm feeling sick" excuse or an excuse that wasn't the truth to explain why you were acting the way you were or to get out of the situation altogether? Why? (Be careful to distinguish shyness and social anxiety from mere introversion.)
Because people accept it as not being your fault. Being shy or socially anxious is not understood by those who've never experienced - people don't seem to comprehend that it's not easy to get over. Like with other psychological issues, there often seems to be an attitude of 'just get over it' or it's something to make fun of. I can't imagine ever saying 'gotta go now, I'm feeling too anxious' to anyone other than my partner. And yes, I've used that excuse in the past, for all the reasons in this paragraph.
When you realized you had the disorder, how did you familiarize yourself with it? Where did you seek information? What kinds of information about your disorder are most important to you (treatment options, coping skills, causes of the disorder, experiences shared by those afflicted with it)?
I read a book on overcoming shyness. It was very prescriptive and scheduled and didn't suit me. But I did take on board the suggestion from the book that you do need to desensitise yourself and make yourself realise that while you may feel anxious, it is just anxiety and doesn't mean that anything bad is going to happen.
Do you think people see social anxiety or shyness as a weakness? Do you think they see it as your fault or as something you can fix?
Do you consider it your fault? Do you feel shame because of your disorder?
When I realised I had it (maybe 4 or 5 years ago), I was ashamed until I realised which events in the past had contributed to it. I'm mostly over that now but shame still comes up now and then when I'm not having a good day.
How much does your shyness define you?
It used to, but not much anymore.
What hope do you have for improvement?
I'm mostly over it now. So, yeah, there's always hope IMO.
How acute has it been in the past? If your condition has improved, how did that happen?
It was crippling in the past. I'd go to an occasional party and leave after an hour or two because the anxiety got overwhelming (although I was kinda in denial about that). I also used to walk the long way round when I was in grad school to avoid having to say hi to people I knew. I missed out on a lot of opportunities to make friends and meet people.
I've now mostly overcome it because I worked out the reasons why I was so socially anxious and so I could be more objective about it. I also made myself socialise no matter how anxious it made me feel (Edit: getting drunk at the pub or at parties helped get over the initial severe anxiety). Silence in conversations is what triggered the worst of the anxiety so I had to learn how to just sit and stay there and not run away. I also watched other people when I was at the pub and noticed that there were a few really quiet people and it was ok for them to sit in silence, so I eventually learnt that it was ok for me to be quiet as well. I also did things like make myself introduce myself to people I didn't know, like at work or at parties. It's horribly awkward to start with but eventually it became something I can do on autopilot.
Desensitising took a long time. It was several years IIRC. I think sometimes people expect desensitising to happen overnight but for me I really had to perservere with it.
I still occasionally have shy/anxious days (usually when I'm in a social situation that I haven't been in before and I don't know what to do) but mostly things are ok. My job also made me get over a lot of it. I have to talk on the phone to a lot of people, some of whom are pretty hostile/unhappy, I run meetings, I give presentations to large groups of people, I make small talk with strangers at conferences etc. Sometimes I even enjoy it.