Last semester, during a conversation with one of the newest sisters in my sorority, the topic of social anxiety came up. I am not one to shy away from my diagnosis, and I casually mentioned I overcome social anxiety on a daily basis.
Suffering from social anxiety herself, she asked me what seemed to be a very simple question, “How did you make it through rush and the new member process (pledging)?”
Instead of having a simple answer, I stopped short. I’ve been thinking about my answer for the past six months. I think I am finally ready to answer.
Truthfully, the first thing that came out of my mouth was “I got drunk.” I look back on my high school years and the crowded parties I threw and went to and realized the only thing getting me through those evenings was my lack of inhibitions. That was the same experience I had up until my sophomore year of college, when my body started to reject alcohol and any other kinds of substances. It was around this time that I noticed my discomfort and lack of interest at sorority mixers, formals and other large gatherings. My chest would start to hurt, I couldn’t catch my breath and I just knew everyone was staring at me.
I started to again fear being in social settings. I would choose to spend the night in with a friend or my sister rather than venturing to a party. I joked I was an old woman at heart, but deep down, I felt unsafe, even when I knew everyone around me.
Last semester, I was fortunate enough to be voted into a leadership position in my sorority, something I never thought I would do. Although it was something I was truly passionate about, I was now obligated to show up at events that exhausted me, and the subsequent hostility I received due to my reluctance to attend parties was overwhelmingly disheartening. Instead of being understanding, people would make snap judgments and practically guilt trip me into going, when I would have rather been putting my energy into my position and other events. I began to feel resentful and bitter towards a group of women who I call my sisters.
After stepping back from the organization a bit, I now realize having social anxiety and being in a sorority can be a giant walking oxymoron. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and be, for lack of a better word, social. Trying to find the balance between these two integral parts of my life has been one of the hardest and most frustrating challenges to overcome, but I now realize what I need to do so both parts of me are happy and comfortable.
This means putting me and my well-being first always, even when I feel like I should do otherwise. I never push myself to go to more than one “party” event a weekend because those are my worst triggers. And after these, I usually need at least half of the next day to be alone and “recharge,” which is imperative. If and when I do show up at a mixer, I surround myself with good friends who are aware of my anxiety and can go upstairs or outside with me so I can take myself out of a potentially overwhelming situation. It is so important to find the people within your organization who will love you and support you despite the things that make you different. It is really difficult being a typical sorority girl and college student when social events are your worst enemy, but having those girls who are understanding and nonjudgmental are going to make those scary situations at least a little worth it.
There are always going to be those who don’t understand, but as long as I am happy with my choices, it doesn’t matter if no one else is. Being “selfish” is the best thing I do for myself, and I had to learn that to make other people happy, I need to make myself happy first.
It may seem impossible to have social anxiety and be in an organization where being social is the main requirement, but with the right attitude and support system, you can turn it into something truly inspiring.
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