Lately, I've been dealing with the symptoms of social anxiety on a daily basis. I started writing here at this blog to help me cope with anxiety and I never want to get to a place where I stop trying to let the light shine on anxiety. The more we keep mental health struggles in the darkness, the scarier they become. I hope that if you struggle with anxiety, you feel comforted to know that you are not alone or misunderstood. I hope that if you don't struggle with anxiety, you feel like you have a bit more insight into what it is like for those that do.
If you met me in person, you wouldn't have any idea that social anxiety grips me by the throat and slams me against the wall most days.
People tell me I'm bubbly. Full of personality. Outgoing.
Words that you would never use to describe someone who is crippled by social situations like going out with friends, going to work or going to the store.
And yet, social anxiety takes up most of my brain.
Social anxiety is constant paranoia. Paranoia that makes me nauseous and physically ill.
Paranoia that convinces me to my core that I am being judged. That I am disliked. That I am constantly embarrassing and humiliating myself. That I'm offending everyone. That I said something wrong just then and now so I must spend the next hour mulling over every detail of our interaction.
It's more than being shy (which I'm not). It's more than having low self-esteem (which I don't). It's the inability of your brain to stop convincing you that you're an embarrassment. More than that, it forces you to spend hours upon hours going through every detail of the interaction.
For those that do not have anxiety, this sounds like one of two things:
1. Incredibly insane
2. Incredibly needy
But it's legit. It's real. And I can't stress enough how different it is from being shy, an introvert or insecure.
It makes something like student teaching my own personal hell. I am constantly being observed, watched, graded on my performance, critiqued and given feedback on a daily basis.
I stand in front of six year old kids alone and I know in my core that I was made to teach.
Place my mentor in the back observing me and I melt into a nervous, trembling puddle of stuttering because all I can think about is how many mistakes I must be making and how sudden all the air in the room is gone and I can't breathe and....
But when she walks out of the room to run an errand, I turn into a fearless, confident leader that is passionate and excited and comes to life when I am teaching.
Getting ready to go out takes hours of mental preparation. It usually involves crying, sharp shallow breaths, laying on the floor and contemplating what my out is. Sometimes, I succumb to the thoughts in my brain and I send a quick text somehow backing out.
Whatever the opposite of social anxiety is...that's what my husband has.
He loves people. He'll talk to anyone. He doesn't care about what others think about him. He just says what he thinks and doesn't care if he makes a fool of himself. We are polar opposites and sometimes, that makes life difficult.
I've always been known to be flaky. I hate it about myself. I commit to plans that I have every intention of keeping. I promise at the time, I'm excited about the prospect of hanging out. But the time comes around and the world seems scary and unsafe and I can't bring myself to walk outside my door. I know that I've let countless people down with my no-show behavior.
I love people. In my heart, I know that. I want to make others feel loved, listened to and valued. But how do you do that when you're scared of people? When you can't begin to explain the sigh of relief that you let out when people cancel plans and you don't have to leave the house? When you sob on your hour commute because you just don't want to have to deal with the pressure of it all today?
How do you make the world a better place when you're scared of the world?