“You’re going to be just fine,” my husband reassures me as he reaches across the center console and takes hold of my sweaty hand.
I haven’t said anything, but he can sense my nerves building. In reality I guess I haven’t been too subtle about growing my anxiety, as I’ve compulsively checked my reflection in the passenger mirror no fewer than five times in the two minutes since we turned off of the main road. It’s not so much that I’m overly concerned with my appearance as it is that I’m clawing for something to occupy my mind space for the last few minutes of our drive.
We’re on our way to a barbecue at an acquaintance’s house, and I can’t slow the racing of my pounding heart.
I’m forever the awkward girl trying to fit in . . . at least that’s what my social anxiety would have me believe.
On a continuum of severity, some might say my anxiety is pretty mild compared to so many others who struggle with it. And while that’s probably true, to me, it’s a really big freaking deal.
When I find myself in social situations, I freeze.
My anxiety is the thing that causes my heart rate to pick up when I’m entering an environment where I know I’ll be surrounded by unfamiliar faces. It’s the thing that makes me sweat at the thought of making a phone call or sends me into an almost out-of-body experience to cope when I’m forced into public speaking.
For me, it’s an obsessive worry over what to say and who to say it to in any given situation. It’s the fact that the art of small talk is completely lost on me, and that I often find an excuse to exit a conversation before it gets too long for fear that I won’t be able to keep from saying something stupid that will surely expose my every flaw.
It’s the voice in the back of my mind warning me, “Don’t you dare (fill in the blank) or else no one will like you.”
I’m someone who will leave a party and spend the car ride home ruminating over that one careless comment I made, or wondering if anyone noticed the way that I stumbled just the slightest walking down the stairs. I assume everyone in my rearview mirror is discussing my flaws, although the fact of the matter is that they probably never even noticed my errors.
For me, the worst part of my social anxiety isn’t even the anxiety itself. Instead, it’s the way that my anxiety portrays me to the world. It’s a mask of discomfort that prompts me to put up a wall preventing others from seeing who I am at my core.
From behind that mask, here are a few things that one woman with social anxiety would like you to know:
I want you to know I’m not stuck up, I’m just stuck in my own head.
I want you to know I like you, but I’m not sure how to carry a conversation with you.
I want you to know even though it’s irrational, I panic internally when you ask me to call instead of email or text.
I want you to know even if I consider you a good friend, I still might get nervous talking to you at times.
I want you to know I do want to introduce myself and get to know you, but that it would make me breathe a whole lot easier if you were to make the first move.
I want you to know one-on-one interaction can be hard for me, so inviting a third person along for our visits works wonders in taking some of the pressure off of me.
I want you to know it means the world to me when I’m invited somewhere, even if I don’t end up going.
I want you to know this issue is more than “just being shy,” and that it’s not something I can so easily snap out of.
There are so many things I want you to know—all of this and more.
The thing about Social Anxiety is that it presents itself in different ways for so many different people. Each person’s struggle is a little bit different.
I know my story isn’t identical to the next person’s, and that’s OK. I know people who don’t struggle with the same feelings may not understand, and that’s OK, too.
I speak for myself and perhaps for others like me when I say: I don’t need you to understand what it’s like inside this head of mine, I just need you to know.
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