To be quite honest, I am not sure where it all began. In my teenage years I was the obnoxious, loud mouthed, type of girl. Except for at school.
At school, I was mostly quiet. Perhaps that is due to my many years of dealing with bullies or just for the fact that I did not like getting into trouble. I was the type of student who most of my teachers would not remember. I was also the type of student that as soon as someone heard my last name, they would immediately associate me with my older brother. I also started being associated with my younger sister once she started high school. I never liked being in the spot light.
I spent many years of my youth feeling inadequate. Bullies constantly putting me down for my acne, “medusa” hair, and eventually my weight. Feeling like I did not quite fit in with my family. I suppose those are the things that lead me to where I am today in social situations.
Having social anxiety makes it difficult to have a social life at all. It makes you long for friendships, but afraid to even try. Or trying and feeling like they secretly hate you anyways. Like you are the biggest elephant in the room. It is assuming that you know what other people are thinking about you, even if you don’t know them at all. Even strangers. You can’t go out to public places without thinking everyone has to be starring at you and are probably thinking the most negative things about you.
It is knowing that you are irrational in your fears, but still feeling and thinking them anyways. It is avoiding social situations because you believe that everyone secretly thinks you are awkward, ugly, smelly, you name it, and that they don’t want you there in the first place.
It is fearing going to new places because you don’t know the people and are afraid of all the things that they may or may not be thinking about you. The logical side of me, thanks Dad, is constantly fighting the anxiety side of me. The logical side is telling me that I am completely irrational and there is no possible way that I can know what people are thinking about me and that I should just get over it. While the anxious side is still feeding my fears.
So how do you cope? Well, I suppose that answer is different for everyone.
For me, I do not like surprises. It is hard to go through with letting people surprise you when you have all these anxieties surrounding the unknown. I have to be mentally prepared, sometimes, days at a time in order to even agree to do something; especially if it is something I have never done or a place I have never been to. When I am able to prepare my mind, it takes a lot of the stress away. Preparedness, for me, is key. Perhaps that is why I am a planning freak!
Once I have prepared my mind and the courage to put myself in those anxious situations, I try to let go and just go with the flow of things. Once I get comfortable, the anxieties start to fade. Then I can enjoy myself more and once it is over realize “hey that was not too bad.” The more I put myself in these situations, the more situations I am willing to put myself into.
In recent years, I have started to voice my anxieties. For example, instead of making up an excuse not to do something with someone, I will flat out tell them what is holding me back. Sometimes they are able to meander their words into my skull to make me at ease enough to go through with the plan. Other times, the anxiety is too strong and I just have to pass no matter what they say.
Did you know that social anxiety is the second most common anxiety disorder? Depression being the first. Ever since I have started voicing my anxieties to people, I have come to realize many of them share a lot of the same anxieties. It boggles my mind that so many people face the same things and yet the subject is too “taboo” to talk about. Like having anxiety means you are less of a person. Yet, most people are feeling the same. Why do we put taboos and stigmas on things anyways?
I know there are many others, like me, struggling internally with themselves and social interactions. I would just like them to know they are not alone, there are more of us than people care to admit. I also want those, who care for someone who has social anxiety, to be able to take a look into their brain to gain understanding.