Like most things psychological, there are varying degrees of Social Phobia and it affects each suffer is different ways. It's difficult to describe any illness like this to a non-sufferer as, with all the best intentions, it's difficult for them to get their head round it.
The best description I can give is through an analogy that hopefully everyone can relate to:
It's a cold, wet, raining night, perhaps just a couple of degrees off freezing and you're waiting at a bus stop. After a while you start to shiver. Then your teeth start chattering. The wind is blowing straight through your coat and the rain is soaking you, despite the meagre protection of the bus shelter. The bus still hasn't arrived and the cold really starts to get to you. You really start to shiver. They seem to start deep inside your chest and then it feels like the shake is spreading out, rippling through your body from the inside out, causing you to visibly shake. Sort of like a personal earthquake with it's epicentre in your core. You can even feel your shakes rocking the bus shelter as they're so extreme. The chattering becomes so severe, it starts to sound like you've got a stammer.
If I'm put in a social situation or meet someone new, my body seems to go from normal, to that extreme mode of visibly shaking and stammering in seconds. If I have time to prepare for meeting someone new, then I can put the situation in the 'work box' in my head. By removing any social aspects from the encounter in my head, I can keep the symptoms at bay.
If the encounter comes as a surprise, or it's truly a social thing, or if I'm talking to someone I'm attracted to, then I'm screwed, even at work! I've had complete meltdowns at work if something has caught me without any prep time. The worst was a meeting with the bosses boss and an auditor that I knew nothing about till I was called in to describe my job. I had to move away from the table as I was making it shake so hard the auditor, on the other side of the desk, couldn't write any notes! And the the auditor in that case was a 50 yr old bloke to whom I had no attraction at all. Put me in front of a beautiful woman and I'm a quivering wreck in seconds.
Unfortunately, there is no cure. A course of therapy taught me that the only way to beat it is to be social.
Hopefully in 2014 I'll manage to do that. I'm certainly feeling like I can enact change. Better late than never I guess.