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LIVING WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY
Social anxiety is a pretty messed up thing to live with. I read this meme once that said social anxiety is like having conspiracy theories about yourself, and that could not be more accurate. Well, it wasn’t really a meme. It was one of those pictures of words on a plain white background. What are those called? Are they still memes if there isn’t a picture to accompany the words? Whatever. That’s beside the point.
Social anxiety sucks. I remember back when I was in elementary school and I would be too anxious to go up and sharpen my pencil or raise my hand to go to the bathroom. I had some baseless fear that everyone would stare at me and judge me or something. So I’d dig the dull rounded end of my pencil into the paper, forcing the little bulb of led to continue writing, and I’d press my knees together underneath my desk, constricting my bladder and trying to think about something, anything other than how badly I had to pee.
I realize as I’m writing this how insane that sounds, but that’s social anxiety. It makes you feel truly insane sometimes. Your brain convinces you of things that are most likely not true, but once that thought is planted in your mind, no amount of logic or reasoning can convince you otherwise. You convince yourself that no one actually likes you, so when a friend asks you to hang out it must just be them trying to be nice because they feel bad for you or something. A pity invite.
I’ve turned down many invites to hang out with people for this very reason. Fear that they don’t actually like me or want to spend time with me. Fear that if I go hang out with them, I’ll say something stupid and make a fool out of myself, or even worse that I won’t be able to come up with anything to say at all. So I turn down invites, cancel plans, make up excuses as to why I can’t go, and then get upset when I see friends post on social media all hanging out together without me there.
Trying to explain social anxiety to someone who doesn’t live with it usually ends up sounding like the ramblings of a crazy person. When I would try explaining it to my ex-boyfriend for example and tell him how I want to make more of an effort to hang out with people, he’d always say, “okay well, just do it” as if he was sponsored by Nike or something. If “just doing it” was really that easy, wouldn’t I have just done it by now? But in his non-socially anxious mind, it really is that easy, so he was never fully able to understand how difficult it is for me.
I know how irrational these thoughts probably are, but despite knowing that, I still can’t seem to turn them off. It’s kind of like living in a state of constant paranoia. This inability to shut your brain off can be pretty distracting sometimes.
Like when I’ve had a long day and am exhausted, but then as soon as my head hits the pillow, my brain decides to recall the time I mispronounced the word “melancholy” in the middle of my Advanced Fiction class a year and a half ago. It’s only been a year and a half, so clearly everyone from that class still remembers. They probably still think about it and laugh to themselves about how stupid I sounded. And then before I know it, it’s been an hour of me tossing and turning in bed, unable to get comfortable, unable to shut my mind off. That’s social anxiety.
Social anxiety is not wanting to try a weight machine at the gym that you haven’t used before out of fear that everyone will watch you struggle to figure out how it works. Social anxiety is the inability to be yourself around other people because you get so stuck inside your own head that it’s nearly impossible for you to let your guard down and just be you. Social anxiety is that churning feeling in your stomach when you actually go to that party that you were invited to and end up standing on the outskirts of a group having a conversation that you don’t know how to be a part of. Social anxiety is never reaching out first because you feel that you’d just be annoying that person by messaging them. Social anxiety is the panic that shoots down your spine any time you receive a phone call. Social anxiety is not making that doctor’s appointment even though you need to because you just can’t. Social anxiety is feeling dread over things that most people consider normal tasks or events. Social anxiety is feeling alienated.
I wish that I could end this post by sharing some secret remedy or quick fix that I’ve found through living with social anxiety for so long, but I can’t because I haven’t. I tried going to therapy once and she just told me basically the same thing that my ex did. “Just put yourself out there. Just try.” As if it were that easy. As if all I needed all this time was a few words of encouragement. I stopped seeing her after five sessions.
The only thing that’s really even began to help me is to just accept that this is how my brain works. Once you accept it, it’s slightly easier to deal with it. Another thing that helps is to try and not surround yourself with people who are going to judge you or get angry with you for having social anxiety, because that will only make it worse. They may not fully understand what it is you’re going through, but they should at least try to empathize with you as much as they can. And if you do know someone else who struggles with it too, talk to them about it. Trust me, it feels so great to describe what you’re feeling to someone and for them to actually say they understand and feel the same way. So while I don’t have any tips on how to get rid of social anxiety, I would highly suggest doing your best to just accept that this part of who you are. That’s what I’ve done and it’s honestly helped me out a lot.
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